Evaluating a student survey on gender

I have been reading the book Where the Girls Are (Douglas, 1995). It’s a great read that discusses the mixed messages sent to women by mass media and pop culture from the late 50’s onward. As I was reading it, it got me thinking. I can evaluate the differences between how my mother formed her understanding of her gender role compared to my wife, but I have no real understanding as to how my students feel. With that in mind, I offered my students an anonymous survey through social media. The questions I asked them are as follows:

What year were you born?

How do you define the term gender?

What is your gender? 






How do you feel your gender affects you? 






How do you think your life would be different if you had a different gender? 






Have you ever felt disadvantaged because of your gender? 






Have you ever had an advantage because of your gender? 






Have you ever been treated differently because of your gender? 






Have you ever treated anyone differently because of his or her gender? 






How do you feel your gender will affect your future?

 

I only received a small number of responses, so this survey cannot be used to extrapolate data for the larger population, but it will allow me some insights into my students’ understanding of their place in the world.

In response to my gender survey, I have received 41 completed surveys from people born anywhere from 1951 to 2000. One responder stated the year of their birth as “Dallas,” so I will assume they misread the question. The purpose of my research is to evaluate my students’ perspectives on how gender affects their lives. Because of that, I will ignore the eight responses that were from people born before 1993, which includes years from 1951 to 1978. Of the remaining respondents, 21 were female and 10 were male. The four remaining entered terms such as gender fluid, cisgender, and demi-gender. For ease of communication, I will refer to these responders as nonbinary. Also, for many responses, the answers indicated that there would be a change given the circumstances of the question, but did not indicate specifics as to whether those answers would be positive or negative. I described those answers as “indeterminable.”

How do you define the term gender?

In response to this question, 16 of the 35 remaining surveys define the term gender as male/female, or based upon the individual’s biology at birth. Twenty of the 35 defined gender as a personal choice outside of just male or female. Of the 10 male responders, 2 viewed gender as a personal decision, while 7 believed one was either male or female. One answer was indeterminable. The female responders were much more likely to see gender as more than biological. Thirteen of the 21 female students responded with an answer that stated or implied gender being self-identified, while the 8 remaining responded with an answer that connected gender to biology. The 4 nonbinary students answered with some form of self-identification.

I was not surprised by the answers to these questions. I knew, working in a conservative Christian area, there would be a good amount of students with answers that responded to those values. One student even responded with, “Whichever sex God gave to you through genetics.” I also was not surprised that the female students were more likely to have a nonbinary view of gender.

How do you feel your gender affects you? 






Out of all the respondents, only 2 of the 35 believed their gender didn’t affect them. One was male and the other nonbinary. Of the other responses, many were too vague for me to draw any conclusions as to whether the student believed the effect was positive or negative. There were some interesting responses. The gender fluid responder stated, “I feel like my gender gives me power. Whether I feel masculine or feminine.” One male respondent stated, “It makes me dominant.” Most of the other students implied that their gender came with societal expectations, but it was difficult to determine whether they saw those expectations as positive or negative.

I was really surprised that even two students did not see their gender as having an effect on them. I must imagine they believed that to mean no major effect. Obviously there is some personal interpretation in that. I believe the gender fluid student might not have wanted to say gender had an effect on them as it could be interpreted as insecurity. The male responded with, “in no way.” That statement made no sense to me. I don’t know how anyone could have that opinion.

How do you think your life would be different if you had a different gender? 






Of the female respondents, 8 believed that their lives would be easier if they had a different gender, 12 believed their lives would be different, but didn’t indicate whether that would be an improvement or not. One believed her life would be harder. Of the male students, 2 believed life would be easier as a different gender, 4 believed their lives would be different, but didn’t indicate whether that would be an improvement or not. Four believed their lives would be better. Of the nonbinary respondents, 2 believed their lives would be easier, while 2 indicated their lives would be different without indicating better or worse.

I was a little surprised at the responses to this section. One of the male students stated the belief that being a woman would have meant they “would have got into a better college.” Obviously, as a whole, the males felt more that being a woman would be a hindrance, whereas the females were much more inclined to believe life would be better as a male. This means this generation still believes that society prefers men. One male even stated that, if he were a different gender, he would be “less dominant.” I couldn’t determine from that vague statement whether or not that would be a positive change, but the majority of students across all genders believed advantage exists for men.

Have you ever felt disadvantaged because of your gender? 






Only 10 of the 35 respondents believed they were never disadvantaged because of their gender. Seven of those students were male. Only 3 of the females responded no, and one of those was strongly qualified to minimize the response. All of the nonbinary respondents felt disadvantaged because of their gender.

This is a strong indicator to me as to the perception of gender in this generation. Most of the males never felt disadvantaged, where almost all of the rest of the students did feel that way. I even received a few boldly arrogant answers from males including, “Nope. It has only brought me advantages,” and “Nah men>women.” This leads me to believe that regardless of how the students themselves see their gender, they still feel being a non-male will negatively affect their life.

Have you ever had an advantage because of your gender? 






Almost all of the respondents believed they had ever had an advantage because of gender. All the nonbinary students perceived an advantage, 18 of the 19 female students believed there was an advantage, while 1 female response was indeterminable. Of the males, 7 believed they had had an advantage, while 3 believed they had not ever had an advantage.

I thought it strange that the men were more likely not to perceive any advantage. The majority of women felt both advantaged and disadvantaged. This leads me to believe that, although these women see their gender as a disadvantage, they can use it to their benefit in certain circumstances. The 3 males that never felt advantage are the same that felt disadvantaged from the previous question.

Have you ever been treated differently because of your gender? 






Of the respondents, all but 3 males believed they were treated differently because of their gender.

This is to be expected. Very few of the students implied whether or not this was positive, but almost all of them believed that gender somehow affected their treatment. The male examples were a bit more lighthearted as in, “When spending time with my girlfriends [sic] friends I may feel excluded but not often.” The female answers were more often serious as in, “At times my opinions feel belittled and scoffed at, but a majority of the time I feel like I am on an even playing field with my peers. Oversexualization is still an issue that follows females throughout their lives, and for some reason it is more difficult to establish yourself as a respectable female figure than a respectable male figure” or “Yes, my grandfather openly expresses different professional expectations for me and my brother. He also has different skill set expectations.”

Have you ever treated anyone differently because of his or her gender? 






Of the nonbinary respondents, 3 said they had treated people differently because of their gender while 1 said no. Of the female respondents, 14 of 21 said they had treated others differently, 6 said no. There was 1 answer that was indeterminable. Of the males, 6 said they had treated others differently, 3 males answered no, and 1 answer was indeterminable.

I find the details in these answers interesting. There seems to be a lot of perceived guilt. I received responses, “I regret to say so, but yes” and “I hate to say it, but I do occasionally.” A male respondent said, “no, I was raised better than that.” I find it interesting that there is an automatic assumption that treating people of different genders differently is bad. Is there room for positive differential treatment of gender?

How do you feel your gender will affect your future?

Of the nonbinary respondents, 3 gave indeterminable answers while 1 was negative. The females responded with 6 positive responses for the future, 7 negative, and 8 indeterminable. Of the males, 4 were positive, 4 were indeterminable, and 2 were negative.

Most of these students believed gender would be less of an issue as it is now. There were a lot of statements that believed the individual could choose how gender affected them, as in, “I believe that the only way my gender will affect my future is if I allow it to limit me, it would only affect it if I let myself be held back by ignorant people.” There were still fears. One female responded with the statement, “I’m worried I will not have the opportunities as men do.” There were also some statements from the males that seemed to say they were afraid men would be attacked or vilified as in, “it’ll make us look like we’re all bad guys.” Most of the answers were hesitantly hopeful, like, “Hopefully in the future all genders will be treated equally and no one will experience privilege or prejudice for something that has no baring [sic] on ability or intellect.” All in all, I thought the general tone of the responses was cautious optimism.

Conclusion

Overall, I am pleased with my students’ responses to this survey. I am pleased with how socially accepting they are of others’ choices, especially considering that the concept of gender being nonbinary is one that is relatively new in the general social discussion. I don’t think I was even aware that there were people living outside of traditional gender roles until I was in college, and I didn’t develop an opinion on it until much later. For something so new, these students seem rather accepting and empathetic. I have noticed through my interactions with students over the last few years that these students seem much more empathetic than previous generations. The males seemed to have a little less empathy, which supports a frequently made statement that women, by nature, are more empathetic. I am a little alarmed that there were responders who believed being male made them automatically superior, but comparatively, 50 years ago, most men and women would have probably believed that to be true. I am very optimistic about the world these students will create when they begin to make the decisions. They already seem to be better people than a majority of the adults I see out in the world.

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One thought on “Evaluating a student survey on gender

  1. What a successful survey! I’d like to see pie charts/visual representations of some of the responses for more clarity. Especially the responses where males and females differed. That 7 of 10 respondents that believed they were never disadvantaged because of their gender where male is very interesting and significant.

    Like

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