Reflecting the Male Gaze: Quantifying Female Objectification in 19th and 20th Century Novels

Proceedings of the 2024 Joint International Conference on Computational Linguistics, Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC-COLING 2024)

Type: Conference
Gender Bias
Digital Humanities

Kexin Luo

New York University

Yue Mao

New York University

Bei Zhang

New York University

Sophie Hao

New York University


May 22, 2024

Inspired by the concept of the male gaze (Mulvey, 1975) in literature and media studies, this paper proposes a framework for analyzing gender bias in terms of female objectification: the extent to which a text portrays female individuals as objects of visual pleasure. Our framework measures female objectification along two axes. First, we compute an agency bias score that indicates whether male entities are more likely to appear in the text as grammatical agents than female entities. Next, by analyzing the word embedding space induced by a text (Caliskan et al., 2017), we compute an appearance bias score that indicates whether female entities are more closely associated with appearance-related words than male entities. Applying our framework to 19th and 20th century novels reveals evidence of female objectification in literature: we find that novels written from a male perspective systematically objectify female characters, while novels written from a female perspective do not exhibit statistically significant objectification of any gender.