Femininity on trial : decoding media representations of Mary Winkler
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As the main vehicle through which the majority of the population comes to understand the world around them, the media has the power to dominate public opinion, reinforce traditional notions and introduce new ideologies. With regards to gender, the media’s role is two-prong: it pathologizes and highlights gender deviance, and simultaneous reinforces culturally constructed gender norms. The current study examines media representations of Mary Winkler, a Tennessee woman who shot her minister husband to death in 2006. Winkler’s role as the wife of a religious and community leader implies high morality, sexual demureness, nurturance and obedience. Because Winkler’s involvement in the shooting death of her husband severely conflict with these social and gender role expectations, this work examines how Winkler’s social position affect media depictions of her criminality, and the implications of these depictions on society’s perception of gender, religion, and crime. To answer these questions, 97 newspapers articles produced between April 9th, 2007 (the first day of Winkler’s trial) and August 15, 2007 (the date of Winkler’s release on parole) were analyzed using content analysis methodology. The study results show that Winkler’s adherence to feminine norms was highly influential in her construction as a sympathetic figure and her receipt of a lesser conviction of voluntary manslaughter.