Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words might unintentionally enforce gendered behavior

Hey guys, do you notice when you or others use gendered language? As with the last sentence, gendered language has become part of our culture’s vocabulary and we may use it without a second thought. There is a growing field of research that studies how language can shape perceptions of ourselves and others.

Jeana presenting “Decolonizing Masculinities” with Nyk Steger and Minerva Zayas at the 2018 Examining Masculinities Conference at OSU

Jeana Moody is a second year Masters student in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies working with Professor Bradley Boovy. Her thesis research focuses on the use and impact of gendered words and phrases in the English language, such as “throw like a girl”, “man up”, and “don’t be a bitch.” What are the implications of saying “man up” to someone who presents as a woman? As a man? Does the gender of the speaker play a role?

To explore this, Jeana designed a study to collect data through in-person interviews and anonymous online surveys, asking participants to describe situations when they have either used such statements or have been the subject of the statements. The questions include: where did this happen? Who was there? Were there any power dynamics? How did it make you feel then, and now?

For any research involving human participants, OSU researchers must submit a proposal to and be approved by Oregon State’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). This rigorous process requires submission of interview questions, the number of participants, how the data will be collected, and how consent will be obtained from the participants. Additionally, since there is always the possibility of triggering a participant’s traumatic memories from survey questions, help resources must be provided to participants. Jeana’s study was just approved last week.

Jeana hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California

From the data collected, Jeana hopes to gain insight into feelings of and implications on participants in the study, and present the anecdotal evidence within a cultural context. This research draws from the subjects of feminist sociolinguistics and critical race theory. It addresses the idea that language begets culture, and culture begets language. Her interest in the subject arose from working with non-native English speakers. She observed that they often use American swear words and racist words without understanding the impact of the words they were using. Just because someone doesn’t understand those words doesn’t mean they don’t hold an impact.

Jeana hiking in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon

When Jeana is not conducting research, she is the instructor of record for Men and Masculinities and is a Teaching Assistant for several other classes. She is originally from Pullman, Washington and attended Western Washington University as part of the Fairhaven College (an interdisciplinary liberal arts college). She enjoys hiking and being anywhere outdoors, and she loves to cook and draw. When not in Corvallis, she can likely be found in Prague where she has taught English and worked for a travel agency.

If you are interested in participating in Jeana’s research study online or in-person, please email moodyje@oregonstate.edu to set up an interview or with any questions you may have, or follow the link to her Gendered Language Online Survey.

Written by Maggie Exton.

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