From Criminals to Celebrities: How Women’s Fascination with Serial Killers Reflects Their Perception of Romance

by Ayesha Azeem, March 25, 2022

People have always been interested in learning about influential people’s lives — through both gossip and the media. Whether we’re learning about Jennifer Aniston’s new fling, Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, or Harry Styles’s secret vacation, we often interest ourselves with other people’s lifestyles, namely celebrities, because we feel as if we personally know them through our powerful admiration and devotion. We see celebrities as heroes; people we aspire to be like. But why are we so drawn to the lives of villains as well?

Recently, women have developed a strong obsession with true crime, a literary and film genre in which the author examines an actual crime and exposes the actions committed by real people; specifically, there has been a sudden fascination with serial killer crimes. This infatuation with evil reveals our desire to uncover the secrets and truth behind those who commit the horrific acts we abhor. Perhaps it fascinates us that these famous perpetrators hold such obvious disregard for morality and societal values; we feel obligated to witness the dramatic scenes unfold as a means of “preparation” for any real-life danger. 

From Ted Bundy to Charles Manson, women often find themselves deluded into romanticizing famous serial killers. We find it hard to accept that attractive people are just as capable of committing grotesque crimes as ordinary people. Recently, the Joker movie played by Joaquin Phoenix, though fictional, has captured the attention of young girls infatuated with his depressing life story and motivation to commit heinous crimes that are similar to real killers. Though women are more likely to be victims of a major crime, for some reason they feel increasingly attracted to the vile and twisted side of history, intrigued to learn about the ways in which they can face danger.

Psychologists conducted a 2010 study at the University of Illinois to investigate the relationship between gender and the true-crime audience. Psychologist R. Chris Fraley and their team discovered that women wrote 70% of the true-crime book reviews on Amazon, while men felt a greater connection to war books, writing  82% of reviews (Yates). The researchers hypothesized why women may feel an increased inclination to read more true crime and suggested that such stories can provide useful information that may help readers avoid or escape potential attacks such as murder or rape. To investigate this claim, the psychologists reviewed the summaries of the books most often reviewed by women. Further study revealed that women were more likely to read a true crime book if the victim used a clever ‘psychological trick’ to deceive and escape from their perpetrator. Unsurprisingly, women also felt attracted to true crime books with female victims. Thus, evidence strongly suggests that women tend to read more true crime books with clever female survivors because they provide a ‘guide’ of instructions as to how to avoid deadly encounters in real life. If women consume as much violence as they can in art, maybe they can escape the true violence that unfortunately lingers in our reality. 

Recently, the producers of All Killa No Filla, a British podcast dedicated to exploring the lives of serial killers, found that roughly 85% of listeners are female (Woman’s Hour). BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour considered why their listeners consisted mostly of women, and invited Dr. Gemma Flynn, a criminologist at Edinburgh University, and Rachel Fairburn, co-host of the famous podcast, to explain their theories. Dr. Flynn believes that a major explanation for female true crime listeners includes women retaining an extensive fear of crime. According to Fairburn, “women love true crime because pretty much from the time that we’re very small, we’re told to be careful, look after ourselves, watch out for bad people, make sure we get home safely” (Woman’s Hour). The host suggests that society constantly attempts to protect women from danger, instilling in their minds that as long as they’re alone, they can be attacked. Thus, women tend to leave their house with a constant target on their back and safety on their minds, attracting them to true crime out of self-preservation. With the stereotype and widely held belief that women cannot walk alone at night because of possible attacks, women feel the need to protect themselves as much as possible, consuming true crime stories at the top of their list. 

The constant fear society holds regarding women as potential victims of brutal crimes stems from the media’s infatuation with blood and murder. According to a 1992 study conducted at SUNY Oswego, mass media “serves as the primary source of information about crime for up to 95% of the general public,” with approximately 50% of news coverage devoted exclusively to crime stories (Mann). With this extensive reporting on crime and violence, Americans fall victim to their availability heuristic, a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a person’s mind when thinking of an idea or event. Because of the increased attention presented towards crime on-air, Americans may not believe that the crime rate has actually decreased over the years since all they hear about is murder, rape, and violence when they turn on their televisions. While murder rates decreased by 20% from 1993 to 1996, reporting on murder on television rose by 721%. (Mann). This affects women especially as the constant fear perpetrated by the media regarding crime and murder may be a key reason in females’ attraction towards true crime media. 

Now that we understand why women tend to reach for books labeled with the true crime genre, the compelling question needed to be answered is why women romanticize these vile human beings. After the release of Extreme Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a film on the life of Ted Bundy based on the perspective of his girlfriend, viewers went to Twitter to express their newfound admiration for the ‘misunderstood’ villain. Ted Bundy was portrayed by attractive and talented Zac Efron, only attracting more fans to the Ted Bundy “fandom,” a group of teenage girls infatuated with the killer (Donaldson). Some tweets include: “Love that conservative masculinity #TedBundy,” and “Ted Bundy is so hot… wish he killed me” (via Twitter). The women who romanticize serial killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson can be described as having hybristophilia, or sexual arousal “over someone committing an offensive or violent act,” as described by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychology professor at DeSales University. These women admire the idea of being the ‘exception’ for a damaged person; they feel the need to ‘nurture’ and ‘protect’ their powerful and evil lovers. These women fantasize about “changing” the broken part of serial killers; they want to “fix” them; usually, women who admire such behaviors have trouble with conventional relationships due to insecurities. If she dates a serial killer in jail, at least she’ll know where he is all the time (Psychology Today). Additional research indicates that women feel attracted to masculinity and may interpret serial killers’ unchecked aggression as ‘protective’ or ‘manly.’ Women may feel that these attributes will keep them safe and secure, and thus may prefer more violent mates (Perrett).

Whatever may be the reason behind women’s fascination with serial killers, this infatuation proves fatal. When Charles Manson and Ted Bundy awaited death, thousands of female fans lined up, expecting to marry these vicious men, refusing to believe their crimes simply because of their attractiveness (Sutton). The never-ending fame of attractive serial killers depicts the true danger: our inclination as human beings to automatically trust and like attractive people, simply because of their looks. Many women fell prey to Bundy and Manson’s traps simply because they might’ve misjudged them for being kind, respectable people because of their beautiful smiles or bright eyes. Though Netflix and other entertainment providers may attempt to raise awareness of real tragedies, it is important to also consider the danger of awareness. Today’s generation may be too infatuated with Zac Efron’s looks and appearance in Extreme Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile to realize that his charm was what allowed many to overlook his apparent misogyny and objectification of women: “Women are possessions… Beings which are subservient, more often than not, to males. Women are merchandise” (Wyman). The tales of these serial killers should serve as a warning to many women, rather than favorable romantic heroes; we really don’t know what people are like behind closed doors. We need to remind ourselves who these serial killers actually are: vile, immoral men disguised as educated, charismatic professionals; they are not compassionate or need protection – they do not feel. We must not grieve or sympathize with men that never existed.


Works Cited

Donaldson, Kayleigh. “The Sexy Killer Fandom Wars: No, Fancying Ted Bundy Is Not the Same Thing as Fancying Venom.” SYFY WIRE, 11 Feb. 2019, www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-sexy-killer-fandom-wars-no-fancying-ted-bundy-is-not-the-same-thing-as-fancying-venom.

Mann, Stephen, et al. “Crime and the Media in America.” OUPblog, 3 Apr. 2018, blog.oup.com/2018/04/crime-news-media-america/.

Perrett, David I., et al. “Effects of Sexual Dimorphism on Facial Attractiveness.” Nature, vol. 394, no. 6696, 1998, pp. 884–887. doi:10.1038/29772.

Ramsland, Katherine M. Confession of a Serial Killer: the Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. ForeEdge, 2016. 

Schildkraut, Jaclyn. “Crime News in Newspapers – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology.” Oxford Research Encyclopedias, 18 Apr. 2018, oxfordre.com/criminology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264079-e-32#acrefore-9780190264079-e-32-div1-1

Sutton, Candace. “Inside Serial Killer Charles Manson’s Deluded Fan Club.” NewsComAu, News.com.au, 9 Jan. 2017, http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/inside-the-deluded-world-of-serial-killer-charles-mansons-fan-club-and-the-fiancee-who-says-hes-innocent/news-story/364fe75d235055d38186b3e84347d035.

Tuttle, Kate. “Why Do Women Love True Crime?” The New York Times, 16 July 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/books/review/kate-tuttle-true-crime-women.html.

“Woman’s Hour – True Crime: Five Reasons Why Women Love It.” BBC Radio 4, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5BQCFMQd3mPqj7YT4hlvdCL/true-crime-five-reasons-why-women-love-it.

“Women Who Love Serial Killers.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201204/women-who-love-serial-killers.

Whyman, Tom. “The Myth of Ted Bundy as a Charming Guy.” The Outline, The Outline, 5 Feb. 2019, theoutline.com/post/7043/ted-bundy-netflix-efron-handsome?zd=1&zi=godwptow.

Yates, Diana. “Women, More than Men, Choose True Crime over Other Violent Nonfiction.” ILLINOIS, 15 Feb. 2010, news.illinois.edu/view/6367/205718.

Can Lying Ever Be Justified?

by Ayesha Azeem, October 29, 2021

As the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant once asserted, “there is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will” (Kant 9). Kantianism focuses on motives rather than consequences. Kant introduces the idea of a categorical imperative, an absolute rule of conduct that cannot have any exceptions and must be followed regardless of our desires; any action against this is immoral. Kant uses the categorical imperative to support his belief that it is immoral to lie; if we lie, we make ourselves the “exception” to the universal moral law, holding ourselves in a different standard than everyone else. Though it is easy to deem an action absolutely immoral, this is impossible due to the fact that not everyone’s moral conduct is the same, and there will always be rightful exceptions to any “universal law” proposed. 

Kant supports that lying is immoral with a famous situation: if a murderer knocks on your door, asking for your friend, it is your moral duty to tell the truth and expose your friend to the murderer. Kant argues that if we choose to lie, even if it was to save a friend from murder, we would violate the categorical imperative, an immoral act. However, the morals of lying are not as black and white as Kant wants them to be. Though lying is sinful in most cultures, one needs to consider the circumstances in which lying may be better. Lying may prevent a situation from becoming worse – in Kant’s example, lying would actually help your friend survive. Rather than ruling lying as absolutely immoral, it is important to compare one’s options and determine which would be beneficial for the majority. For example, during the Holocaust, a situation similar to Kant’s famous example was experienced by many Jewish refugees and the heroes who courageously hid them from torture. If they had followed Kant’s philosophy, they would have surrendered the Jewish refugees to the Nazis, adding to the brutally inflicted crimes against humanity. The moral guilt resulting from being an accessory to murder is far worse than the guilt accompanying the decision to lie; in situations like these, lying may be more moral, and thus should not be ruled out completely. 

Though Kant is right in that we should not make exceptions for ourselves, moral decision-making is not as straightforward enough to have universal laws because one’s sense of morality may be different from another person’s. This holds true especially when one considers how influential a person’s culture is on their moral reasoning. Kant’s ethical theory of deontology is primarily concerned with one’s intentions – the actual consequences of the action don’t matter. Though lying should be considered morally wrong, exceptions should be rightfully made when the motive is genuinely benevolent. This is seen in Lulu Wang’s movie The Farewell (2019) when a family hides the truth about their grandmother’s cancer diagnosis from her to ensure that her last days are filled with only happiness. The family visits their Nai Nai, the Chinese term for grandmother, after years, with the excuse of a wedding, in order to spend their last moments together. Though Kant would argue that even a situation like this does not justify lying, it is clear that the family’s intentions are pure – they just want to prevent as much emotional pain as possible to Nai Nai. In this case, lying to Nai Nai would not have made the situation worse – she was going to die, whether she knew about it or not. Telling her the truth would not be beneficial, as it would only cause more heartache for everyone. Lying was the more morally correct choice, as Nai Nai actually lived longer than the three months the family expected. This may be because she was not emotionally burdened with her diagnosis; the family made the right choice, even though lying is morally wrong under normal circumstances. 

The Farewell depicts how our culture often influences the choices we make. The movie is mostly set in the point-of-view of Billi, a Chinese-American woman morally conflicted between two cultures, Chinese and American, each promoting different sets of values. When she travels to China to say her farewell, Billi often questions her family’s choices. In one scene, Billi asks her parents why they are keeping the diagnosis a secret. Billi, who has lived most of her life in America, does not understand how the family is so willing to lie – she worries that Nai Nai may have unfinished business that needs attending to before her death. Billi’s mother sternly says, “Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die. But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear” (The Farewell). This is a Chinese tradition that has been passed down through generations – Nai Nai lied to her husband about his diagnosis until he was on his deathbed. The reasoning behind this was so that he would not be plagued by the worry of leaving his family behind. 

When Billi expresses her hesitancy in lying, saying that this would not be acceptable in America, her aunt reminds her that they are in China, where morals are different. In some cultures, we are taught not to question the legitimacy of traditions. For example, South Asian culture often forces “compromising,” especially on women, during a marriage. This began with the notion that the couple should communicate effectively to move their marriage forward. Over generations, however, the idea of compromising has instead led to many women suffering through domestic violence due to fear of societal backlash if they go through with a divorce. South Asian culture often blames the woman if there is a divorce between a couple, claiming that it was her fault for failing to compromise. Parents still teach their daughters to tolerate any “obstacles” (though domestic abuse should not be considered an obstacle, but a physically and physiologically scarring reason to leave) during their marriage. Mothers who have suffered through trauma throughout their marriage and fail to get a divorce tell their daughters to also “compromise.” While this has been ingrained in South Asian culture for generations, this does not mean it is morally correct. 

To establish a strong moral foundation, we must think about the moral reasoning behind our decisions, and why we believe we made the right choice, regardless of what our culture may preach. Though lying may be immoral, context is always needed before we can deem a choice to be moral, which Kant fails to account for.


References/Works Cited

The Farewell. Directed by Lulu Wang, Big Beach Films, 2019.

Kant, Immanuel, et al. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Mean Girls and Boys That Don’t Cry

by Ayesha Azeem, February 27, 2021

Whether we want to believe it or not, stereotypes control our conscious and subconscious thoughts, influencing our actions and behaviors towards society. As Leslie Scrivener’s article “The Cult of the Mean Girl” highlights, our perceived ideologies about how women behave toward each other influence our behavior in practice. Because we believe women are supposed to indulge in gossip and jealousy due to social norms, we as a society expect and even participate in this behavior. Ideologies and perceptions of men’s behavior also exist; while society perceives women as emotional and judgmental, we also expect men to remain professional, dominant, and violent. These thoughts and expectations not only affect how we behave towards others but also how we recognize ourselves. 

As soon as we are born, we gain awareness about the accepted and rejected behaviors in our society. One of these expected roles of a woman include “being nasty to each other … one of the rigidly enforced North American standards of what constitutes femininity” (Scrivener 1). Society expects women to treat each other as antagonistic competition, making them their own worst enemies. Little girls are not directly taught about these attitudes from their mothers, yet women around the world understand and engage in hostility towards each other. Girls watch their mothers gossip about neighbors and coworkers and administer this pettiness within themselves as well.

Society expects young women to rely entirely on their husbands and center their appearance, behavior, and mindset around what the men in their life anticipate and desire. As a result, women may prioritize their romantic relationships over friendships with other females since “women receive messages that their primary relationship should be with men, and that they have to compete for those relationships” (Scrivener 3). This often induces unwarranted aggression and possessiveness as part of the rivalry against female peers and thus destroys any connection they once felt. With the heavy emphasis on supporting the patriarchy, the media influences women to yearn for successful romantic relationships as their ultimate goal in life, belittling friendships and enhancing incivility among women. Because of this, when women suffer domestic violence and other relationship-related stress, they find themselves alone with no one to confide in. The stereotypes women comply with cause failures in their connection with peers and foster unnecessary cruelty. However, stereotypes and social norms control not only women, but also men.

We expect men to act dominant, controlling, and violent, and we criticize them when they do not make these traits apparent. From minor reprimanding like “real men don’t cry,” to extreme, life-changing situations such as forced enlistment into the military for men in South Korea, the way in which our society regards and expects men to behave alters the way they recognize and think of themselves. Generally, we expect men to remain nonchalant and unaffected, whereas we portray women as overly emotional. When men find themselves unable to effectively communicate their feelings because they learn at a young age that their tears are forbidden, they tend to internalize their feelings of depression, pain, and hatred, which may transition into radical acts of violence. Studies find that nearly 1 in 4 women experience physical abuse issued by an intimate partner, generally a male (National Domestic Violence Hotline). However, men are also victimized by abuse and rape. 15% of domestic violence victims are males who may not have the support they need to speak up about their struggles for fear of being labeled as an instigator or facing disbelief — or even taunts — rather than the help they desperately need (National Domestic Violence Hotline). Other men may resort to mass violence instead, attempting to get revenge on society for trying to isolate men from their feelings. The recent mass shootings witnessed in the United States have been overwhelmingly committed by male gunmen, from El Paso to Parkland, Florida. The terror and fear only increase as time goes on (Reese). 

Rather than allowing young boys to communicate their feelings and feel heard, society ignores their violence as “boys will be boys” until the resentment transitions into horror.  Additionally, with the emphasis on the patriarchy and the supposed role of a man, young boys are forced to grow up earlier than they are meant to. Society expects every young man to graduate college with a degree, find a career immediately, buy a house and find a suitable woman to make his wife before he grows old. The pressure put on young men without providing an effective and safe outlet causes harm both for themselves and the people surrounding them. 

With this generation’s eagerness to raise awareness about the immoralities around the world, we would benefit from diminishing the unnecessary stereotypes held about gender and how one’s sex and gender should affect the way they convey their emotions. Parents should nurture their children in a way which young boys do not feel obligated to conceal their emotions and vulnerability, and young girls should feel encouraged to create enduring friendships with other females rather than focusing on finding an intimate partner. After all, we have bigger things to worry about than whether our behavior matches that which society expects of us. 


References

  1. Scrivener, Leslie. “The Cult of the Mean Girl.” Toronto Star, 5 Mar. 2006.
  2. “Statistics.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline, https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/.
  3. Reese, Phillip. “When Masculinity Turns ‘Toxic’: A Gender Profile of Mass Shootings.” Los Angeles Times, 7 Oct. 2019, http://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-10-07/mass-shootings-toxic-masculinity.