Why Are Women So Obsessed with True Crime?

Saskia Kirkegaard observes the peculiar relationship that women have with true crime media, questioning why is it that we feel fascinated by danger and the criminal masterminds behind it.

Over the pandemic, I began listening to many more podcasts than I had before. It became one of my personality traits – if I was approached by those people in youtube videos who ask strangers what song they are listening to, I would have had to embarrassingly admit I was actually just listening to two people having a conversation about a topic I wanted to learn more about. The topics ranged widely, from mental health and UK race history, to palaeontology and comedy. But there was one genre of podcast that I always found myself reaching for on those long “plague walks” – true crime. 

This isn’t a new obsession, I have been interested in murder and crime for a while now. Growing up watching Buzzfeed Unsolved, studying Jack the Ripper at GCSE… My favourite novel is Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, which follows the life of a man who murders women so that he can encapsulate their scent. I’m definitely a fan. But as I began to dive deeper and deeper into the depth of Spotify’s true crime section, I noticed an interesting pattern: almost every single one was hosted by women. I wasn’t just choosing female podcasters to balance out the number of male ones either (we all know how much men love to record themselves talking about nothing for an hour and then make ad revenue off it…). Vogue rated My Favourite Murder as the number one on their list of the “Best True-Crime Podcasts to Listen to Now”. In fact, 5 out of the 9 on that list have one or more female hosts. Furthermore, the majority of the listeners of these podcasts are also women – the catchphrase of MFM is “stay sexy, don’t get murdered”, which could be read as addressing women due to fact that ‘sexy’ is often used to objectify us. 

It interested me. Why are women so drawn to true crime when we are so often the victims of vicious murders, rapes, and kidnappings? Surely we should be disgusted by the prospect of two people casually discussing the grizzly details of the horrifyingly real death of someone who was just like us? And yet, I couldn’t stop listening. I was addicted to the details, to the thought that this could easily happen to me, or any woman I know. Perhaps part of me is anxious about my safety, and wants to learn how to protect myself or my friends, so learning about as many case studies as I can might be an unconscious response to this. But I think my obsession goes deeper than this. I think women’s keen interest in true crime is due to a series of social and political factors that ultimately make this topic an innately feminist issue. 

Artwork by Shannon Horace

I had a conversation about the genre with my friend Harriet, who began to be interested in true crime when she realised it was like having an “endless supply” of her beloved murder mystery plots. She found herself drawn to them because they were interesting, and most importantly, because they were “realistic”. Her favourite podcast is “Anatomy of Murder”, which is presented mostly by a female defence attorney, and this got us thinking about why women tend to present and listen to true crime programmes. Harriet believes it to be a “morbid curiosity” which draws a lot of women towards true crime – a term I’ve come across a lot while researching this topic. The sensationalism of the gory details seems to draw us in, much as it has done in the past. The Victorians “enjoyed and consumed the idea of murder” according to Lucy Worsley, with the Penny Illustrated (a newspaper that reported on the Jack the Ripper murders) being marketed almost entirely towards women. I think there is a lot of truth to this – listening to the details of someone else’s murder goes further than a yearning to protect yourself. All humans have a fascination with the macabre, but with women being much more likely to be murdered, we find ourselves intrinsically interested in the details of these cases. 

But why? Is it a morbid curiosity at all? Do we genuinely want to know the grizzly pieces of someone’s real death? I’d like to think I have more morals than that. I’ve discussed this with many people now (including a sage old man at a coffee shop who overheard my conversation with my housemate) and I think we gravitate towards true crime as an empathetic social rebellion. Gender conditioning states that women shouldn’t be interested in violence, and therefore to be interested in it feels like a minor act of rebellion against just one of the roles we are forced into. It’s satisfying to not fit what’s expected of you, regardless of whether you truly agree it’s a morally correct hobby. Furthermore, gender roles dictate that women are more empathetic than men, and this ties in with the interest in true crime too. The ‘it could be me’ mentality makes us feel both safe and at risk, and on top of using cases to recognise patterns and protect ourselves, we can also put ourselves into the victim’s shoes much more easily than men can. 

What female UoB student hasn’t walked along the downs after 11pm and wondered if they might be the subject of the next episode of My Favourite Murder? We empathise with the victims so much that we are interested in their lives as well as their deaths. Hallie Rubenhold’s ‘The Five’ is explicitly about the lives, not the deaths, of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper, and it is a #1 Sunday Times Bestseller. We have been both socialised and not socialised to enjoy true crime, and this culmination of rebelling against gender roles and subscribing to them makes true crime an inherently feminist issue.

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