Post 8: It’s all in the language

By Basilia Dulawan

In this week’s session what I found most beneficial was being able to work individually on our own issue before brainstorming as a group for design possibilities. Going through each of the questions ‘Who does the problem affect?’, ‘What are the boundaries of the problem?’ and specifically ‘When + Where does the problem occur?’, made the design problem seem a lot clearer. Language was something that kept coming up in my answers to the questions, and that’s what I based the brainstorming of possibilities around.

The boundaries of the problem is representational – gender norms and stereotypes, and the language used.

Who does the problem affect?
Adolescent girls & boys particularly those going through puberty as this is their formative stage that influences their confidence, mindset and perspective.

What are the boundaries of the problem?
Boundaries are representations: Gender Norms and stereotypes as well as the particular language we use that can be skewed to one gender.

What if the problem was fixed?
Girls could feel as thought they really could do anything, additionally, once they transition into adult life, they would have less gender norms and stereotypes to influence their career choices. Additionally the perception of Boy and Men would also change and become more free and open.

Young girl’s lack of limitations in their mentality that they feel in their pre-pubescent stage, as well as their confidence, can therefore carry through to every stage of their life instead of dropping in puberty.

What if the problem wasn’t solved?
Society and the way girls loose confidence in their adolescent years, would just continue at the same rate as it is going now.

When does the problem occur?
During adolescence for girls, particularly through everyday interactions with adults, friends, parents and the language they use around and toward them.
i.e raising boys to be brave and girls to be proper, cautious and ladylike.

When does the problem need to be fixed?
Now ideally, but specifically in the early stages of primary school all the way through highschool. It requires education and awareness between young girls and boys – and even their parents.

Where is the problem occurring? 
At home, at school, in the media and entertainment, in the playground, in clothing stores, in books and in extra curricular activities.

Why is it important that the problem is fixed?
So that Women and Men have equal opportunity. So that Women feel just as empowered as men to do what they want. So that there is no or at least less pressure of how Men and Women should be.

Issue Statement

The root of Gender Inequality starts with the way we raise our boys and girls, particularly with the language we use when we address, encourage and treat them day-to-day. 

> Initially, I had forgotten about the target audience being 18-25, so this issue Statement was mainly targeting Parents, Teachers, Coaches – basically anyone who has an influence of the development of children. This issue is highlighted in this article and these case studies here and here.

[Amended] The root of Gender Inequality starts with language. The way in which we interact with men, women and children in our families, friendship circles and workplace – particularly with our choice of words we use to describe, compliment, encourage, or even put down, can be very different between each gender.

Five point summary of design possibilities:

  1. Create a generative system that looks at the language used when describing women and men on twitter. For example, every time the word ‘strong’ is used to describe a woman the size of the word is increased by 1pt, and more pink is added to it’s colour value, and if it were used to describe a male, more blue would be added to it’s colour value. In this way, we can identify the language which we have applied gender to, as well as language which isn’t separated or reserved for a specific gender. (Generative System/Data Visualisation)
  2. Inspired by the work of two Australian advertising executives Georgia Patch and Kiah Nicholas, who noticed that google’s definition for words like “housework” and “promiscuous” were only described as female “she was…” or “her mother…” and created a social movement on Instagram @redefineWomen #redefineWomen, I propose visualising the language used to describe women throughout history. I think it would draw out some insights in how the representation and perception of women has changed (hopefully), and possibly highlight how outdated these current definitions used by google are.  (Data Visualisation)redefinewomen
  3. Scraping social media such as Twitter on Instagram to generate data of three things:
    Men describing Women
    Women describing Women
    Women describing themselves
    Using this data I would create a visualisation of these words keeping into account how many times they were used and from which context (Men describe Women etc), and I’m not sure what the results would be, but based on this interview in which Taraji P. Henson says “When you [Women] embrace each other and you stick together, look at what these women [in ‘Hidden Figures’] were able to accomplish.”, I think what’s important to ask is ‘How are Women portraying themselves?’, ‘What language do Women choose to describe each other? Is it at all different to how Men describe Women?’. By visualising this, I think it would bring an awareness to Women that we need to support each other and to Men that it’s not ok to describe us in a sexist way – but in saying this, I could never be too sure that this is what the data would highlight. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to explore.
  4. Data visualisation of words associated with Gender Norms and Stereotypes as well as words that have been used outside of those ‘traditional’ terms. I think it would also be interesting to include the time/year in which these new words started to be used in relation to Women. The main thing here that it might show would be the progress we as a society is making in the perception of Women and their abilities.
  5. Researching influential Women throughout history and visualising the language used to describe them as well as the gender of the author who wrote the description. This would be another way in which we could see the progress society is making in the perception of Women and their abilities throughout history.

 

Draft Proposal 

Words are something we use everyday. When we speak to people physically or through the many possibilities of the internet, we use words the convey what we mean. But what if what we think we mean, isn’t actually our intention? Words are powerful. They carry meaning beyond their typical definition and through history, take on their own connotations. As history changes, how too have our words? The root of Gender Inequality began with the formation of traditions and gender roles, but what stems and supports it is language. The way in which we interact with men, women and children in our families, friendship circles and workplace – particularly with our choice of words we use to describe, compliment, encourage, or even put down, can shape the very people we interact with. That being said, I want to look at the language we use toward each gender and explore what words cross over and what words are more skewed toward one gender.

Therefore, considering the target audience of 18-25yr olds spend a lot of their time on social media – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I propose that I create a generative system that uses data from a social media channel such as Twitter to bring insight into the words we use to describe males and females, in an attempt to understand in what ways Gender Inequality exists in our language. The generative system would be based on Twitter data that is generated over a 24hr period from users based in Australia or more narrowly, New South Wales, every time a word is used to describe a female or a male using the phrases “She/He is…” or “She/He was…”, the words at the end of the phrase will be plotted onto the generative screen. As certain words or phrases are repeated in the data, the word plotted with grow in size and opacity. Colour will be used to visualise what gender the word was used to describe – instead of using the typical pink and blue, I propose using alternative colour combinations such as purple and orange or pink and green. This is an important aspect of this generative system as it can really emphasise the results and possibly make these gendered words more clear.

With this approach it would be interesting to see what words are more commonly used to describe males as opposed to females and vice versa. With this focus on language, it could open up the conversation about the subtle yet impactful ways Gender Inequality exists in our society. One thing that I want to focus on in my design response is to be able to understand the human aspects of the data – this is something Jer Thorpe emphasises in his 2011 TED talk.

 


 

References

Redefine Women, 2016, Instagram, viewed 6 September 2016, <https://www.instagram.com/p/BKAltuMjYDK/>.

Redefine Women, 2016, Instagram, viewed 6 September 2016, <https://www.instagram.com/p/BKAlfgYjJNM/>.

Redefine Women, 2016, Instagram, viewed 6 September 2016, <https://www.instagram.com/p/BKAlz-Sj5f9/>.

The Hollywood Reporter 2016, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer “Power of Women Sticking Together” in ‘Hidden Figures’ | TIFF 2016, video recording, Youtube, viewed 10th September 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Fd-EcXYMvo>.

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