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Media Depiction of Women and Criminality

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Chamberlain Case (1984). On 29 October 1982, in the Northern Territory Supreme Court, Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murdering her nine-week-old daughter, Azaria, by cutting her throat in the front seat of the family car at a camping area beside Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia. Her husband, Michael, was convicted as an accessory. Appeals to the Federal Court and the High Court were unsuccessful. Lindy continued to claim throughout the entire time that a dingo had taken Azaria from their tent at the camp site they were staying in. In 1986, a rock climber who had fallen to his death near a dingo lair prompted a wide search which uncovered Azaria's lost matinee jacket that Lindy had claimed she was wearing on the night of her disappearance. This led to the release of Lindy on grounds of 'compassion' and in 1988 the convictions were quashed in after a judicial inquiry found some of the main forensic evidence in the case to be wrongly identified. During this time the case was continually quoted as being a trial by media.

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Lindy Chamberlain was seen as many things, Through her harsh portrayal by the media, the incorrect scientific evidence used against her, and a public witch-hunt crying out for blood, Chamberlain was incarcerated for showing herself to be something other than a standard housewife. Her tough composure in court, her sometimes cold persona in front of the media, her insistence in sticking to her claim that a dingo stole her baby and her not well known religion all combined to become a character of discomfort in the eyes of the public who followed her case with constant interest and unwavering opinions. Was she too powerful thus in total opposition to the feminine/passive mould of common feminine expectations? Was she too far from the physical appearance of a 'woman' of the 1980's to be socially acceptable? Her deviation from the 'norm' of female sexuality was enough to make her a target for widespread prejudice. The smear campaign commissioned in her name forced her otherwise seemingly normal 'self' to become transgressive in ways that were neither necessary nor valid to the case against her for the murder of Azaria.

The involvement of Sexuality, Transgression and Difference in the vilification of a woman:

Lindy Chamberlain was presumed to be guilty by the media and general public from a very early point in the whole well documented saga. The main question that arises from the so easily adopted belief she was a killer is, "What was it about her appearance that made her so easily vilified?" It can be assumed that it was largely to do with the public persona she kept which was often bereft of emotion and quite cold. One Newsday article documented that 'Lindy was a prickly woman who did not fulfill the press' cliched expectations of how a bereaved mother was meant to act' (Darling, 1988). This was a fairly common description of how Lindy Chamberlain

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was perceived. It seemed that the carefully constructed ideals about Lindy Chamberlain were put in place so as to define the social boundaries from which she transgressed when she faced the courtroom. These boundaries became blurred by the mixture of fact and fiction involved in the retelling of Lindy Chamberlain's story by the media. "The 'speculative' and the 'facts' seemed to be eminently interchangeable". (Verhoeven, 1993, pp. 95). To what purpose was this blending of real life and fantasy developed?

It could be said that Lindy Chamberlain in fact transgressed from the feminine 'norm' by exhibiting such a consistently commanding presence in the face of such adversity. Verhoeven, in 'Biting the hand that breeds', concludes this 'commanding' appearance portrays an almost paradoxical woman by going against the assumptions of femininity being linked to passivity and masculinity as active (1993, pp.90). The media discourse solidified this image of Lindy by constantly focusing on the lack of emotion and constant calm she exhibited during the televised inquests of the Crown VS Chamberlain and subsequent media interviews. This absence of her much sought after displays of emotion had been the talking point of many media outlets for over 20 years. As recently as 2007, Amanda Platell, for the Daily Mail compared Joanne Lees to Lindy Chamberlain: "I haven't seen such creepy control in a woman since Lindy Chamberlain cried 'My God, the dingo's got my baby'." (Lawson, Belfast Telegraph, 2007).

By inviting the public to see Lindy Chamberlain as a being outside the boundaries of feminine concepts, the media made it possible to vilify her as something other than a woman. In doing so they created an avenue in which to apply the rule of 'A woman, by definition, is not violent, and if violent, a female is not a woman'. (Aileen Wuornos in Martin, 1994, pp.143). The cleverly created dark and mysterious identity of Lindy Chamberlain seen through the eyes of Journalists

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nationwide was solidified by the constant rumour that she was in fact a 'witch' (Toohey, 2000). The often coined term 'witch' helped to build the social stigma surrounding Chamberlain who also came under fire for being a Seventh Day Adventist who wore black, practiced ritual killings, infanticide and other cult-like behaviour (Seventh Day Adventist, 2005). All these fictional ideas concreted the belief that Chamberlain did not fit into the criteria of worthy feminine behaviour, which ideally enacted without modification, would create a trammelled, passive person (Marcus, 1992, pp.393). Why was this particular discourse created? Perhaps it was to sell more newspapers, or to increase television ratings? What it did do,

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