I am (not) that (kind of) girl. A research project exploring the role of the media in (re)producing dominant social constructions of gender in reporting on sexual assault. Criminology research project in support of the degree of Master of Criminology, University of Sydney. Supervised by Gail Mason.

Ms Gemma Worboys1

1University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

I am (not) that (kind of) girl explores the role of the media in (re)producing dominant social constructions of gender in reporting on sexual assault.

Feminist scholarship considers gender as socially constructed, performed through idealised masculine and feminine norms and behaviours. As a discursive text, the media is reported to be an important tool in the construction of gender. It does this not simply by reflecting and expressing already existing meanings, but by actively constructing reality through selecting and presenting, or structuring and shaping narratives.

This project examined representations of gender in 33 newspaper reports on a high profile Australian sexual assault case (the ‘Mullins case’). Critical discourse analysis (CDA) was employed to assess the media’s influence on gender constructions. CDA was selected in light of the effectiveness of this method in identifying the constructive effects of discourse in text.

Three distinct discourses were detected in the newspaper articles; Mullins the ‘rapeable’ victim; Lazarus the pitiful victim; and, Lazarus the powerful predator. These discourses were supported by ten identified discourse strands.

Representations of the complainant, Mullins, were overwhelming consistent with characteristics of contemporary hegemonic femininity. Discourses relating to the accused, Lazarus, were consistent with dominant constructions of masculinities, albeit in contrasting ways. That these opposing discourses coexisted in the reporting, to relatively equal extents, is arguably evidence of the power of rape myths in shaping public perceptions of sexual assault.

It is concluded that that newspaper reporting does (re)produce dominant social constructions of gender in reporting on sexual assault.


Biography:

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