09 August 2010

How Sexualisation Entered the Public Lexicon

In today's Guardian Laurie Penny of the 'Penny Red' blog states: "The word [sexualisation] wheedled its way into the language of women's liberation like a semiotic sleeper agent. It was seen in headlines as early as 2007, but after the Home Office report on the sexualisation of young people last February, it was suddenly everywhere, with David Cameron wooing middle-England voters on a platform of "stopping the sexualisation of children", and Mumsnet launching their Let Girls Be Girls campaign against the "sexualisation" of children by clothes retailers."

I've tracked all mentions of the use of the word 'sexualisation' during the last 18 months across mainstream and social media coverage. As a result, this analysis focuses on Anglo-reporting (UK, Australia and Canada) of the word as it excludes the Americanised 'sexualization'.

The analysis reveals a strong correlation (0.78) between mainstream reporting and subsequent mentions by the public on social networking sites.

In addition the findings suggest that once a phrase, word or meme is used in mainstream news reports they quickly become a part of the public's lexicon.

Early peaks in mainstream coverage were driven by a boy who became a father at the age of 13, with subsequent regional media reports discussing the 'sexualisation of children' in the UK (February 2009 - 38 articles); an Australian senate hearing into the 'sexualisation of media' (August 2009 - 16 articles); Pru Goward's comments in Australia and a Brooke Shields photograph (both October 2009 - 17 articles).

However, it was the widespread reporting of Linda Popadopoulus's report on the "sexualisation of children" in February 2010 (102 articles) that really pushed the word into the wider public consciousness (1,025 social media posts). This resulted in the Mumsnet protest against the "sexualisation of prepubscent girls" which prompted the withdrawal of a child's padded bra from Primark (816 social media posts in April 2010).

By May 2010 (55 articles), a number of different stories (including M&S bra tops, the Amy King campaign group on Facebook and coalition promises), reported by various mainstream media outlets, were using the word to report younger girls becoming aware of sexuality too young.

Google Insights for Search reveals a sharp rise in 'sexualisation' in March 2010 as the public searched for Popadopoulus's report. However, searches quickly fell away the following month reflecting a drop in interest. The fact the word remains in frequent use on social media sites suggests it has now become etched into everyday language.

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