During the course of my degree, I have designed and distributed at least 6 surveys for various modules. Times that by the number of students studying my course and that is a lot of questionnaires and desperate pleas for respondents. We have all seen the Facebook statuses and received the messages- – “it will only take a few minutes and it would REALLY be helping me out”. We have also all felt the slight sense of doing our good deed for the day once we have completed it and message back with the three relief inducing words of “I’ve done it!”.
Now, for all of these fun surveys, a majority of the time we will start with some demographic questions. This is to try and prove our research is relatively “representative” (ignore the fact that we might ask our mate to pretend to be a 45 year old professional to even things out). We get asked our age, gender and ethnicity.
Today I want to focus on the gender question. Often, we get 2 options: Male or Female. Sometimes if we’re “lucky” we get a couple of extra options: Other and prefer not to say. Before I go on, let’s go back to the basics. Gender and sex are different, although arguably both are a social construction. The gender binary does not exist and we all belong somewhere on a spectrum.
Side note: I recently enlightened one of my close friends with this information and she was delighted to discover that gender is a construction and that she gets to decide how she identifies, quote “so if I wanted to, I could be a boy?!”.
Some are cynical about all of the language available to describe gender and sexuality…. Ash Hardell does a good job in this video talking about “Snowflakes”:
Long story short, we need to give more options when we require information about people in surveys. Enforcing the gender binary can be triggering for some and can isolate and exclude individuals.
Surveygizmo gives some really useful information on the topic, click here to read what they have to say.
To put it simple, if you are going to ask for someone’s gender try:
- Leaving it open ended, i.e. Gender? __________
- Give MORE options
I am disappointed that in class during modules specifically about research and how to conduct effective research projects, these issues were not discussed at all. I believe that gender inclusivity should be made compulsory or at least talked about during academic studies. This is because EVERYBODY regardless of identity deserves to be included and represented.