Family Men and the Women They Murdered: A Critique of Popular Press Reporting of Three Crimes in Australia.

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Author: Janine Little
Date: May-Nov 2020
From: Hecate(Vol. 46, Issue 1-2)
Publisher: Hecate Press
Document Type: Essay
Length: 8,248 words

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This essay targets a version of the "family man," in media cultural representation, that serves patriarchal and capitalist interests as a gendered figure of social/structural support for violence against women. It reads three violent crimes where white, middle-class men in conventional, ideated family roles murder the women who are either married to, or estranged from them. I locate aspects of media coverage of the crimes that run contrary to a public narrative of outrage about "domestic" violence and "family" violence that feeds into a more general, neoliberal tendency of sounding progressive without being politically so, identified, among others, by Faith Agostinone-Wilson in 2020.

Analysis of media texts shows that concerted efforts to identify multifaceted expressions of men's privilege are a way to resist even subtly naturalised forms of men's violence against women. Extreme and lethal instances of this violence (as victims' "family" experience) are reported ever more frequently. The project of insisting upon the implicit connections between notions of white middle-class normalcy and the stereotypical family to structurally supported, gendered violence is reaffirmed as necessarily disruptive.


Hannah Clarke's footprint is a memory keeper for her family, and all that is left of her. She and her three young children died when her estranged husband, Rowan Baxter, intercepted their morning school rim, on 19 February 2020. Baxter breached an active domestic violence order requiring him to stay 20 metres away from Hannah. He had breached others, including the original "no contact" rule, that had been weakened--first to an order to stay a hundred metres away, then to a 20-metre requirement (Carne 2020), a month before he murdered his family, then killed himself, on a suburban footpath in Camp Hill. Baxter's crimes stir public outrage, as have others, but this time the media makes prominent use of the term, "coercive control," to underwrite comments by grieving relatives about its impact upon their lives and, sometimes, as in this case, calls for more specific laws against the non-physical forms of violence in family settings.

What follows is a view of the ideated family man disassembled not only with reference to Rowan Baxter, but also with some recollection of two other perpetrators of lethal violence against women from nearly a decade ago, and before the 2015 national surge of public policy attention to "domestic violence" was described by the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as "a national disgrace" (Australian Associated Press 2015). (1) All three cases originate in Queensland's putative suburban, white middle-class normalcy. To consider them together helps bring the statutory measure meant to address women's safety at home into a socialist feminist view of media representations of men's lethal violence. Doing so forms questions about some of the extant, unhelpful assumptions about men's violence against women that continue to deflect responsibility away from men. The selection does not imply that these Queensland-originating cases are more important, or that the women victims are more deserving of the media attention they received, than others that occur at least once a week across the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A695907054