Media representation of maternal neonaticide
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The present research conducted a rich discourse analysis of an episode of the fictional television crime drama, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as well as a content analysis of local and national news transcripts focusing on the representation of mothers who commit neonaticide. Both fictional and non-fictional media sources exhibited aspects of the monstrous maternal theme and the strain defense theme. The monstrous maternal theme consists of words and statements that indicate the descriptions of crime committed against the newborn as well as negative responses and reactions by others to the young mother and her crime. The strain defense theme refers to instances that discuss the internal and external strains of the young woman that may have contributed to her committing neonaticide. However, the "monstrous maternal" is the prevailing representation of mothers who commit neonaticide in both fictional and non-fictional media sources. This media representation utilizes "control talk" to separate "us" the good mothers, who abide by the cultural expectations of traditional gender roles and embrace the internal and external strains of motherhood, from "them" the criminal mothers, who fail to adhere to these role expectations of motherhood by committing neonaticide. The present research reveals that cultural stories and scripts of the monstrous maternal still exist. This contemporary folklore may serve as a form of social control to scare women into conforming to these traditional gender roles and bearing the burden of the motherhood strains, in order to avoid being branded a bad mother. Finally, the present research develops the application of General Strain Theory to explain the internal and external strains of a young woman that may contribute to her committing the criminal act of maternal neonaticide. These media representations of maternal neonaticide could impact the criminal justice system and public policy. Questions of accuracy, gendered understandings of crime and gendered understanding of appropriate punishment are areas the present research explores. Most importantly, the present research seeks to investigate the connection between legal culture in both media and professional practice - and what those connections mean for our general cultural understandings of violence and aggression in women.
Lewis, Jocelyn Renee (2008). Media representation of maternal neonaticide. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from