Representations of men's violence against women : audio-visual texts and their reception
Portrayals of sexual and/or domestic violence committed by men against women appear in the television schedules and in movie theatres on almost a daily basis. There is a long established tradition of concern about how depictions of violence in the audiovisual media can impact on audiences. However, minimal consideration has been given to what kind of discursive 'messages' such portrayals might contain and how audiences engage with these. This research explores to what extent audio-visual portrayals of violence against women might offer certain ways of reading and understanding that violence, and how women audiences interpret these. It investigates this through both textual and reception analyses, with the framework through which reception is examined being directly related to the textual material itself. The study assesses to what degree audio-visual texts are capable of structuring audience interpretation, and whether there is any direct relationship between this and how women viewers actually read the texts. Four audio-visual products are examined: the Hollywood film The Accused; an episode of the soap opera EastEnders; the television play Closing Ranks; and an edition of Crimewatch UK. Ninety one women, formed into 14 focus groups, participated in the reception research. Half of these women had experienced violence of a domestic and/or sexual nature, whilst the other half had no experience of such violence. Groups further varied in terms of nationality (Scottish and English), class (working-class and middle-class) and ethnic background (white, Asian and Afro-Caribbean). The research demonstrates that neither audio-visual texts nor their reception can be considered outwith an appreciation of how social and cultural factors influence both. The media are involved in the circulation of cultural meanings about acts of violence against women and in mediating this cannot help but draw on existing discourses which surround such violence. As audiences, women also draw on their socialised conceptions of such violence, though how they engage with and read its representation is affected by their social and cultural positionings and their own lived experiences.