Babysitters, Car Shows, and Girls — Defining Gendered Spaces through Image Searches

Google search is a fascinating tool for surface-level social and cultural analysis. A 2013 UN Women campaign used search terms and auto-predict to demonstrate common searches about women, and the results are CRAZY and eye-opening. But that’s old news, right? What else can we do with Google searches?

This morning I was doing some preliminary “research” on gender and space (which resulted in quite a few references to Sally Ride – Haha, yay for unintended puns). As expected, there were a TON of academic and scholarly articles but that wasn’t really what I was after. I wanted some examples of how public areas and spaces can be “gendered,” meaning the ways that gender is reinforced and reproduced by and through our environments. A really blatant example of reinforcing gender roles is the way most department stores separate toys into “pink” (girl) and “blue” (boy) aisles. Car toys are almost exclusively marketed towards boys, so I decided to take it a step further and see what I would find in the adult realm. I typed in “Carshows” into Google and did an image search. This is what I got:


Okay, maybe I spelled it wrong… Here’s “Car Shows”in a Google image search:

Capture2Wow. This search yielded pretty much the same results.

I’m definitely not a search engine expert and this neat Google description of how search engines work in general was helpful. I’m assuming image searches work in a similar fashion by using algorithms and indexing to load the top results. I know that in regular and image search mode, auto-predict will provide you with the top searches related to what you’re typing – at some level this probably influences us to correlate the subject with the auto-predict results, even if those things aren’t actually related. If “car shows” actually means super-duper sexed up chicks placing their boobs on cars, what images would other terms generate?

I quickly realized that while it’s not a tangible “space” (I don’t physically go to Google to find my information), these image results are to a degree representative of commonly held perceptions. And in this example of “car shows” I definitely get the message that if I attend a car show, it will likely be a gendered space where women are commodities rather than consumers (and therefore not a place I would feel comfortable or welcome). So even before I consider attending a car show, I’m already deterred. Even without being in the actual space, this search communicates and reinforces gender roles relating to car shows through the resulting images.

Personally I think that’s pretty powerful (and (again) personally, I would probably still go to a car show if interested or invited because FTW I do what I want).

But it’s not all about dry-humping cars (I know… you’re sad) –  I did some random searches of people in places and occupations. Some of the screenshots when viewed individually aren’t all that bad (some aren’t really bad at all) but some of the images when viewed in comparison to contrasting terms or ideas began to surface questions or observations about how we represent some of those ideas and expectations.

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Okay, that’s it. All of these results can be duplicated (if you saw something you like or whatever… don’t want to know, not judging… PLEASE don’t let it be the babysitter page – *shudder*)

Oh, before you go though – here’s a different sort of car show model! *This guy is super cool and you can read more about the unique Toyota commercial here: