Using Google Ngram to Track the Sexualization of Women in the Media

Since my junior year in high school, I have been interested in scholarly work surrounding the hypersexualization of women in the media, specifically advertisements. I believe that the ways in which women are presented in the media sheds light on societal norms that shape reality. When advertisements depict overly sexualized women, standards about beauty and sex become embedded in the unconscious of society. I have only conducted research with visual advertisements, however, I am interested in how words and phrases can also be indicative of the sexualization of women. I want to look at how the most popular words and phrases associated with women over time and how they can be used to contextualize trends in society. I want to understand the societal contexts that cause changes in the prevalence of certain words to describe women.

I will be using Google Ngram as my digital source to track various queries relevant to my project. I want to focus on search terms that have to do with sex, beauty, and violence; I am focusing on these because I believe they will display the most valuable difference when associated with men and women over time. I will also have to do a lot of secondary research to find out the reasons for the changes in popularity. I may have to refine my searches to a specific genre because the breadth of the Google Books would include books specifically about the sexualization of women which would skew the results.

I am limiting my search to 1930-present because a lot of the terms I am searching are only used after the turn of the century; an important aspect I will need to address in my final paper. Visual media in general also wasn’t much of a thing, so it would be difficult to track the words that describe the visual presentation of women. I think the 1930’s is a good decade to begin due to the emergence of film-making. I expect to see a dramatic shift starting in the 1960’s with the rise of the feminist movement. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if words and phrases associated with objectification were shown to be more prevalent in recent years due to the impact of social media and photoshop.

I hope my research will provide insight into the ways women are held to a certain standard compared to men and the implicit sexist stereotypes present in society. I don’t know if Google Ngram is the best resource to use for this project, if you all have any suggestions as to a better tool, I am all ears!

One Reply to “Using Google Ngram to Track the Sexualization of Women in the Media”

  1. Great topic and a great fit with a tool like google ngram. It might also be worth thinking about using the Time Magazine corpus as that gets at media for a more popular audience.

    My primary initial suggestion would be to look into historical terminology that would have involved sexualization of women. Along with that, I would also suggest looking at terms like “girl” and thinking up a lot of slang and other terms to include to round out your exploratory analysis.

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