We have a seemingly bottomless appetite for true crime stories–the more bizarre and lurid, the better. Women make a disproportionate number of true crime fans. From the long-running podcast My Favorite Murder to glossy docuseries like The Vow, women apparently can’t get enough.
But what is it about murder that’s so appealing to us?
Dr. Gemma Flynn, a criminologist with Edinburgh University, told the BBC that it has a lot to do with facing our fears. “When we experience heightened levels of fear we can often seek comfort in facing these issues head on. We have always turned to crime storytelling as a way to better understand the moral limits of our society. Perhaps for women there is a desire to satiate fear by turning to these stories.”
Women are significantly more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than men. We learn from an early age to be afraid, to think about worst-case scenarios as we walk to our cars after dark or get dressed for a party. True crime stories could be a way to process those fears without having to experience the horrors ourselves firsthand.
The more practical side to our collective true crime obsession is a desire to avoid becoming victims. By learning about how victims fell prey to their attackers, we can develop better skills to keep ourselves safe.
Of course, a diet of true crime could also make some women paranoid. And as Rachel Monroe, the author of Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime and Obsession pointed out to The Guardian, most true crime stories focus on just one demographic of victims.
“One thing troubling about the true crime genre is how disproportionately it favors stories about attractive middle-class white women who’ve gone missing versus stories about the people who are much more likely to suffer violence in our society,” Monroe explained.
Thanks to the popularity of police procedurals like Criminal Minds or Law & Order: SVU, audiences expect to delve into the dark psychology of killers. That’s especially true with serial killers, whose stories get told again and again in documentaries and fiction alike.
The psychology behind the acts might be even more fascinating to female audiences than the details of the crimes themselves. According to Amanda Vicary, a psychologist who studied this very question in depth, “My research suggests that women are drawn to true crime because of the information they can learn from it, even if they aren’t aware that that may be the reason they are listening!” she explained to Spotify. “In my research studies, women, compared to men, were more likely to be drawn to true crime stories in which they knew they were going to learn about the psychology behind the killer.”
Finally, there’s timeless the appeal of the whodunnit. Never forget that the world’s greatest crime writer was a woman.