Women, Weirdos, Whackos and Murder
Women love reading true crime books. In fact, women purchase significantly more true crime books than men. Researchers presumed that men, aggressive by nature, would find gory topics such as rape and murder more interesting than women. But their two-study research showed that women overwhelmingly chose true crime books over other books, given the same choices as men. The researchers then conducted three more studies to try to determine why this was true. Their conclusion was that women were drawn to true crime books out of their own fears of becoming a victim of violent crime. One suggestion was that women read more than men (a true fact). According to the researchers, women were drawn to true crime books for these reasons:
- To learn how to prevent becoming a victim.
- To learn how to survive being a victim.
- To learn warning signs to watch for.
- To learn escape tips, survival strategies
In another study, women and men were given a choice of reading a true crime book, or a true book about an army unit in the Gulf War. Among female participants, 77% of women chose the true crime book, and only 23% chose the war book. The same was true when women and men were offered a choice between a true crime book and a book about gang violence. 73% of women chose the true crime book, and 27% chose the gang book. Among men, 51% chose the true crime book over the war book (49%), and 57% chose the true crime book over the gang book (43%). Men showed a much less marked preference for the true crime genre, whereas this preference was clear for women. In a third study, the authors asked participants to choose between two different true crime books, and offered short descriptions of each book. Unbeknownst to the participants, one of the two descriptions contained information about how the protagonist got away from the killer (e.g., by using a pin from a watch to remove a pair of handcuffs). The other description, though similar, didn’t contain information on any survival tricks. With this simple manipulation, 71% of women chose the book with the survival trick, compared to 29% who did not (66% chose the book with the survival trick description.) In yet another study, the researchers included or did not include information about the motivations and thought processes of the criminals. Among women, 65% chose the book that promised to reveal psychological insights on the criminals, while 35% chose the other book. Among men, the more temperate pattern again emerged: 59% of men chose the book with motives, compared to 41% who chose the book without motive information.
A random Amazon.com Top True-Crime Books, compiled by a male author, included approximately half true-crime books involving serial killers, rapists, and men who murder their wives. The rest of the list included con artists, a jewel thief, drug empires, and undercover agents infiltrating a violent biker gang. By contrast, a female who comprised a list of the top 50 True-Crime books included strictly murder, rape, and abduction. This may be because she misinterpreted the meaning of “true crime”, and focused solely on male and female killers and rapists, rather than adding any other type of true crime reading.
Keep in mind that these were studies where the guinea pigs …oops… I mean participants were only offered two choices, always one being a true crime book. Most likely, stats are very different in retail stores and libraries since there is significantly more choice in many other genres. Had the study been conducted in these environments, I would be more inclined to accept the researchers’ conclusions. As it is, I don’t know how much I believe the researchers’ conclusions that many women actually choose to read true crime books in order to learn survival tricks. That seems rather weird. That has never occurred to me, or any female friend or family member, to my knowledge. I do believe women are more likely to read true crime books than men ,however. In my limited, subjective experience, the many males I have known, including family, seldom purchase or read true crime. If anything they are far more interested in politics, war, powerful historical figures, and the like. Very seldom do any of them read about athletes, even though the men I know and have known are usually sports fans.
One of the reasons I believe women read true crime is the authors’ tendency to use beautiful females as either victims or protagonists. A beautiful, conniving or innocent female seems to sell a lot of true crime. Sometimes they are fashionable, wearing expensive designer clothes. Other times they flaunt their best assets to snare a wealthy man just for money. Very seldom do true crime books include only males as killers and victims without a love triangle with a female. Sex sells. If the women featured in these books are protagnists they generally:
- were gold-diggers
- sought revenge
- were motivated by jealousy, money and anger
- are wealthy
- killed their family members, including their children, more often than strangers or friends
- were abused as children
- used covert murder weapons (80% used poison)
- were very rarely serial killers
- were a black widow or an “angel of death”
- killed while at home
- killed to protect their children from abuse
- were mentally ill
- preferred murder to divorce in order to maintain social and financial status
Keep in mind that these characteristics are very general. There are female killers, and serial killer, written about in true crime books who do not fit any of these profiles.
If the woman featured in a true crime book is a victim she is often:
- a college co-ed
- a prostitute (someone no one would be looking for)
- single mother or divorced
- living alone
- killed by her boyfriend or husband
- very trusting and naive; doesn’t recognize evil
- an acquaintance or a relative of her killer
- 27 years of age or younger
- the victim of a serial killer
- a victim of domestic abuse
- a victim of a stalker
- killed violently
There is something inherently similar behind the horrible themes in fairy tales and the murders documented in true crime. Fairy tales and true crime seem like a strange analogy but consider that in fairytales there is typically:
- a beautiful female victim or antagonist
- a young victim – a potential life never realized
- a rescue fantasy
- evil monsters – such as ogres and dragons
- a handsome prince
- castles and riches
- an impossibility – “long, long ago, in a far away place“
In other words, true crime suggests a type of “long ago” familiarity – childhood. It is grown up fairy-tales except with unhappy endings (even when the monsters are caught in the end). Researchers made several conclusions as to why women enjoy reading true crime. They didn’t discuss the reasons men do and don’t read it. This would be an interesting follow-up since mens’ and womens’ motives for reading the same type of material would probably be diverse.
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