the depiction of female serial killers in print news: a content analysis
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Does the news media help perpetuate gendered images of womanhood and motherhood when reporting cases of female serial murder? I perform a content analysis of American newspapers across time to analyze the extent to which female serial killers are depicted in such a way that reinforces normative expectations associated with being a woman, as well as with being a mother. I analyze newspaper articles from 1900 to 2013 depicting cases of female serial murder consistent with the FBI’s definition of serial murder. Descriptions of female killers’ victimization history and mental health/substance abuse issues function as a means to deprive them of social agency and thus reinforce their subordinate position in society. Overall, newspapers frame female serial murder in such a way that reflects American patriarchal values and norms, according to which for females, and especially for mothers, it is not socially acceptable to step outside the boundaries of gender roles and expectations. The results indicate that female serial killers are depicted along gendered frames that enable the audience to re-interpret women’s deviance in a socially acceptable way that does not threaten normative gender roles and expectations.