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Study exploring representation of queer women earns early career researcher recognition


A study examining how queer women are represented through online media has earned an early career researcher at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) recognition in her field and a grant to further her work. 

Dr Aimee Bailey, who joined DMU as lecturer in English Language in 2019, has been named the 2021/22 recipient of the Judith Baxter Award from the British Association of Applied Linguistics’ (BAAL) special interest group (SIG) for Language, Gender and Sexuality

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The award is for her research looking at the ways in which lesbian and bisexual women’s identities are formed by two US websites aimed at queer women; Autostraddle and AfterEllen. 

For the study, Dr Bailey developed a purpose-built corpus – a collection of more than two million words – using computer software that could identify patterns of language, to see what kind of language was being used to describe queer women on the websites, in both the articles being published and also in the comments sections. 

“I want to give more understanding of identities that are not being discussed as often as others,” explained Dr Bailey. “It is especially important to consider how such groups are being discussed online, given the fact that information exchanges are increasingly taking place on the internet.” 

As part of her research, Dr Bailey outlines how how a shift in sexual identification in recent years has led to changes in the way that queer women are identified in the media, particularly since younger generations of LGBT people are more likely to identify outside of traditional gay/straight and man/woman binaries than older generations. 

“It is not that we are seeing the end of lesbian identity – far from it – but rather that there are more sexual and gendered identifications available than before,” she added. “Queer women have also become increasingly visible in popular media and celebrity culture.” 

Upon examining the language featured on the two websites, Dr Bailey found that, despite an increase in visibility for queer women, the majority of the language still appeared to be aimed primarily at lesbians, with the word ‘lesbian’ appeared more frequently than the words ‘queer’ or ‘bisexual’. 

Some of the language also painted negative stereotypes of bisexual women, indicating that they were not legitimate queer women or that they were more promiscuous.  

“There is still a lot more work needed to make sure the language being used is more positive, and less harmful,” added Dr Bailey. “I hope that by highlighting these issues through my work, I can contribute to making a difference.” 

As the recipient of the Judith Baxter Award 2021, Dr Bailey will receive a small research grant to further her work in the field. 

“It feels amazing to win and to have this recognition,” she said. “The BAAL Language, Gender and Sexuality SIG does a lot of important work and it is a privilege to have this platform where I can share my research.” 

Named after the late co-founder of the BAAL Language, Gender and Sexuality SIG in 2005, the Judith Baxter Award champions excellent new research in language, gender and sexuality.  

Every year, the award recognises the work of one promising new researcher in language, gender and sexuality, offering financial support for research activities. 

Dr Bailey will receive her award at the 14th annual BAAL Language Gender and Sexuality SIG meeting this Friday at Nottingham Trent University, which brings together researchers, journalists, healthcare professionals, advocates and activists who are interested in examining the role that language can play in perpetuating gender/sexuality-related health discrimination, and the possibilities that language analysis can bring for challenging such inequalities. 

Jai McKenzie, chair of the BAAL special interest group, said: “The Judith Baxter award champions excellent new research in language, gender and sexuality. Dr Aimee Bailey was chosen as the 2022 recipient for her work on queer women's online media, as the committee recognises that this work is highly innovative in approach and has potential to make a significant contribution to the field of language, gender and sexuality.” 

Posted on Wednesday 27th April 2022

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