Media and Violence: Gendering the Debates


Karen Boyle

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    So many people have influenced this project along the way, and have supported me during the writing, that it is impossible to name them all here. There are, however, some people I must single out.

    Over the last months it has been my pleasure to work with Julia Hall and Jamilah Ahmed at Sage, whose enthusiasm, professionalism and patience have made finishing this book a much easier task.

    At an earlier stage, my colleagues and friends in Women's Studies at Wolverhampton – Pauline Anderson, Barbara Crowther, Pat Green and Penny Welch – provided the intellectually stimulating and supportive environment for feminist scholarship within which this project was born. Special thanks to Barbara who has been a great supporter of this book and provided invaluable feedback on individual chapters along the way.

    Many colleagues, students and friends have helped clarify my thinking and writing and offered constructive comments on draft chapters: thanks to Eliz Boyle, Rachel Connor, Carole Dodds, Gary Needham, Nik Peasgood, Lisa Price and Paul Sutton, and to all the students on my Screen Violence classes at Wolverhampton (1999–2001) and Glasgow (2002–3).

    Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the proposal and individual chapters, and to Michael McCann for technical assistance and good humour in the face of some of my more bizarre requests.

    To Helen Wood and Fiona Black I owe a huge debt of gratitude both for their careful reading of the manuscript and for their friendship and support during some of the darkest days. Without the additional support provided by Rachel Jones, Gavin and Carleen Boyle and, in particular, Tracey Coleman, finishing this book would have been a much tougher if not impossible task.

    Finally, love and thanks to my parents, Eliz and Sandy Boyle, who have seen me through it all (and there's been a lot of it) and to my nephew, Ryan Boyle, who always lifts my spirits when I need it most.

    List of Illustrations

    • 1.1 A simple solution to a complex problem: The Sun urges readers to burn their video nasties in the wake of the James Bulger murder trial (25 November, 1993). 3
    • 1.2 The demonic doll, Chucky, leading the killers of James Bulger to their fate (The Sun, 27 November, 1993). 4
    • 3.1 Stories about rape, stories about sex (Daily Star, 2 October, 2003). 77
    • 3.2 The spectacle of the female victim. Mary Ann Nichols, generally thought to be the first of the ‘Ripper's’ victims (Illustrated Police News, 8 September, 1888). 83
    • 3.3 The spectacle of the female victim. Catherine Eddowes before and after death (Illustrated Police News, 12 October, 1888). 84
    • 3.4 Sheryl Gascoigne's experience becomes the centrepoint of a The Sun/Reiuge campaign against domestic violence (The Sun, 24 November, 1999). 88
    • 3.5 Asking for it? Anthea Turner as ‘culpable’ domestic violence victim (The Mirror, 26 October, 2000). 91
    • 4.1 Female sexuality as criminal – Maxine Carr as the agent of death (Daily Star, 18 December, 2003). 113
    • 4.2 Female sexuality as criminal – she kissed, he raped and killed (The Mirror, 18 December, 2003). 114
    • 4.3 The changing faces of Myra Hindley (The Observer, 17 November, 2002). The photograph on the far left is the infamous shot taken just after Hindley's arrest in 1966. 115
    • 5.1 Out of place in the world of serial killer investigation – Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991). 136
    • 5.2 and 5.3 Rape is violent, not erotic. The use of long shots and the focus on the rapist in I Spit on Your Grave (Zarchi, 1978) frustrates the voyeurism of the spectator. 139
    • 5.4 Seeing through the Terminator's eyes in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Cameron, 1991). 144
    • 5.5 and 5.6 A body, fragmented but muscular, strong and in action. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.145
    • 5.7 The male body and the Reaganite right in the composite figure of ‘Ronbo’. 147
    • 5.8 Sex is women's power. The sexually harassing femme fatale of Disclosure (Levinson, 1994). 155
    • 6.1 and 6.2 The disclosure of child sexual abuse in a familiar setting, Jessie Wallace as Kat in EastEnders (BBC1, 2 October, 2001). 170
    • 6.3 The close-up isolates the speaker and the title of the programme in the bottom left of the screen reinforces the individualised nature of the story (Kilroy, BBC1, 26 September, 2003). 177
    • 6.4, 6.5 and 6.6 The alternating use of close-ups and high-angle long shots in the rape scene is disorientating and reminiscent of the rape revenge film. As he attempts to rape Buffy, Spike remains in human face (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ‘Seeing Red’ 6.19). 191
    • 6.7 The vampire's ‘game face’ in an earlier episode {Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ‘Smashed’ 6.09). 192


    At the first meeting of my Screen Violence course, students are given a short questionnaire to fill out. In this questionnaire they are asked to give examples of film/television programmes they define as ‘violent’ say why they define them in this way and describe their own viewing experiences. I invite you to do the same and keep your responses to hand as you negotiate your way through this book.

    I find this exercise useful for a number of reasons. First, and perhaps most important, this exercise places all of us in the screen violence debate – a debate more typically focused on ‘other’ audiences. Instead, I want us to begin by thinking about ourselves – our own investments, experiences and (un)pleasures – and use this to reflect on some of the benefits and limitations of both popular debate and academic research. Second, the exercise challenges us to think about exactly what ‘screen violence’ is. Again, this is something we will come back to during the course of this book as we reflect on the ways in which our understandings reflect (or do not reflect) popular and academic definitions of the term. Asking a few friends to respond to these questions will give you additional material to draw on here. To what extent are your understandings shared or disputed?

    The last couple of times I have used this exercise, the same film titles (Reservoir Dogs, Fight Club, the Terminator films, Pulp Fiction,Natural Born Killers), genres (horror, action, gangster) and directors (Tarantino, Scorsese) have cropped up time and time again. In defining screen violence, then, these movies might seem like an obvious place to start. In many ways they are. These are films – and directors – with a reputation for violence, where the violence is assumed to be part of the pleasure (or unpleasure) that the film offers its viewers, and have often generated considerable controversy for precisely this reason. In defining these Alms as ‘violent’ viewers, ai tics and marketing departments do – to a certain extent – agree. Yet, when the students explain why they think these films are violent, the consensus begins to break down. First, the basis on which they classify the films/programmes varies widely: modality, explicitness, visibility of injury, use of weapons, type of character involved and perceived acceptability of violence in specific generic, cultural or narrative contexts all feature. Moreover, the same films are often described by different students in opposing terms: Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1991) is violent because it is realistic and unrealistic, gruesome and moral, it glamorises and critiques violence.

    What quickly becomes clear in reviewing the diversity of responses is that there is a range of ideas about what screen violence is. Yet, as academic studies in this field have found (Morrison et al., 1999), there is perhaps a shared sense that screen violence is the explicit representation of physical violence (and injury) that breaks accepted codes of conduct and pushes boundaries of taste, whether it is celebrated or criticised on these grounds.

    Confusing things still further, year after year, this exercise also throws up a few apparent anomalies – texts that one student defines as violent in opposition to their peers or the prevailing attitudes about screen violence. These texts tend to fall into three categories: those depicting slapstick physical violence (such as children's cartoons), news and current affairs programming and representations of non-physical violence (verbal aggression, threats, psychological abuse). Certainly, if we count the number of violent acts on screen (as some academic research in this field attempts to do), Reservoir Dogs pales into insignificance next to an episode of Tom and Jerry. If, on the other hand, we consider the implications of violent actions as being central to our definition, even a movie like Die Hard 2 (Harlin, 1990), with its notoriously high body count, pales next to the live news broadcasts of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 or the repeated bombing of Iraq in 2003. Thinking about what we don't actually see on screen, it is also, of course, the threat of violence that is truly frightening in many horror movies.

    Moreover, the minute we try to come up with a definition of ‘screen violence’ the difficulty of trying to separate the screen from other media, and the media from life, becomes apparent. To go back to Reservoir Dogs, this film has been repeatedly – if contentiously – linked to acts of violence in the real world. In answer to his critics, Tarantino claims that the film is ‘realistic’ because, ‘If someone is hit in the stomach, that's how they die’ (quoted in Dargis 1994: 19): the ‘real’ is here invoked to legitimate the on-screen gore. However, the film has also been linked to viewers' subsequent acts of violence. Perhaps, then, we need to expand our definition of ‘media violence’ to include real-world violence linked to the media? Of course, most of us only know about these incidents because we read or hear about them in the news media. Are these news stories also media violence?

    The title of this book – Media and Violence – is thus intended to remind us of some of the difficulties of defining these key terms.1 This book is not concerned with a definable object called ‘media violence’ but, rather, with various facets of the relationship between the media and violence. In this respect, it is not only those texts commonly defined as violent that are my concern, as will become apparent in Chapter 6. Further, the subtitle of this book – Gendering the Debates – points to the way in which ‘violence’ is conceptualised throughout this book as a gendered phenomenon. The recognition of the gendered nature of violence is the pre-eminent feminist contribution to our understanding of violence (Price, 1999: 19). To be clear, this does not mean that all men are violent or that women are incapable of violence. What is does mean – simply but crucially – is that our understandings of violence and gender are absolutely interlinked. Stories about violence – including those you yourself have told in response to the questions set at the beginning of this chapter – are, at some level, stories about gender, about what is means to be a man or a woman in the specific social, cultural and political contexts in which the stories are told.

    Since at least the 1970s, developing an analysis and understanding of violence (primarily, but not exclusively, men's violence against women) has been central to feminist theory and activism. Feminists have demonstrated that how we define violence – and where we see violence as unjust or criminal – is a reflection of our positioning in other discourses about gender, sexuality, justice and society. For example, is a husband who forces his wife to have sex against her will exercising his ‘conjugal rights’ or is he a rapist? Is a knife attack on an elderly woman outside a shopping centre more violent than a knife attack on a young man outside that same shopping centre? To take a more headline-grabbing example, when Arnold Schwarzenegger allegedly groped and fondled women on movie sets, was he having a bit of fun or was he guilty of sexual harassment?

    These questions should draw our attention to the fact that violence is not a commonsense category but an ideological one. Moreover, to reduce violence to a series of acts – a punch, a kick, a grope, a stabbing and so on – runs the risk of diverting our attention away from the realities of violence as a behaviour, as something one person (or group of people) does to another person (or group of people) (see Rappeler, 1995: 2). Violence is also a behaviour that takes on particular meanings (for the perpetrator, victim and others) in relation to the specific social, political and cultural context in which it is enacted.

    More specifically, making men's violence visible was a crucial aspect of early feminist work. There were two aspects to this:

    • making the gendered nature of violence explicit (hence the use of terms such as male violence and femicide)
    • making ‘hidden’ violence visible as violence.

    Such violence was, and is, ‘hidden’ because it takes place behind closed doors (as in marital rape, child sexual abuse and domestic violence), because it was (and often still is) culturally and/or legally acceptable – a man's ‘conjugal right’2 a ‘bit of fun’ – and because we had no words to describe it (terms like domestic violence and sexual harassment entered public discourse as a result of feminism).

    In addition to making this violence, its perpetrators and its victims visible, feminists were and are concerned with establishing links between different forms of male violence against women. As Liz Kelly (1988) influentially argues, individual acts of male violence exist on a ‘continuum’ that encompasses a wide range of criminal and non-criminal behaviour – ‘from flashing to rape’ as one feminist anti-violence campaign put it. Importantly, then, violence is not the preserve of a few evil or monstrous men. Rather, feminists argue that aggression is a culturally valued and accepted facet of masculinity in Western culture and that violence has to be understood in the context of patriarchy. It is a key element in maintaining male power and control over women at a structural as well as an individual level (and over other men, differentiated by class, age, sexuality, race). Seeing and documenting the connections between ‘violent’ men and ‘normal’ men can be extremely depressing, as well as challenging and disturbing for those of us who have emotional, practical and erotic investments in dominant constructions of masculinity. However, it is also a far more positive and ultimately hopeful approach than labelling individuals as monsters because, by acknowledging the violent actor's agency and decision to act, we also admit the possibility that he is capable of different decisions and actions. It allows for – and, indeed, requires – the possibility of change and insists that all of us can be involved in this process.

    Feminists throughout the world have made significant progress in putting male violence and, in particular, men's violence against women, on political and legislative agendas and in providing services for women victims and survivors. In tandem with this, feminist cultural critics have examined the media's role in the circulation of gendered discourses about violence. Indeed, feminists have long recognised that changes in the way we represent violence do not only follow social change but changes in representation – and interpretation – can also lead the way (Benedict, 1993).

    However men's violence against women is not the whole picture. Crime statistics consistently demonstrate that men are the most likely victims – as well as perpetrators – of violence. Yet, precisely because it is so prevalent, male victimisation is undoubtedly under-researched, both in relation to real-life experiences and media representations. Indeed, it is telling that, in this book, male victimisation is most thoroughly considered in relation to screen fictions. Male-on-male violence is simply less newsworthy than men's violence against women or women's violence per se (Surette, 1998; Cavender et al., 1999) and this has been reflected in the critical work. Women's violence – in fact and in representation – has, however, posed more problems for feminist critics. When research and criminal statistics alike consistently demonstrate that women are a small fraction of the perpetrators of all kinds of violence (with the notable exceptions of infanticide and female genital mutilation), it is understandable that feminists have often felt that the question of women's violence is a distraction. This is not to say that feminists have completely ignored the issue and, in Chapter 4, I will discuss some of the challenges this work presents. For now, it is sufficient to note that, as women's violence runs counter to cherished notions about femininity, women abusers are always visible as women, while male abusers (whose violence is not in conflict with their gender role) are rarely visible outside of feminist criticism as men.

    In this book I, too, am involved in telling stories about violence. While one of my aims is to make the gendered nature of media stories visible, in order to tell these critical stories I have had to consider how best to represent violence in my own text. This has been particularly tricky in relation to the representations of real-world violence discussed in Chapters 14. Although I am focusing on representations, it is important to remember that the actual brutalisation of women's (and, less often, men's) bodies and minds lies at their core. This raises difficult questions about how to represent the perpetrators, victims and the acts of violence, not least because a number of contemporary killers – including some of those I discuss in this book – have stated that part of their motivation for killing was a desire to be known. In recognising that their destructive acts have indeed made them known, in naming and discussing them, there is a danger of furthering their cause. Yet, this has to be weighed against a need to hold perpetrators publicly accountable for their crimes. In their excellent examination of sexual murder, Deborah Cameron and Elizabeth Frazer (1987) attempt to do this by providing an appendix detailing the ‘careers’ of the sex murderers referred to in their text. They (Cameron and Frazer, 1987: 178) explain their decision thus:

    The exercise of collating these facts has a function for feminists beyond the mere avoidance of exaggeration and half-truth: it prevents us from forgetting or ‘writing out’ the victims, both the fact of their suffering and what exactly they have suffered.

    Yet, Cameron and Frazer do not provide biographies of the victims killed by these men. Are they, then, guilty of ‘writing out’ the victims? If what we are interested in is why men (and, rarely in the case of sexual murder, women) commit these atrocities, then this is appropriate: we cannot explain violence by looking at victim behaviour. Yet, to fail to represent the victims at all, or to simply identify them as a ‘type’ (prostitute, co-ed, mother) robs them of their individuality and, arguably, makes it more difficult to empathise with them. This problem is particularly acute when talking/writing about the victims of serial killers as true crime author Ann Rule (1989: 488) notes in her book about Ted Bundy:

    Because Ted murdered so many, many women, he did more than rob them of their lives. He robbed them of their specialness too. It is too easy, and expedient, to present them as a list of names; it is impossible to tell each victim's story within the confines of one book. All those bright, pretty, beloved young women became, of necessity, ‘Bundy victims’. And only Ted stayed in the spotlight.

    How to represent what men like Bundy actually did is also problematic. Here, there is a fine line between registering the horror and turning the victim's violated body into a voyeuristic object to be looked at without identification, empathy or a desire for justice. For those of us for whom these scenes are only representations – words on a page, images on a screen – and not lived reality it is, undoubtedly, easier not to think of what men like Bundy did to their victims: women like ourselves, our friends, colleagues, daughters, mothers, lovers, wives. Such knowledge can paralyse us with pain, fear and rage. However, if we lose sight of the victims in these cases, we can all too easily become uncritical consumers of crime and lose the sense of purpose, indeed of urgency, that drives feminist study, research and activism in this field.

    I have found negotiating these tensions far from straightforward. Following Cameron and Frazer, I have provided basic information about key cases I discuss in an Appendix at the end of the book. However, I have not included victim biographies. I am still not entirely sure if this is the right decision, although, in the end, it was as much a practical as a political one (as Rule notes, there are simply too many victims and many of them are literally anonymous). Hopefully, the Appendix provides an alternative to the victim-blaming discourse that characterises many of the accounts discussed in Chapter 3 in particular. Yet, I recognise that my approach compounds the invisibility of victims of violence.

    As you negotiate your own way through this often difficult material, you will make up your own mind as to whether I have got it right or not. In doing so, I encourage you to think critically about how it could be done differently and to consider the ethical, political and moral – as well as practical – issues in representing the victims of violence in academic work as well as in the media texts investigated in this book.

    A Brief Guide to the Contents

    As is customary, I want to end this introduction with a few signposts to help you negotiate your way through this book. It brings together a diverse body of new and existing research – conducted within a variety of academic disciplines – concerning representations of violence in the media, their production and consumption. There is a vast amount of critical work in this field and, in this respect, this book should be treated as the starting point for your own studies, rather than the last word on these subjects.

    The book provides a series of tasters cooked up in the interdisciplinary context in which I work, and informed by an ongoing commitment to feminist struggles to end men's violence against women. My reading, writing and research is limited to texts in English and I refer mainly (though not exclusively) to the work of Anglo-American critics and draw my examples from mainstream British and American media. The violence investigated is, primarily, interpersonal violence – the behaviour of individuals. While positioning that behaviour in a wider social, cultural and political context is a vital part of the work undertaken here, equally pressing questions about the representation (and gendering) of state violence, war and terrorism will have to wait for another book. The critics, the media and violence investigated here are all clearly circumscribed, but it is my hope that those of you reading this book in other contexts – or with an interest in other media – will test, adapt, complicate and develop my arguments with your own examples.

    The book is organised into three parts, dealing first with the relationship of media to real-world violence (Chapters 1 and 2), second with the representation of real-world violence in fact-based media (Chapters 3 and 4) and, finally, with representations of violence in screen entertainments (Chapters 5 and 6).

    Part One kicks off with a critical examination of debates about the effects of violent media on their consumers and asks what is at stake in the attempt to link specific acts of male violence (and it is, overwhelmingly, male violence) to individual media representations. Drawing on an original study of the British press, the first half of this chapter discusses how the press constructs the ‘media violence’ story. With particular reference to press coverage of the trial of the boys who murdered James Bulger in 1993, and of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, it explores the gendered social and political functions of media stories about media effects.

    The second half of the chapter then moves on to consider how academic research – primarily in the UK and North America – has tackled the question of media effects. Rather than reviewing the findings of these studies – a task undertaken by many others, although with no consensus as to the sum of the evidence3 – this chapter considers the previously unacknowledged gendered assumptions behind much of the work in this field.

    Chapter 2 moves beyond the relatively narrow parameters of the effects debates to explore the complexities of media/violence in relation to production processes as well as consumption practices. The chapter begins with a consideration of anti-pornography feminists' work on abusive production practices and argues that this work offers an important challenge to the effects paradigm. It then moves on to consider how recent work on the gendered consumption of pornographic and horrific media troubles the audience-text relationship assumed by the effects model. The chapter concludes with an evaluation of different approaches to regulating and challenging media/violence.

    The two chapters in Part Two are also concerned with the relationship between representation and real-world violence, but here the focus is on the reporting of crimes of violence in fact-based media.

    Chapter 3 reviews and analyses a rich body of critical work developing within a variety of disciplinary contexts that both interrogates and challenges the ways in which men's violence against women – in the forms of sexual murder, sexual abuse and domestic violence – is constructed in news and true-crime accounts.

    The chapter opens with a discussion of the discourse of sexual murder – its emergence in the late nineteenth century (when the crimes attributed to Jack the Ripper coincided with the rise of the mass media), its use by the press and public and its construction of perpetrators and victims. I then turn to press coverage of non-fatal sex crime, drawing from an original study of ‘everyday’ sex crime reporting in the British tabloid press as well as from previously published work from Britain and North America. A particular concern here is the way in which female victims of violence are represented. Are they (still) the ‘virgins and vamps’ Benedict (1992) identified in her study of the US press in the 1980s?

    Finally, this chapter deals with representations of domestic violence – a rather neglected issue in writing about gender, violence and the media despite the proliferation of academic, and specifically feminist, studies of domestic violence in recent years.

    The representation – in law as well as in the media – of women who kill the men who abuse them has been a key area of feminist intervention and campaigns for justice, as I explore in Chapter 4. More generally, this chapter examines stories about women who kill (or abuse) to argue that they are, essentially, stories about gender conformity and transgression. Three major themes are addressed in this chapter: the relationship between women's victimisation and violence, the linking of women's violent and sexual subjectivity and, finally, motherhood and the female body. Arguments are illustrated with reference to representations of some of the most notorious women in British and North American criminal history.

    Against the background of the real-world violence that forms the basis for the stories told in Part Two, the presentation of violence as entertainment has, understandably perhaps, generated particular criticism from feminist critics. Part III considers these screen entertainments, but aims to move beyond simple condemnation (or celebration) to explore how these texts function and the extent to which feminism has impacted on the representations on screen.

    Chapter 5 focuses specifically on feature films. However, this chapter is less concerned with the content of filmic representations than with how they work to position their spectators in relation to scenes of gendered violence. With its debt to psychoanalysis, feminist film theory has been centrally concerned with the gendered violence of spectatorship – specifically, the controlling and sadistic aspects of the male gaze. Chapter 5 explores issues of spectatorship in relation to a number of genres – slasher films, serial killer thrillers, rape revenge narratives and action films – and ends with a consideration of women's violence on the silver screen.

    Clearly, violence in its many forms cuts across genre, period and national cinemas and so my discussion of film is inevitably marked by exclusion as much as inclusion. I have chosen to focus primarily, though not exclusively, on post-19 70 US films, as these are the representations that have typically proved most contentious in popular debate as well as in specifically feminist circles and generated some of the most interesting and relevant feminist studies. Again, I encourage you to consider how these theories might be complicated by a study of different texts, genres and national contexts.

    In Chapter 6, I turn my attention to the small screen. Television violence is a topic of recurring concern in debates about media effects, censorship and the family. However, much of this work has had little to say about the texts of television violence. In contrast, this chapter examines representations of violence across a range of television genres and texts produced in the US and UK in the last 20 years. My particular focus is once more on those genres that have been of concern to feminist critics and gender theorists – genres such as the soap opera, talk show, made-for-TV movie, cop show and action series. While the concerns of feminist television critics frame this chapter, they are also interrogated and challenged within it as I discuss the ways in which television shows (and feminist television critics) have tackled (or failed to tackle) issues of women's agency and men's violence.

    Finally, a few pointers to help you negotiate your way through this book. Introductions and summaries point to the major issues addressed in each chapter, and key questions scattered throughout the book encourage you to think about your own position and to make connections between the critical positions outlined in different chapters. A short list of recommended further reading is provided at the end of each chapter and the extensive bibliography should give those of you who want to take your studies that bit further plenty to go on. Brief definitions of key terms (printed in bold the first time they are used in each chapter) can be found in the Glossary and short outlines of the criminal cases I refer to most frequently are provided in the Appendix.


    1 In this I have been influenced by the work of Martin Barker and Julian Petley who similarly argue that the term ‘media violence’ is both notoriously imprecise and largely meaningless (Barker and Petley, 2001). Instead they refer to ‘media/violence’ the slash indicating the problematic nature of placing these terms together. I have used this formulation, where appropriate, in this book.

    2 In England and Wales, a man could not be charged with raping his wife until the early 1990s.

    3 Reviews by Henry (1988), Dworkin and MacKinnon (1988), Cumberbatch and Howitt (1989), Russell (1992), King (1993), Gauntlett (1995) and Miller and Philo (1999) reach a variety of conclusions about the nature and sum of the evidence linking media representation to viewers' subsequent violence.

  • Appendix

    This appendix provides brief details of the cases of sexual murder and other violent crime referred to most frequently in this book. Their inclusion in this list should not be taken as an indication of an equivalence between the actions and their perpetrators. Dates in brackets refer to the period during which the crimes occurred and the crimes are listed by the names of the perpetrators, unless there is another name by which the case is more commonly known. See the Introduction at the beginning of this book for a brief discussion of some of the difficulties in representing the realities of sexual murder.

    Bernardo, Paul (1987–92)

    Between May 1987 and May 1990, Bernardo stalked and raped eight women in Scarborough, Toronto. In December 1990, Bernardo and his girlfriend, Karla Homolka, drugged and raped Homolka's younger sister, Tammy. She died the next day, but no foul play was suspected. In 1991 and 1992, the couple abducted, raped, tortured and murdered two teenage girls. They videoed all three girls' ordeals. In January 1993, Homolka left Bernardo because of his violence towards her and, shortly afterwards, his other crimes came to light. In 1995, with Homolka giving evidence against him, Bernardo was convicted of murder, kidnapping, forcible confinement, aggravated sexual assault and committing an indignity to one victim's body. It is highly unlikely that he will ever be released.

    See also Homolka, Karla.

    ‘Big Dan's’ Rape (1983)

    The case – on which The Accused (Kaplan, 1988) is loosely based – involved the gang rape of a woman in Big Dan's bar, New Bedford. While the woman was raped, other men in the bar stood by and watched, some cheered, no one came to her aid. The victim was a Portuguese-American, the perpetrators were Portuguese immigrants. The case received sustained national media coverage and was the first criminal trial to be nationally televised. Two of the perpetrators were found guilty, two were found not guilty, but the victim and her family were effectively exiled from their community. Less than three years after the trial, the victim died in a car accident in her Florida exile.

    Brady, Ian (1963–65)

    With his lover, Myra Hindley, Brady abducted, tortured and murdered five children (aged 10–17), burying the bodies of the first four victims on Saddleworth Moor – hence, they were known as the Moors Murders/Murderers. Brady took pornographic photographs of Hindley and their victims and audio-recorded the torture of ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey (in which Hindley can also be heard to participate). In 1966, Brady was found guilty of three murders and he has since confessed to two more. At the time of writing (February 2004), he remains in Ashworth Hospital from where, in 2001, he published The Gates of ¡anus: Serial Killing and its Analysis.

    See also Hindley, Myra.

    Bulger, James (Murder of)

    See Thompson, Robert, and Jon Venables.

    Bundy, Ted (1974–79)

    In 1977, Bundy was found guilty of kidnapping and was awaiting trial for murder in Colorado when he escaped from custody. The first time, he was recaptured within eight days; the second time, he escaped to Florida where his killing spree continued. His murderous career spanned at least five years (1974–79), during which time, Bundy later confessed, he murdered, raped and mutilated at least 38 women in 6 states. Some commentators argue that this is a conservative estimate and suggest that he killed over 100 women. Bundy was executed in January 1989.

    Carr, Maxi Ne

    See Huntley, Ian.

    Central Park Jogger Rape (1989)

    The Central Park Jogger was a professional, wealthy, white woman who was beaten unconscious with a lead pipe and a rock, raped and left for dead in New York's Central Park. She had no memory of the attack. Five black and Hispanic teenagers were convicted of assaulting her: all have now served their time. In September 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist who had never been charged in relation to the case, confessed to the rape, claiming that he acted alone. There is DNA evidence linking Reyes to the crime and questions have been raised about the safety of the original convictions.

    Chambers, Robert (1986)

    Chambers was 19 when he confessed to the killing of his friend, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, claiming that her death followed ‘rough’ but consensual, sex that had ‘got out of hand’. Both in the press and the courtroom, Levin's life was subjected to intense scrutiny, resulting in feminist protest and outrage. Chambers was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and received a 5–15-year sentence. Violations of prison rules added time to his sentence and affected his eligibility for parole. He was released in 2003.

    Chapman, Jessica (Murder of)

    See Huntley Ian.

    Charlton, Jan (2002)

    Charlton killed her lover, Daniel O'Brien, with an axe. At her trial in Leeds, the jury found her guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation, accepting her claims that she had been abused by O'Brien and feared that he would abuse her daughter. She was jailed for five years, but released in December 2003.

    Columbine High School Massacre (1999)

    On 20 April 1999, two teenage boys – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebod – walked into their school – Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado – with a range of weaponry. After killing 13 people and injuring many more, they fatally turned their guns on themselves.

    Dahmer, Jeffrey (1978–91)

    The ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’ drugged, killed, dismembered and cannibalised his young male victims. Dahmer was found guilty of the murder of 15 young men, the majority of whom were black or from minority ethnic communities (Dahmer was white). His aimes came to light when one of the men he assaulted escaped and went to the police. An earlier viaim – a 14-year-old Laotian boy – had also managed to escape and alert the police, but the police believed Dahmer's story (that they were lovers) and returned the drugged boy to Dahmer, who strangled, violated and dismembered him. Dahmer was killed by a fellow inmate in prison in 1994.

    Hindley, Myra (1963–65)

    Hindley, one of the ‘Moors Murderers’ was conviaed, with her lover, Ian Brady, on two counts of murder and of being an accessory in a third murder. Jailed in 1966, Hindley finally confessed to her aimes – including her involvement (with Brady) in two additional murders – in 1986. Unlike Brady, Hindley fought for her release, generating intense revulsion in the British tabloid press. She died in jail in November, 2002.

    Homolka, Karla (1990–92)

    Along with her boyfriend (and later husband) Paul Bernardo, Homolka was involved in drugging, raping and killing three teenage girls, including her sister, Tammy. Each of the young women was videotaped during their ordeal, though the tapes – which showed Homolka taking an active role – did not come to light until after Homolka had made a highly controversial plea-bargain. She received a 12-year sentence for her role in each of the murders (to run concurrently) in exchange for her full cooperation in the prosecution of Bernardo. Homolka claimed, in her defence, that she was abused by Barnardo over a period of years. She was denied parole in 2001 and is due for release at the end of her sentence in 2005.

    Hughes, Francine (1977)

    The night Francine Hughes killed her abusive (ex-)husband James she had called the police following another attack, but they declined to arrest him. When he fell asleep, she set fire to his bed. Feminists and other interested people formed the Francine Hughes Defence Fund to raise money for her defence and raise public awareness of domestic violence and the gendered inequalities of the law. Hughes was acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity.

    Huntley, Ian (2002)

    In December 2003, school caretaker Ian Huntley was found guilty of the murders of 10-year-olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in Soham, Cambridgeshire, and given two life sentences. After his trial, it emerged that Huntley had a history of grooming young girls for sex, sexual abuse of young girls and women and a prior charge of rape (which had been dropped due to lack of evidence). His fianc´e, Maxine Carr, a teaching assistant at the girls' school, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice for giving Huntley a false alibi for the night of the murders. She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, with the recommendation that she serve half that sentence. There is some evidence to suggest that Carr was herself abused by Huntley.

    Jack the Ripper (1888)

    The name given to the man who murdered and mutilated prostitute women in Whitechapel, London. He was never caught and the fascination with Jack the Ripper continues to this day. The number of killings attributed to the killer remains a point of dispute. There were 11 unsolved femicides in Whitechapel between April 1888 and February 1891. The murders of five of these women are commonly recognised as being the work of one killer. However, some ‘Ripperologists’ argue that the killer's total number of victims during this period may be nearer to 13 or even more.

    Levin, Jennifer (Murder of)

    See Chambers, Robert.

    Lucas, Henry Lee (1975–82)

    North American ‘wandering’ serial killer who courted celebrity with his confession to around 360 murders. The confessions followed his 1982 arrest on suspicion of the murder of the 80-year-old widow who had employed him as an odd job man. Prior to these killings, Lucas had already served time in prison for killing his mother and, in addition, he strangled the first girl he ever had sex with when he was 14 years old. He later recanted many confessions and police were able to disprove others. Although it is certain that he killed his former employer and his teenage wife, his involvement in many other murders remains unclear. In 1999, his death sentence was commuted to one of life imprisonment.

    Moors Murderers

    See Brady, Ian, and Hindley, Myra.

    Sutcliffe, Peter – the Yorkshire Ripper (1975–81)

    Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and attempted to kill another 7. Many of his victims were prostitutes and feminists have argued that it was not until he claimed his first non-prostitute victim that the police began looking for the killer in earnest. His modus operandi was to hit his victims on the head with a hammer and stab them repeatedly in the breasts and abdomen with a sharpened screwdriver. Sutcliffe claimed that he had a divine mission to cleanse the streets of prostitutes, but, at his 1981 trial, his defence of diminished responsibility owing to delusions was rejected and he was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment and has since been transferred to a special hospital.

    Thompson, Robert, and Jon Venables (1993)

    Thompson and Venables were 10-year-olds when they abducted 2-year-old James Bulger from a Merseyside shopping centre and killed him. Their crime and trial generated sustained media coverage and the judge in the case caused considerable controversy when he suggested (with little evidence) that the killers' consumption of violent videos may provide a partial explanation of the crime. Amid much media furore, the boys were released with new identities in 2001.

    Wells, Holly (Murder of)

    See Huntley, Ian.

    West, Fred, and Rosemary (1967–87)

    In February 1994, police investigating the 1987 disappearance of the Wests' 16-year-old daughter, Heather, began searching for her remains at the couple's 25 Cromwell Street home. In total, the dismembered remains of nine young women – including Heather – were uncovered at Cromwell Street and three other bodies were found in nearby locations. The women had been sexually tortured before death. Fred was charged with 12 counts of murder, two of which (the murder of his first wife and his pregnant lover) predated his relationship with Rose. Fred hung himself on New Year's day 1995 before he could face trial. In November 1995, Rose – who insisted that Fred had acted alone and without her knowledge – was found guilty on ten counts of murder. She has been told she will never be released from prison.

    Whitechapel Murderer

    See Jack the Ripper.

    Wuornos, Aileen (1989–91)

    Wuornos shot and killed seven white, middle-aged, heterosexual men in the space of 18 months. Wuornos, a lesbian who worked as a prostitute, initially claimed that on each occasion she acted in self-defence as the men, who had picked her up on Florida's Interstate 75, raped or attempted to rape her. Wuornos has been labelled the first female serial killer, although there was no evidence of the lust to kill or any suggestion that she derived sexual pleasure from the killings. Wuornos was executed by lethal injection in October 2002.

    The Yorkshire Ripper

    See Sutcliffe, Peter.


    • backlash (against feminism) The conscious and unconscious efforts to reverse or contain gains made by feminism. Although most commonly used to refer to the backlash against second-wave feminism, backlashes have followed feminist gains in other historical periods (see Faludi, 1992).
    • commercial sexual exploitation Any commercial activity the profits of which come from the sexual exploitation of women and children. This includes prostitution, pornography, stripping and lapdancing.
    • ‘date’ rape A contentious term that has no legal status and has been rejected by feminists, who argue that it undermines the seriousness of the rape. As popularly used, the term refers to rapes by acquaintances of all kinds and is not restricted to situations where the man and woman have made a date to go out together. This usage not only trivialises rape but also distorts the relationship between victim and perpetrator.
    • diegesis/diegetic The diegesis is the fictional world of a text. In terms of film, everything we see and hear that belongs to the on-screen fictional world is diegetic. So, music from an on-screen jukebox is diegetic, while soundtrack music is non-diegetic – that is, it does not have an on-screen source.
    • discourse: A group of statements that together produce a particular type of knowledge within specific social contexts. Discourses are ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’ (Foucault, 1972: 49). Discourses are both determined by their social context and contribute to the way that social context continues its existence. See Mills (1997) for an accessible introduction to the various uses of discourse.
    • domestic violence Physical, sexual and emotional abuse within intimate relationships, most commonly, men's abuse of women and children. The use of this term has been much debated in feminist research and activism as it is argued that it disguises gendered realities and, by labelling violence ‘domestic’ downplays the severity and criminality of abuse. In Britain, the term ‘domestic violence’ is still used by agencies supporting women (such as Women's Aid or Refuge), government and the public at large and so it is used throughout this book. In the US, ‘battery’ is the more commonly used term, although this, too, is gender-neutral.
    • femicide The murder of women because they are women. Also referred to as woman killing and gynocide.
    • fetish/ism In psychoanalytic terms, a strategy to disavow sexual difference by substituting a fetish object for the woman's lack (of a penis) or turning woman herself into a reassuring fetish object – for example, by a fragmentation and over investment in parts of the female body.
    • film noir A term coined by French film critics to refer to a group of American thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s (often adaptations of hard-boiled crime fiction) that typically dealt with dark or violent passions in a downbeat way. The themes and visual style of film noir witnessed something of a revival from the 1970s onwards. The femme fatale – the enigmatic, dangerous, sexual woman – is central both to film noir and its more contemporary variants and has been of particular interest to feminist film critics (see, for example, Kaplan, 1998).
    • gorenography Used by some feminists to refer to slasher movies and other representations of sexualised violence against women in mainstream entertainment genres. The term quite obviously seeks to establish a link between such representations and pornography.
    • infanticide A woman's killing of her child of less than one year in age because she is suffering from the effects of childbirth or lactation. This is an offence men cannot commit (although they can and do kill their infant children) and the penalty tends to be light as these women are seen as being victims of their biology.
    • liberal feminism Focuses on achieving equality for women within existing social structures.
    • male gaze from Laura Mulvey's hugely influential work on visual pleasure and narrative cinema (published in 1975). Now more generally used to refer to the male point of view or way of looking that is privileged in patriarchal culture and assigns to women the position of (sexualised) object.
    • masochism Pleasure or sexual gratification in receiving pain or suffering from another person.
    • misogyny Hatred of women. This should be differentiated from sexism, which is not gender-specific.
    • modality The relationship between a statement (or media text) and reality.
    • moral panic The theory that agents and institutions of control – which include the media – exaggerate forms of deviance and danger in order to justify the control of those persons or things portrayed as deviant/dangerous.
    • obscenity A subjective and a moral concept. In Britain, for example, obscenity is defined in law as material that is likely to ‘deprave and corrupt’ but who is likely to be ‘depraved and corrupted’ and how they are likely to be so affected is not specified.
    • patriarchy A form of social organisation in which men are dominant and the central institutions of society (family, church, government, media and so on) are controlled by men and/or organised in their interests.
    • pornography Three main definitions of pornography are adopted in academic writing on the topic. The first, associated with anti-pornography feminists, defines pornography as material that is both sexually explicit and sexist, violent, degrading, dehumanising and/or sexually objectifying. The second definition, often used by anti-censorship writers, sees pornography as sexually explicit material designed for arousal and/or for fantasy. Violence is not an inherent component of this definition. Third, a number of writers define pornography as that material identified by producers, distributors and consumers as pornography – that is, material sold in sex shops, magazines located on the top shelf or videos found in the adult section.
    • post-feminism The ‘post’ in post-feminism can and does variously imply a periodisation, a development and a rejection of second-wave feminism. Post-feminism has never been a concrete political, activist movement and the writers most associated with the term have little in common, except, perhaps, a rejection of what is seen as the victimising tendency of radical feminism and an interest in exploring issues of women's autonomy, subjectivity and desire. The emphasis of much post-feminist writing is on the agency of the individual, female subject. However, critics note that this is often at the expense of an understanding or analysis of oppression as actively constructed along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality.
    • psychoanalysis A methodology for the study of the human psyche and for treating mental and emotional disorders based on revealing and investigating the unconscious.
    • radical feminism Sees patriarchy (and the institutions that support and perpetuate it) as the source of women's oppression and works to challenge and dismantle the patriarchal system. Radical feminists are particularly concerned with issues of sexuality, violence against women, pornography and commercial sexual exploitation, leading critics to rebrand radical feminism as ‘victim feminism’. By suggesting that radical feminism focuses only on women as victims, the challenge radical feminists pose to men and male privilege is negated in this critique.
    • rape Historically, the spoiling of the chastity and value of a woman by a man who had no legal claim to have sex with her. The fact that a husband could not be charged with raping his wife (up until 1991 in England and Wales) was a reflection of this. In Britain, legally defined as the penetration (or attempted penetration) of the vagina or anus with the penis without consent. The focus on penetration distorts the ways in which many women experience rape.
    • sadism Pleasure or sexual gratification in inflicting pain or suffering on another person.
    • scopophilia The desire to see, the drive to pleasurable viewing.
    • second-wave feminism The women's liberation movements (note the plural) that emerged in the UK and US in the late 1960s/early 1970s. The term reminds us that feminist ideas and organising have a history – a ‘first wave’. See alsoliberal feminism, radical feminism.
    • serial killing/serial murder A term coined by an FBI profiler in the 1970s to refer to a series of murders, often with a sexual component, committed by one person or group of people with significant periods of time between murders. It has been suggested that the term disguises the sexualised nature of the majority of these crimes and, thus, their meaning to (predominately male) perpetrators (see Cameron and Frazer, 1987).
    • sexual abuse Abuse in which victims are targeted on the basis of their sex and where sex is an explicit component of the abuse.
    • sexual harassment Deliberate or repeated sexual behaviour that is out of place and makes the recipient feel that they are being inappropriately sexualised. Behaviour in this category can range from belittling comments to demands for sex.
    • sexual murder Murder that has a sexual component. The sexual component may be the rape or sexualised mutilation of the victim or the sexual charge the killer derives from the murder.
    • sexual violenceSeesexual abuse.
    • slasher films Also known as ‘stalkers’ and ‘splatter’ films. A subgenre of horror in which a group of young people (male and female) are stalked and their bodies ‘slashed’ by a (usually male) killer.
    • snuff A pornographic movie culminating with the actual sexual murder (the ‘snuffing out’) of a person. The existence of commercial snuff has long been disputed, but the existence of non-commercial snuff – the filming of sexual murder and rape by perpetrators for their own viewing – is undisputed.
    • the unconscious That which is forbidden or repressed from consciousness. Psychoanalysis explores how and why thoughts and desires are repressed (particularly in childhood, as the young child becomes aware of sexual difference) and how this impacts on our subjectivity.
    • video nasties A term mainly (but not exclusively) used to describe low-budget horror films featuring explicit violence, gore, sex and/or nudity and aimed at a youth audience. It is a notoriously imprecise term, emerging in Britain in the 1980s and inextricably linked to fears about children and young people's ‘unregulated’ use of the then new video technology.
    • voyeurism Watching people without their permission or knowledge. Feminists have suggested that voyeurism is not only sexual but inherently violent in the attempt to control the (usually female) object of the (male) gaze.


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