For several years the Amanda Knox case was closely covered by the media of the world. On November 2, 2007, British student Meredith Kercher was found dead, half-naked, throat slashed, in her villa while studying abroad in Italy. Immediate suspicion was directed at Kercher’s roommate, 20 year old, American girl, Amanda Knox along with her new Italian boyfriend, Rafaele Sollecito, who had initially called the police. Additionally, multiple men were accused of sexual contact with Kercher, including Sollecito, Patrick Diya Lumbaba, and Rudy Guede. As the Italian law enforcement looked deeper into the case of odd suspect behavior, sex, and lies, they found only more confusion. The media focused particularly on Amanda Knox as a suspect, and scrutinized her behavior, personality, words, and actions throughout the duration of the case.
Using the Amanda Knox case as a prime example of female violence, I am looking to answer the question of what underlying dominant ideologies about females as violent criminals exist in society. I have utilized previous research in order to analyze the coverage of the case. In Berrington and Vandenberg’s (2009), “Depictions of Female Offenders in Front-Page Newspaper Stories: The Importance of Race/Ethnicity”, they explain that gender roles are learned from society. Berrington and Honkatukia explain in their article, “An Evil Monster and a Poor Thing: Female Violence in the Media”, that society has a created a stereotypical “proper” female, a woman who is non-violent, nurturing, and passive; when a woman commits a violent crime, she has not only broken the law, she has also “overstepped the boundary of what is considered ‘proper’” (144). It is important to research this topic because the society media perpetuate stereotypes about women. These stereotypes can cause people to attribute a crime committed by a female to deviance from “normal” characteristics of females, as opposed to seeing the crime as the result of a single individual who lost control. It is important to realize the underlying dominant ideologies about different types of people that exist in society so we can properly identify them, and therefore, not fall under their influence. This way, we form our own opinions according to the facts, and not biases from other people.
The media portrayed Knox as being violent because of sexually deviant characteristics, as well as a potential to be mentally insane and disorganized. The Amanda Knox case exemplifies the media’s tendency to look for characteristics that deviate from the social norm, when it comes to violent female crimes. The case demonstrates the dominant ideology that “proper” women could never commit such crimes and suggests women should be completely virtuous and emotionally very stable, and that when they are not, the results could be dangerous, and even fatal.
Context and Methods
In doing my research, I have used three scholarly articles to familiarize me with Amanda Knox and her case, as well as dominant ideologies about women and how women are portrayed by the media when they commit violent crimes.
Annunziato’s (2011), “The Amanda Knox Case: The Representation of Italy in America”, describes, thoroughly, all of the details pertaining to the Amanda Knox case. The article also describes Amanda Knox, her innocent physical appearance, the way she behaved throughout the duration of the case, and the accusations about her sexuality, substance use, and immorality.
Brennan and Vandenberg’s (2009), “Depictions of Female Offenders in Front-Page Newspaper Stories: The Importance of Race/Ethnicity”, analyzes dominant ideologies about women and how these ideologies play roles in female criminality. The article first explains the fact that gender roles, though based on biological sex, are actually learned from the stereotypes of society. Features attributed to “moral” women include maternity and wifing, passiveness, and non-violence; on the other hand, attributes of “criminal” women may include insanity, hyper-emotion, masculinized behavior, or sexual deviance (Brennan and Vandenberg, 2009). Brennan and Vandenberg then explain that in some instances, the severity of women’s actions have been dulled by twisting the situation to make the woman a “victim of circumstance” (Brennan and Vandenberg, 2009). The prominent American belief of “white egocentrism” is then described. Brennan and Vandenberg argue that because of this “white egocentrism” ideology, white women are more likely to be viewed as “victims of circumstance” than are minority women.
Berrington and Honkatukia’s (2002), “An Evil Monster and a Poor Thing: Female Violence in the Media”, examines how a woman’s femininity is put into question whenever a woman commits a violent crime. The article discusses female stereotypes, such as non-violence, nurture, and passivity, and explains that when a woman executes a crime such as murder, she has not only violated the law, she has also overstepped the boundaries of what is considered “proper” feminine behavior. It also reveals the fact that women are statistically much less likely to commit violent crimes than are males. Therefore, when a female performs an act of violence, not only is she transgressing the norms and expectations for what it is to be a proper female, but she is also executing an action that goes against data and statistics. It is for these reasons that Berrington and Honkatukia argue violent female criminals achieve vast media coverage and societal attention. The authors then argue that when a woman commits an act of violence, she is categorized as “bad” or “mad”. “Bad” insinuates that the woman has performed an act of violence because she is simply evil; on the other hand, “mad” implies that the woman has executed violence because she is mentally ill. “Bad” or “mad” categorization from the media can determine whether the woman is sympathized for or socially exiled as a malicious being as a result of her crime.
I researched twenty reports on the Amanda Knox case, seven newspaper articles from the New York Times, National Post, New York Post, and Seattle Post Monterey County Herald, one magazine article from Newsweek, five web-based publications from CNN.com, Guardian Unlimited, and BreakingNews.ie, and seven broadcast transcripts from CNN, Fox News Network, CBS News, and ABC News. I discovered these reports utilizing the LexisNexis Academic Database and using the search term “Amanda Knox 11/1/2007-12/31/2007”.
All of these reports focus on Knox’s behavior, personality, image, appearance, words, and actions. Because my research question focuses on how violent female criminality is portrayed by the media, I looked for articles that paid particular attention to the reasons the media gave for attributing Knox to Kercher’s murder. I searched for underlying stereotypes the media used in discussing Knox, keeping in mind the stereotype theories presented in the Brennan and Vandenberg and Berrington and Honkatukia articles.
After reading and analyzing all twenty reports on the Amanda Knox case, I found that the media attributes Knox’s involvement with Kercher’s murder to characteristics of sexual deviance and insanity. Kercher’s murder was portrayed to be the result of “… some kind of sexual orgy that went wrong” (Wordsworth, 2007). The implications are that Kercher was murdered because of a wild sex game that went out of control. When Knox was arrested and portrayed as a prime suspect, the media focused on the behaviors, personality aspects, and actions of Knox that paralleled the murder.
The first reason the media attributes to Knox’s ability to commit a violent crime is sexual deviance. Amanda Knox is Caucasian, with light brown hair and bright blue eyes. She comes from a loving family and grew up in a middle-class community in Seattle. The Seattle-Post Intelligencer reported: “None could have foreseen this: The 20-year-old from Arbor Heights placed squarely at the center of a case that’s riveted Europe—the throat-slashing slaying and rape of Knox’s female roommate” (Pulkkinen and Rowe, 2007).
According to Brennan and Vandenberg’s (2009) “white egocentrism” theory, a woman like Knox should have sympathized with and depicted by the media as a “victim of circumstance”. However, the media depicted Knox as a sex-crazed, mentally and emotionally unstable, and dangerous woman. Therefore, in order make Knox seem capable of such a crime, the media needed a reason to portray this “angel face” as a darker character.
Knox set herself up for failure. Both on her MySpace and in her blog, she went by the name “Foxy Knoxy”. On Knox’s MySpace, she had uploaded photos associating herself with guns, intoxication, and provocation, as some photos present her in tight clothing and suggestive poses. In her blog, Knox wrote obscure short stories, some of which passed the boundaries of questionability when touching on subjects such as drugs, rape, and violence. Newsweek Magazine recounted that, “In one of her short stories on the Web, a young man accused of drugging and raping a girl… tells his brother, ‘A thing you have to know about chicks is that they don’t know what they want’” (Dickey and Nadeau, 2007). Because of the provocative nature of her Internet identity, the media depicted Knox as a “cold maneater” (Fisher, 2007).
Due to the sexual nature of Kercher’s murder correlating to some of Knox’s online behavior, it allowed the media, as well as prosecutors to form conclusions based on Knox’s sexuality, because it parallels aspects of the murder. The National Post declared, “The sexual intercourse involving [Ms. Kercher] and [Mr. Diya] must be regarded as violent, given the particular threatening context in which it took place, and to which Knox must have contributed” (Wordsworth, 2007). The evidential fact was that Diya had participated in violent sexual intercourse with Kercher; however, Wordsworth (2007) then states that “Knox must have contributed.” The media assumes that because violent sex was involved in the murder and Knox portrayed herself provocatively on the Internet, Knox must have participated in Kercher’s murder.
The second reason the media attributes to Knox’s involvement with Kercher’s murder is mental and emotional instability. Of the twenty articles I analyzed, more than fifty percent of them reported that Knox was either emotionally or mentally unstable. The fact that she “…changed her story several times…” (Fisher, 2007), was included in six of these articles. The media attributed this to one of two possibilities; it either assumed Knox was an emotionally distraught and weak girl or ultra-manipulative, smart, and conniving woman.
Knox changing her story so many times was quite controversial. One the one hand, there were some reports that were more sympathetic toward her, blaming her multiple accounts of the night on emotional instability. The Monterey County Herald (California) reported, “After a break following the tears, Knox denied to answer any more questions… adding that she had difficulty answering when she was confronted with past conflicting statements” (Monterey County Herald, 2007). The report mentions Knox’s tears and difficulty, insinuating that her altering and switching of stories stemmed from an inability to think because of emotional stress and trauma. This presentation of Knox, harbors more sympathy from the audience, though the article shortly follows with an explanation that Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of a knife that had Kercher’s DNA on the tip, still portraying Knox as guilty.
On the other hand, other reports depicted Knox as “… cold-hearted, as emotionless” (CNN). When The New York Post interviewed one of Kercher’s friends about Knox’s behavior at the police station, she contended, “ ‘I just remember thinking at the police station that Amanda’s behavior was very strange. It was as if she wasn’t bothered at all’ (Soltis, 2007). The New York Post then reported that, “ ‘the face of an angel but ice-cold eyes,’ was lying when she said she spent that night at Sollecito’s apartment” (Soltis, 2007). The ominous image of the “ice-cold blue eyes” (Soltis, 2007) implicates a coldness about Knox as a person. The report also uses the word “lying”, to describe Knox’s change of story. Reports similar to The New York Post recount Knox’s physical appearance and describe her change in stories as lies, connoting that she is mentally capable of manipulating those around her in order to work in her favor. This depiction of Knox causes the audience to dislike Knox as a person because they assume that she is evoking confusion and problems on purpose.
Other reports portray Knox as having a mental predisposition to be unusually violent. CNN.com described Knox as having a “fatal capacity for aggression” and later said that, “(Knox) has a disposition to follow whatever drive she has, even when they can end up in violent and uncontrollable acts” (CNN.com, 2007). This description fits closely into Berrington and Honkatukia’s (2007) stereotypical “bad” female. The media describes Knox as being naturally evil, implying that mentally, Knox has an inbred drive that causes her to act out in violent ways.
The last reason the media attributes to Knox having the capability to be a murderer, is a multiple personality disorder. Much of the media thought that Knox was capable of portraying herself as both sweet and emotionally distraught and “lust-crazed”, manipulative, and violent. CNN News Network broadcasted a report on the case in which many people were interviewed about Knox’s behavior. One of Knox’s teachers declared, “I thought maybe she has two lives” (CNN, 2007). Similarly, The National Post defined Knox as a “very strange type” (Wordsworth, 2007) and Fox News Network went as far to say that, “… she appears to have a multiple personality problem…” (Fox News, 2007). This portrayal of Knox epitomizes Berrington and Honkatukia’s (2007) ideological “mad” woman, though “badness” is also implicated, because in her insanity, she is still able to manipulate others around her. Knox is described as mentally insane, but capable of switching personalities depending on situation. In this media depiction of Knox, she harbors no sympathy; rather, people become frightened of her capabilities, and then blameful because of her potential.
Amanda Knox was depicted as capable of committing the murder of Meredith Kercher because she was sexually deviant and mentally and emotionally unstable. The Amanda Knox case illustrates the media’s inclination to blame violent female criminality on deviance from characteristics of women that are deemed “proper” by society. Research concerning how the media portrays female violence is important because stereotypes about women that exist in today’s society can cause people to attribute a violent crime committed by a female to straying from what is “proper”. Brennan and Vandenberg (2009) discuss how “gender roles” are learned from society, and that a stereotypical “moral” female should be maternal, passive, and non-violent (Brennan and Vandenberg, 2009). Berrington and Honkatukia (2002) explain that when a woman commits a violent act, she oversteps the boundaries of what is “moral”, and is therefore, by society’s standpoint, an “improper” woman. The Amanda Knox case proves both Brennan and Vandenberg and Berrington and Honkatukia’s theories about stereotypes about women to be valid. As the media desires to harbor a large and committed audience, it maintains these stereotypes, and causes people to blame characteristics of criminals, rather than the criminal herself. In Knox’s case, the media blamed her sexual deviance and emotional and mental instability as opposed as associating the crime to Knox herself.
Resources and Research
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Fox News Network. 12/5/2007. College Student Jailed in Connection with Roommate’s
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