This week, a ‘war’ started pitting serial killer ‘stans’ against each other — but according to some reports, it was a joke gone badly wrong. Even without the revoluting knowledge that a faux Twitter thread can see 'fights' break out over lorded serial killers, Jennifer McShane wonders why the heights of our true crime obsessions frequently revolve around the murder of women but continually glorify the men who killed them.
From Serial to Making a Murderer, The Jinx to Casefile, true crime has taken over mainstream media. I'm the first to hold my hand up and say I'll almost watch anything in the genre. But, does anyone else feel weird while reading elaborate, for example, Reddit threads discussing the finer details of the Manson family killings, for example, most of which revolve around Sharon Tate?
Or, as was the case this week, a potential Twitter "feud" which saw stans debate the attractiveness over Ted Bundy versus Charles Manson. It's likely a hoax but the fact that it reached that point - where both men were used as the crux of this apparent joke is difficult to stomach given they both horrifically murdered young women.
The Staircase, The Keepers, Making a Murderer, these are three of the most popular series on Netflix, all of which the killers seem to take centre stage and the female victims to a lesser extent, drive the narrative; the focus is, more often than not, less on the women who were killed and more what motivated the (usually male) killer. To this end, I noticed that all my recent watches involved the hurt or killing of women in some form.
Related: The problem with the obsession over Charles Manson's 'girls'
Is it just that the stories the truly grip us involve the killings of women? We can't know for sure but one reason could be that statistically, more women than men listen to true crime podcasts for example, so programmes are made with a female victim or a woman whose death is the main arch. The figures show that while we might binge on a series which involves a female's death, it's the opposite in life - in many countries, more homicides are committed by men, to men.
Have we become so desensitised to the whole true crime genre that we willingly download podcasts or watch documentaries in which some guy, will graphically describe the bloody death of some poor (more often than not) woman and deem it 'engrossing' entertainment?
Can true crime be 'empowering' for women?
An article maintains that "there's no doubt that for women, interest in true crime functions as a sort of self-defence." In the piece, Jo Thornely, who hosts the cult-focused podcast ' Zealot' in Australia argues, "the more informed I am about crime, the safer and empowered I feel."
Her reasoning is that we're afraid these crimes will happen to us - with good reason; we hear frequently of women being killed both in and outside their homes - so the more informed we are, the more we might know to beware charming men who drive Beatles (Bundy) or men that seem too good to be true (Dirty John). Or, as Thornely put it, "there's so much horror everywhere; turning some of it into stories helps us deal with it."
Related: The ten best podcasts for food fans
The 'hot' serial killer narrative
I have not seen one mention of any of Ted Bundy's victms in all the promo surrounding the new movie coming out so here are the faces of his victims (some may be missing as there were several) #RestInPeace pic.twitter.com/ApsEoOv6tA
— Maria (@mariasilvaroy) January 31, 2019
Another interweaving point here is how we perceive male vs female serial killers - that has always differed. A recent series on Netflix and a Zac Efron–led film saw a subsection of the internet treating one of America’s most notorious serial killers like he was Robert Redford. The tweets especially were disturbing; each which essentially said: Theodore Robert Bundy, a man who confessed to killing 30 women between the years 1974 and 1978, a man who likely killed even more women than that, is still considered "so f**king hot."
Ted Bundy was hot
John Wayne Gacy Jr was bae
Jeffery Dahmer looked like a snack
Jack the Ripper was a zaddy
Just ?? bc ?? they ?? are ?? serial killers ?? doesn’t ?? mean ?? they ?? can’t ?? be ?? attractive ??????
— shreyas (@younglenin_) January 27, 2019
— Chencha (@SoyLaChencha) January 29, 2019
The male killers have continuously been glorified; Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer mugs appeared on Etsy, while made-for-entertainment portrayals of famous murders (committed by men to mostly women) started winning Emmys. Charles Manson was the same; perceived as this almost God-like figure at the time of his spate of sixties killings.
Then, look at how women who kill are perceived. In Netflix's Evil Genius, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong was described almost solely around her deteriorating mental health and narcissism, while her co-conspirator, William "Bill" Rothstein was frequently praised for his high intelligence and charm. Look at how the media portrays Aileen Wuornos (discounting Patty Jenkins' Monster where she tries to delve a little deeper) and how many series are titled 'WOMEN WHO KILL' (Capps lock included). Not exactly even.
Related: These are the top 25 TRUE CRIME podcasts out right now
So, what can you do, if like me, you want to press pause on your current true crime must-watch list?
“To give people a love story and no happy ending is just fucking rude”
— Sentimental Garbage (@SentimentalPod) March 24, 2019
Opt for something different. Cut out the true crime/women being murdered narrative and perhaps watch a film or listen to a podcast which offers a differing perspective. The Sentimental Garbage is my new podcast obsession and The Favourite, with its Oscar-winning lead female cast was the best movie of the last twelve months.
We're being fed the same re-hashes constantly. These days, it just takes a little rooting around to discover there's more to enjoy about the life of women - rather than their deaths.
Main photograph: @MurderificBPC