News Coverage of Violence against Women: Engendering Blame

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Marian Meyers

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    For Emma and Talia

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    Preface

    It is my hope that this book will serve as both a source of information to those concerned about violence against women and an inducement for reporters and editors to critique their coverage of this violence and to more thoughtfully write about it. The predominant problems with news about violent crime against women—such as blaming the victim and reinforcing harmful cultural stereotypes and myths—lie not with individual journalists but with the social structures and values that deny male violence against women in a serious, systemic problem rooted in misogyny and patriarchy. By reflecting this cultural blindness, the news reinforces it—and thereby contributes to the perpetuation of violence against women.

    Although the problem may be systemic, individual journalists must take responsibility for changing this situation. They must, quite simply, become sensitive to the needs of the victim and to their role in fostering damaging stereotypes and myths.

    There is, of course, precedent to what is being proposed here. Journalists daily are confronted with having to weigh information for possible inclusion in a story against the effects that information might have on crime victims and others. Most journalist, for example, do not routinely identify race in crime coverage, and many attempt to avoid the most egregious racial stereotyping of African Americans and the African American community. Similarly, in the coverage of male violence against women, reporters and editors must learn to avoid both the infliction of further injury on individual women as well as the perpetuation of myths and stereotypes. At the very least, this means excluding information with little journalistic value that is personally demeaning or painful to the women. It also means not representing them as in some way contributing to or being responsible for their own victimization.

    Of course, to accomplish this, journalists must educate themselves about violence against women and the cultural myths that underlie this violence. News Coverage of Violence Against Women is offered as a contribution to that process.

    MarianMeyers

    Acknowledgments

    I am indebted to many people who have helped make this book possible. I am grateful, in particular, to Carolyn Byerly and Pat Priest, both academics and activists in the movement to end violence against women, for taking the time and care to thoughtfully read and comment on the entire manuscript. This book has benefited immensely from their efforts.

    I also would like to thank Mary D'Avanzo and Carolyn Lea for their research assistance, as well as the students in my “women and media” classes who, over the years, have in various ways assisted in this project. Thanks are due, too, to Susan Ford Neel, who helped with the statistical analysis of television news coverage that appears in Chapter 4, and to Linda Steiner, who provided very helpful comments on an early version of Chapter 6.

    The news reporters and the advocates for raped and battered women, who so graciously agreed to be interviewed (often by students), have my sincere gratitude. Much of this book would have been impossible without them.

    The photo of Louvale Westbrooks reprinted in Chapter 3 appears courtesy of the Atlanta Journal/Constitution and photographer Nick Arroyo, who very graciously printed copies for me. Chapter 3 is adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Spring 1944 issue of the Journal of Communication. I am indebted to Cassandra Amesley and Mary Ellen Brown for their comments on an early draft of that article, as well as to Dick Bathrick and Gus Kaufman, both of Men Stopping Violence, for their valuable insights that led to the writing of it. Permission to use the news stories analyzed in Chapter 3 was granted by the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. Permission to quote from the 11 p.m. newscasts also was granted courtesy of WAGA-TV and WSB-TV.

    I would like to thank, too, the Department of Communication at Georgia State University for providing me with course release time and student assistance for this project.

    Finally, I would like to thank my husband, Danny, for the infinite ways in which he encouraged and supported me in the writing of this book.

  • Appendix

    Editor's Note: Reprinted with permission from The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution. Pomerantz, G. (1990).

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    About the Author

    MARIAN MEYERS, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University, is a former reporter and news editor.

    She has been involved with battered women's movement since the mid-1970s, when she was among the first group of volunteer trainees at Daybreak, a shelter for battered women and their children in Worcester, Massachusetts, and was a member of the steering committee of the Massachusetts State Coalition of Battered Women's Service Groups. Most recently, she has served on the board of Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Besides the examination of news coverage of violence against women, her research interests include the mediated representation of women and other socially marginalized groups within popular culture.


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