Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 126–144 | Cite as

The second sex: Women's place in polling language

  • Sharlene J. Hesse-Biber
  • Ina Burstein


Recent research suggests that gender nouns such as “man,” and pronouns such as “he,· are not generic forms referring to humanity, but often refer exclusively to males. The use of male terms in a variety of role contexts serves to deny females identification with these contexts, and thereby stereotypes the roles of men and women. Public opinion polling, through its use of the questionnaire, represents an important social context where gender-biased phrasing can have an adverse impact on a large segment of society. A content analysis of polling questions from 1936–1973 was undertaken to ascertain their gender representation. Those questions containing gender referrants constituted ten percent of the sample. Questions were analyzed for their gender content in the areas of social, political, and economic life. The findings show a differential use of male and female terms, with the use of female gender most apparent in contexts traditionally defined as female: home and family. When females are mentioned in non-traditional contexts, they appear most often in competition with men. Male pronouns appear exclusively in contexts traditionally defined as male: work and politics. The methodological and social implications of these findings for survey research are discussed.


Public Opinion Cross Cultural Psychology Survey Research Large Segment Economic Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharlene J. Hesse-Biber
    • 1
  • Ina Burstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyBoston CollegeBoston

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