I had heard of serial killers, of course, but in my mind, they were fictional- like Michael Meyers or Freddy Krueger. But here was my dad telling me about a real-life killer and a lady killer nonetheless. What???? And I'm not sure why he told me such detail about the case. Maybe he too was so intrigued by a female serial killer that he had to share. Maybe he saw a woman serial killer as less of a threat, so therefore he could recant the gory details to his preteen daughter??? Idk, as the kids say. Whatever the reason; I'm glad he did. It started me on my weird path of true crime fascination. And he also probably had a part in my goth phase as well.
My second was Jeffrey Dahmer. I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Chicago the summer of 1991 when Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee, a mere hour and a half drive away. I remember watching the news reports on a tiny black and white TV, half sickened by what I was hearing and seeing but also completely enthralled with the details in that "I can't turn away" manner.
It was definitely not appropriate material for a 14-year-old to be consuming and I'm sure my Lutheran aunt and uncle did their best to shield me from it, but they also probably should have taken the TV out of the guest room.
The two things I remember from that summer were the Midwest humidity and reports of severed body parts in a Wisconsin apartment. Great material for a "What I did last summer" essay.
And here's the thing: my true crime love affair is not unique. Junior high slumber parties consisted of Silence of the Lambs, like every weekend. My first in-depth conversations with other likeminded girls during those awkward teenage years were about Ted Bundy and the Tate/LaBianca murders.
Up until fairly recently, I thought it was just my teenage friend group. As the quiet, chubby, odd girl in school, I assumed I just attracted other fellow popularity-challenged weirdos and we all just happened to be obsessed with weird shit.
And then came My Favorite Murder in 2016. If you are unfamiliar, then I'm surprised that you are reading this. I mean, how can you get wifi in that cave and/or rock you are living in and/or under?
If you know the podcast, hello fellow Murderinos! SSDGM! If you don't, then I will explain why MFM was such an "Aha moment" for me....and hundreds of thousands of others (it is regularly in the iTunes top ten weekly comedy podcasts. That's right, I said comedy podcasts. You should check it out).
|My friend Rianna and I met Georgia and Karen. NBD.|
OK, back on point. What I'm getting to is this: Ladies Love True Crime. (Dibs on the rapper name LL True Crime!)
This true crime lady boner phenomenon is not just anecdotal. Women are the predominant listenership of MFM. And you could argue that women tend to enjoy podcasts hosted by other women. And sure, there might be that. You could also get into that shitty thing where men claim to find almost all women's voices "annoying" so that's why they are in the minority for the listenership of this podcast. Fine. I don't have time to pull at that thread.
But there's also this: according to a NYT article, 70% of true crime book reviews on Amazon are by women (80% of all war books were reviewed by men, by the way. I'll let you unpack that for yourselves). In addition, the website Crime Reads states that 80% of the downloads of ALL true crime podcasts are from women.
So why are we SO obsessed with true crime? I mean, we can't all be on our periods at the same time when reviewing books or downloading podcasts, right? Was it Elizabeth Warren? Is this one of her plans? Or maybe we can blame Hilary? Were those emails encrypted with facts about BTK?
There are literally dozens of articles pondering why women are so hot and bothered about murder-y things. Seriously, it was like page three of a Google search before I got to the super rando websites. And there are a lot of theories about why women are obsessed. Why are you so obsessed with us being obsessed?
But here's My Favorite Murder Theory: We do it for survival.
That's right; it's preservation, Baby! And it makes sense when you think about it: women are far more likely to be the victim of sexual violence (1 out 6 in the US, to be exact) and women make up 70% of the victims of serial killers. Oh...and who makes up the majority of serial killers? Men. White men, if you really want to get into it, but again....that's a thread to pull at another time. So many threads to pull, we are going to destroy Weezer's sweater later.
The point is, women are studying true crime to keep themselves safe. A 2010 study by Science Daily asserts that the primary motivation women had in reading true crime stories was to watch for real-life clues of dangerous situations and behaviors. While men are more likely to watch TV shows about surviving on a deserted island or how to beat up a grizzly bear or some shit, women watch Mindhunter to hopefully avoid the next Ed Kemper.
There are other theories, of course: identifying with the victims, facing fears, and as Janet Jackson would say, control; but I would argue that these theories are almost sub-theories of the survival theory. I do think, however, that these sub-theories are part of the reason that I love a certain true crime comedy podcast. By mocking the situations and the killers (never mocking the victims) there is a bit of control and facing one's fears in a much-needed, lighthearted way.
Another important thing that a good true crime book/movie/podcast does is give a humanizing portrait of the victims. The podcast The Murder Squad with Billy Jenson and Paul Holes (oh, he caught the Golden State Killer, btw. Swoon) does an exceptional job of giving a voice to the victims. One of my favorite episodes discussed the Netflix Ted Bundy Zac Effron movie. Instead of giving any lip service to the movie or the killer, they listed all the victims and read little personal facts about them. It was one of My Favorite Moments in podcast listening.
Look. Listen. I'm not saying that survival is the entire reason that women are into true crime, this is clearly a broad generalization and I can not speak for every person. And I'm not saying that it is a conscious reason for being into true crime. If you were to ask teenage goth me why I was into it at the time, I probably would have quoted Beetlejuice and said that "I myself am strange and unusual" or some sort of typical teen non-answer.
I am saying that the survival instinct is more of a subconscious reason that women are disproportionally more into true crime than men.
Studying true crime also provides other "rewards," like problem-solving, understanding human behavior, learning forensic procedures, comprehension of the legal system, and a glimpse at political machinery. Interest in true crime could also reflect our current pessimism. After all, a criminal is president right now.
In the case of My Favorite Murder, I've learned there is a severe backlog on rape kits and that fellow Murderinos are now working together to donate to end the backlog. I've learned that victims of color have been, and in many cases still are, treated differently than white victims. I've learned to use the term "sex worker" instead of "prostitute." I've learned a lot about victim-blaming and that I have been guilty of it myself. I've learned that words matter. I've learned to not be ashamed of taking medication for mental health. I've learned that we have to take care of each other and the importance of noticing what might be happening to someone around you. Most importantly, I've learned to "fuck politeness" and that I don't owe anyone gentility in exchange for my own safety.
For more great tips, you should check out Georgia and Karen's book.
Obviously, My Favorite Murder is not the only true-crime podcast out there and a true-crime comedy podcast is not for everyone. If you like your true-crime "neat" then I can recommend the aforementioned Murder Squad, Serial, Criminal, Up and Vanished, and Cime Junkie, to name a few. I used to like Sword and Scale until I found out the creator is a creep and he has been canceled.
Bottom line, whatever your reason for loving the true-crime genre, you are in good company.
What are your favorite true crime podcasts, books, shows, etc? There are far too many to list here and I focused mainly on podcasts. I'd love to hear what fellow junkies are binging on right now!
And, as always, Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered.