I decided to look at the relative frequency of words that apply to women and their roles in society over the course of time to find insights about their status or recognized importance.
For my experiment I compared “women”, “mother”, “wife”, “girl”, “female” and “lady”. It’s clear from the outset that the occurrence of “women” is far higher than the other words that were compared and really spikes in the late 1900’s especially in the early 90’s. I realized now (far after the fact) that I forgot “woman” from the initial analysis but including it doesn’t change the trends that much. Oddly enough its not quite as pronounced as “women” and doesn’t spike up as significantly either.
Ignoring whatever is the cause of the difference, the two words still trend together fairly well. The occurrence of “female” also tracks pretty well.
On the other hand, over the past 300 years, the word “wife” stays fairly stable and unchanged. I think this points to a difference between the traditional role women play (in the household) and the emphasis on the actual women themselves. While traditional roles and words describing those (like “wife” and “mother”) stay relatively constant throughout recent history, words describing the people themselves occur more as importance and attention is directed at them.
Looking at the early half of the seventeenth century and even up to the year 1900, the word “women” actually occurs less than “mother”. I think this really points to the difference and culture shift that is indicated in the written English language.