ESSAY : SHOWS A DEEPLY SEXIST MEDIA | SOHAM MURDERS
Introduction (ESSAY : SHOWS A DEEPLY SEXIST MEDIA | SOHAM MURDERS)
The representation of women by new media channels is a factor that has received wide criticism through time. The purpose of this essay is dedicated towards developing a critical discussion on myths associated with crime and the underlying realities, focusing on the specific case of the Soham murders. In this regard, the following essay aims to project how new media channels confer a sexist representation of the subject of their news content, with the focus on how the victims and suspects identified in the Soham murder incident had been exhibited by the news media channels, particularly in the UK. The essay has been segmented into four sections. A brief description of the Soham murder to outline the context of the essay is presented followed by inciting on the prevalence of gender-bias, and discriminated representation of women by media channels. Finally, an outlook at the impact of sexist practices by the news media has been presented.
Overview of the Soham Murder case
The incident occured on August 4th, 2002, when two 10-year old girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were founded murdered, by the accused Ian Huntley in the Cambridgeshire town of Soham (Wykes and Welsh, 2008). The trail for Soham murder had ended in 2003, with Ian Huntley being charged guilty for the murders and was sentenced for life imprisonment, while his girlfriend, Maxine Carr, was found guilty as an accomplice for perverting the course of justice and thereby sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment (Jones and Wardle, 2008). It is further noted that as a result of the Soham murder case and previous abduction and murder cases of the similar context, had led to the emergence of a paedophile panic in the UK, leading to an exponential increase in criminal record checks, being legitimately conducted on citizens (Baldwin, 2019). The trial outcomes revealed that the two girls had gone out to buy sweets, when they had crossed Huntley’s house while returning, and the accused had abducted and killed them, where after the bodies of the girls were discovered a week later (Cambridge and Shakhnazarova, 2021).
The incompetency of the police forces in managing to securely retrieve or trace the abducted girl had also been highly criticised by news media outlets. To this cause, in 2007 the Police and Justice Act of 2006 was introduced, outlining a more tight management of local police forces and policing powers, influenced by the Bichard Inquiry on the case of the Soham murder (Parker-McLeod, 2020).
Gender bias in media
The aspect of gender bias can be clearly identified as a prevalent trend followed by news media channels. In this case, it is noted that although women are provided a voice in the news, the comparative volume and majority of the space in the news articles are retained by men (Asr et al. 2021). Therefore, there is an evident lack of equality in quotations of men and women published by news media outlets. This can be further verified from previous research works by (Greer et al. 2017), which highlight that discrimination and bias as historically prevalent tropes exercised by news media channels, primarily related to the paradigms of gender, class, ethnicity, age and sexuality.
Considering the case of the Soham murder, clear evidence on gender-bias is reflected in the media representations of Maxine Carr and Huntley’s mother, the accused accomplice of Ian Huntley in the murder case. This is based on the understanding that the press coverage on Huntley largely cited perspectives, which implicated Huntley’s girlfriend, Maxine and his mother as the primary characters related to the cause of Huntley’s violence (Jones and Wardle, 2008). This can be further verified from the context of the news reports in the incident published by The Sun, which highlighted Carr as a ‘snivelling, selfish liar’, along with further accusations of Carr falsely victimising herself in the crime and making public revelations on her whereabouts during the murder (Wykes and Welsh, 2008).
A strong gender bias is confirmed from the content of new reports which perversely represented Maxine as equally responsible for the terrible Soham murders, even though she was not in any way involved in the act of murder by Huntley. In this case, it is configured that the failure of news media channels in reporting incidents in a comprehensive manner, is due to the lack of an understanding of the nuances and norms related to the factors of gender identification and sexual orientation (Mastrorocco and Minale, 2018). Furthermore, with regard to later developments related to the case, new reports also revealed about both Maxine and Huntley having homosexual relationships. In this case, a review of the related news articles clearly illustrated a very descriptive and detailed description on their separate engagements, however, news media channels failed to respect the anonymity offered to Maxine by the UK government and continued to make publications on the personal life of Carr (Mirror.co.uk, 2005). This clearly showcases a complete disregard by the new media channels, for privacy and personal security of the public. Also, this also exhibits gender-bias, in the context that news media continued to reveal instances about Maxine’s life despite a court order against it, while in comparison, the priority of news channels on Huntley was limited.
Representation of women by media
The representation of women by news media sources is also recognized to be highly controversial, which leads the female sex to experience more potential threats than men. This is also relevant for men and women with criminal charges. In this case, it is noted that women release from prison, are at a risk of facing ‘double discrimination’, whereby the public are seen to be typically relay extreme prejudice against women offenders as compared to men (Newburn, 2017). This is widely evident in the situation faced by Maxine Carr, from after the trial of the Soham murder case. It is noted that, news articles published by The Sun, making strong speculations that the unabashed behaviour of Maxine was the cause of Huntley committing murder, whereas several websites also reported of Maxine’s life, inciting fear and vigilantism (Wykes and Welsh, 2008). A vilified and negative representation of women by news media is clearly represented, whereby The Sun essentially constructs its content that indicates Huntley as a victim to Maxine’s lifestyle, leading him to violence, and simultaneously addressing Maxine as a threat to public safety. These instances, dictates a very poor and hypocritical representation of women by news media, since Maxine had been justified to not being involved in the murder during the court trials, along with her repeated statements asserting to her innocence.
Research works also indicate that discriminated representation of men and women is widely inclined on the basis of the subject of the articles where they are quoted. In this case, it is noted that females are majorly represented in care giving roles, incorporated in news subjects related to entertainment, lifestyle and healthcare, whereas men are realized to occupy more representation in subjects of business, politics and sports, implying their status as leaders (Rao and Taboada, 2021). This essentially denotes a sexist approach to news reporting by media outlets by outlining and indirectly imposing specific gender roles and biased representation of women. The theoretical perspective on scapegoating developed by Girad, stipulates that history and myth are interrelated factors that are required to explain collective violence and persecution (Borenović, 2019). This further leads to the scapegoating, where the victim is unable to voice their innocence and challenges false accusations. Furthermore, women are typically exemplified to hold a capacity to nurture others, whereby scapegoating of females by news media channels is recognized to be based on exhibiting hatred for female bodies and female sexuality, and emphasis on cultural associations of women with evil (Storrs, 2004).
Evidence underpins that sexual violence against children become a priority news telecasted and published by news media channels, often supported with multiple graphic descriptions, whereas the narratives on women victims, especially adults, are noted to exhibit the female to be responsible for their victimization (DiBennardo, 2018). As such, representation of women as victims is not considered to be as important as their male counterparts, whereas crimes committed by women are presented by news channels to be more serious and heinous crimes, as compared to crimes committed by males.
Impact of a sexist media
Sexism is realized as a major characteristic induced in the practices of news reporting by the majority of media channels. In this case, it is noted that the common themes that form the basis of governing judgements, punishments and representation of criminal women are; sexuality, madness, and regard for women as carers and housewives (Seal, 2010). Based on this criterion, it is noted that women with criminal offense are generally charged less intensely as opposed to male criminals. In this case, based on the works of Davidson and Kelly (2020), it is stated that criminal women are more severely punished by court and by the public, specifically for stepping outside their generalized social norms depicting women and wives and mothers. This is widely depicted in the case of the Soham murders case, where Maxine faced continued bashing and accusations from British news media channels. In this case, the context of her lesbian relationship after being discharged from prison was presented in an abusive manner, with several iterations on her association with the Soham murders (Mirror.co.uk, 2005). This consequence of public vigilantism imposed against Maxine, clearly depicts the negative impact of a widely sexist approach of news media channels in presenting incidents. This is validated from the fact that the UK government issued her an indefinite anonymity, so as to protect her from being the victim of continued bashing by the public and the media (Jones and Wardle, 2008).
On the other hand, male-centric, indirect sexist remarks are further recognized to be an avid practice of news media channels as well. This is widely prevalent in the incidents related to the aftermath of the Soham murders. In this case, it is noted that news media has made serious backlashes against Sir Ian Blair, for his statement, accusing news media of ‘institutional racism’ and for elevating the Soham murders as a highlight against other crimes in Britain (Guardian, 2006). In this case, the instance following his statement depicts news media making indirect sexist remarks to his reputation and causing him professional and personal harassment, by citing him as ‘a disgrace, offensive creep, cack-handed, clodhopping foot-in-mouth, and eccentric, among others (Greer and McLaughlin, 2011). As such, sexist indignations of news media is a major concern that makes a serious negative impact on the victims of the sexist statements made by news outlets, due to its influence of harbouring a similar, wider public opinion.
The implications of sexist inferences made by news media also lead to discriminated characterisation of victims and criminal offenders. In this regard, considering the case of women, it is noted that both female offenders and victims are subject to equivocal treatment by news media, whereby the majority of female victims are represented as bad victims and blamed for their circumstances voiced through sexist depictions (Collins, 2016). Furthermore, sexism-based aberration of people by news media channels also instils discomfort and ill-feelings among the relatives and family members of the victims of such media outrage. This is evident from the fact that Maxine Carr involved in Soham murders had received further backlash in 2011, with news reports stating her being pregnant (Gerrard, 2011). In this case, sexist and continued vigilantism against her by the news media implies a significant threat for the future of her baby and family.
The following essay infers that both myths and historical realities related to crime are key factors that must be evaluated together and are determined to be essential in deciding the suitability of collective violence and persecution. The essay provides a detailed discussion on the existence of gender-bias and deplorable representation of women by news media sources. It is further noted that sexist remarks and connotations made by news outlets in their articles and reports can also leave an extending and long-term impact on the people being back lashed by the media outlets and their relatives and families.
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