This week in The Guardian, the excellent Nancy Jo Sales, tried to answer the question “Why do women like true crime so much?” In it Sales suggests that possibly one of the reason is the rise in dating apps, and the challenges in navigating a dating world where women still fundementally feel as though there is much danger. The fact that Sales currently has a book about dating apps out I am sure only has a small thing to do with this question popping up again. It’s not the first, or even the second time that this question has been asked. In fact a quick online search will show upwards of seventeen million articles on the subject.
Each article asking this question also tries to answer it, and the answers are many. It is because women are trying to find ways to not be victims, they want to learn what to look out for as a means of self protection, it is a trauma response and a means of soothing oneself, most of the answers centering on the real or percieved threat of violence or coersion. However although many of these articles are thoughtful about the reality of women’s experience of existing, and there is nothing purile in what they point out – women have always had a tricky tightrope to walk – but every single article seems to be missing what is really the point here.
This question, whoever asks it, is missing the gargantuam ancient forest for the tree’s. Rather than asking why women are so interested in true crime, we should be asking “Why are you suprised women are interested in true crime?” Would we at any point ask “Why are human’s interested in other human behaviour?” The answer is planely no. As humans we are terribly curious about what we and others do and why we do it, and going into the metaphysical questions of what these behaviours mean. Learning about others, even if their behaviour is aberant, always helps us also learn about ourselves. It is the never ending quest for meaning which humanity has indulged in since it first created art, and interest in true crime is just another iteration on a many branching path of greater understanding which has been branching in different directions for millenia.
This answer, like many of the best answers does not answer anything as much as it begs more questions. If people are so suprised that women like and enjoy true crime what do they expect women to be reading? Romance? Chick lit? Self Development? All genre’s which can be enjoyed along side true crime, as women have the capacity to read more than one type of book or listen to more than one type of podcast at a time. Given that women make 64% of book purchases, and the most popular genre is crime, why would we not want to consume some of the original source material? I have never once heard anyone puzzling away on the pages of a national newspaper why some men are so into Andy McNab, or Bear Grylls.
My suggestion is that women have probably always been interested in true crime. However strict societal ideas about how men and women should behave have gotten in the way. Societal ideas that are, in the span of whole human history reasonably recent and appear on the whole have done more harm than good, rather than show us something fundemental true about men, women and how they relate to each other and consume entertainment.
The rise of interest in true crime as well as correlating with dating apps, also correlates with e-books, which means no one can know what you are reading on the bus to work – so less judgement. When it comes to podcasts they can also be listened to without others hearing so again it takes away the judgement. Serial the fecund mother of the true crime podcast boom, put true crime in a much more decidedly middle class bracket. Parsing the case with thoughtful intelligence different from the salacious or gratuitous way some people believed all true crime was written, giving it a cleaner, more intellectual patina. However correlation is not causation, and human behaviour can rarely be explained by only one thing.
Rather than ask why women like true crime, I would suggest women have always been interested in true crime it’s just that now we finally are existing in an atmosphere where we are able to indulge and celebrate interests that would have previously marked us out as “weird,” and where we would have felt the weight of judgement. There is a lot of talk about the superficiality of the digital age, and it is not unfounded it can be deeply damaging, however there are ways in which the digital age also free’s us somewhat. Freeing people to indulge in harmless interests despite them being assigned by wider culture as wholly belonging to only one gender, in turn frees us all.
The next step is perhapse when culture decideds to wholesale question women on their interests, to ask why they are asking the questions they are, and if the questions themselves are sexist, reducing women to a homogenous mass, and then throwing up their hands in suprise when not all women are into kittens, rainbows and unicorns.