"Bad Girls": Women Lawbreakers, Law and Order "Commonsense", and the Politics of Representation "Reality" Television

Peter Kiatipis, York University

Drawing on Marxian theories of class, feminist conceptions of gender, and critical theories of race and ethnicity, this paper examines representations of women lawbreakers in both Canadian and American reality television programs. Specifically, this paper explores how these representations of women and their relationship to crime reinforce stereoypes in which women are pathologized, infantilized, demonized, and/or sexualized. In addition, emphasis is given to the manner in which women's lawbreaking and criminality are racialized in such productions. Reality TV programs (such as Cops and To Serve and Protect) have been regarded as modern morality plays in which contemporary social life is portrayed as out of control, social anxieties and uncertainties about issues like security are high, and the lines between good and bad are clearly drawn. However, while they purport to show "raw reality", such programs offer an intensely media processed and biased vision of crime and criminal justice that has strong political implications (for example, by fostering support among audiences for a law and order ideology and by displacing structural explanations for women's lawbreaking, like poverty). Episodes from several Canadian and American reality-based law enforcement programs are analyzed with an eye towards differences between representations in American and Canadian productions.

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Updated 05/20/2006