U.S. Television’s “Mean World” for White Women: The Portrayal of Gender and Race on Fictional Crime Dramas, July 2015, Sex Roles 73(1):70-82.
Authors: Scott Parrott and Caroline Titcomb Parrott
From the research abstract:
A quantitative content analysis examined gender and racial stereotypes concerning victim and offender status in fictional crime-based dramas from the 2010–2013 seasons of basic cable television programming in the U.S. Coders documented variables for 983 characters across 65 episodes of television. The study predicted male television characters would stand greater chance than female television characters of being perpetrators of violence and crime. Meanwhile, female television characters would stand greater chance than male television characters of being victims of crime and violence.
A z-test of proportions supported these hypotheses, except when it came to a comparison of male and female television characters who appeared as victims of violence. A research question addressed the gender (male, female) and racial (Black, White) composition of crime and violence perpetration and victimization. Chi square and z-test analyses confirmed White female television characters stood greater chance of being victims of crime than White male, Black female, and Black male television characters. White female television characters stood the greatest chance of being victims who suffer serious harm or death. White women stood a greater chance of being rape or sexual assault victims, being victims of serious harm at the hands of an assailant, and being attacked by a stranger.
Cultivation theory informed the discussion, proposing that persistent exposure to such stereotypical content may nurture skewed perceptions concerning the prevalence of crime targeting women, and especially White women, in the real world.
And from their conclusions:
Findings underscore the need for content analysts to take into account both gender and race, as well as their potential pairings, when documenting media portrayals. Perhaps most important, the results suggest that these programs perpetuate characteristics of the ideal victim stereotype in which White females experience harm at the hands of strangers. Indeed, when compared to other race-gender pairings, White women stood the greatest chance of being crime victims when they appeared on screen. White women stood the greatest chance of being victims of rape/sexual assault. They stood the greatest chance of being murdered. They stood the greatest chance of being attacked by a stranger, and they stood the greatest chance of suffering serious harm or death through violence when they appeared on screen.
These are stereotypes (or what I often call “crime tropes” on this blog) that are counter-factual to crime statistics:
FBI statistics for 2012 (a midpoint during this period of TV programming) show that it was actually males who represented the majority of murder victims in the U.S., with 9917 of 12,765 (or 77 %; FBI 2012a). Black males were most often murder victims in the real world of 2012 (representing 5538 or 43 %), followed by White males (4093 or 32%), and then White females (1762 or 14 %) and Black females (915 or 7 %). Furthermore, when murders occurred, it was family, friends and acquaintances who were most likely to commit the act, rather than a stranger (FBI 2012b). Thus, the victimization of White females in the television programs analyzed here vastly misrepresents which gender and race runs the risk of being the victim of extreme violence and may mislead White women to potentially believe that if they are to be victimized, it will be by a stranger over someone they know and consider close” (78-9).
This last part is especially important because it demonstrates how such stereotypes or tropes further particular social/power agendas. In this case, the trope of the “white woman victim” at the hands of a “stranger” who is often depicted as non-white, low-income, or otherwise associated with non-legitimate social status roles is circulated to distract from the reality that men and women of different genders and races are often most likely to be the victims of the men they know and rely on for other forms of social protection or status. Such as a parent, spouse, domestic partner, family member, co-worker, etc.
In other words, the trope of the “WFV” preserves a racial patriarchy.