Women as Victims in the Media
One interesting aspect of murder is the way it is portrayed in different forms of media. In particular the way female murder victims have been portrayed over time reflects the social norms of the period. Focusing on the way murdered females were portrayed in various forms of media, beginning in the late eighteenth century in the United States and ending with the present day representations in film it is evident that a traditional style of portraying dead women has continued to pervade society through the twentieth century.
Stories, either fictional or based on actual events, began around 1800 portraying women victims as young, unmarried, beautiful and innocent. Their deaths were portrayed as resulting from a loss of innocent, generally through premarital sexual contact. The descriptions of the dead bodies were graphic and occasionally erotic in nature. (Cohen, 277-306) These descriptions came at a time when the literacy rate was rising rapidly and the relatively free attitude towards premarital sex was changing to a more restrictive one. Thus popular media portrayed these new sexual attitudes and reinforced them in a larger segment of the population than it had previously. The message appeared to be that women who were sexually active before marriage were doomed to horrible fates. At the same time the erotic descriptions of the corpses gave a voyeuristic pleasure to an audience that was taught to regard premarital sex as a taboo.
Comparing a study done by Gloria Cowan and Margaret O'Brien concerning the differences between male/female survivors vs. non-survivors in slasher films during the 1980's to the characterization of women victims in the media in the early 1800's show striking similarities. In the study female...