Why Women Are Drawn To The True Crime Genre

A 2010 study in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science found that women love true crime more than men. Why women like true crime shows can be boiled down to a host of reasons that include their ability to relate to its storylines and the necessity they feel to prepare for the worst. It's definitely not just some desire to join the illustrious ranks of other terrifying female serial killers. As such, women disproportionately ingest true crime when compared to men. For example, the host of the true-crime podcast Sword and Scale, Michael Boudet, said that 70% of his fans were female between the ages of 25-45.

So, why exactly do women eat up this true crime stuff? Read on in the list below to find out.

  • It Helps Women Learn Tactics To Survive And Prevent Becoming A Victim
    Photo: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit / NBC

    It Helps Women Learn Tactics To Survive And Prevent Becoming A Victim

    In the 2010 study, the researchers found that the primary motivation women had for reading true-crime novels was so that they could watch for signs of a potentially murderous situation. Reading this material allowed them to learn how to look for signals of potential violence in a jealous boyfriend or spouse. They also read the novels so that they could learn ways to escape, in case they ever found themselves bound and gagged in the back of some van.

    And that's totally fair. Women are far more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than men. In fact, one out of every six women in the United States has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape. Women also account for 70% of the victims of serial killers who murdered between 1985 and 2010, and that is primarily because there is a sexual motive behind most mass killers. Those statistics are staggering, and it makes sense that a woman would want to know what to do to survive in a situation like that.

    Men might be more likely to find themselves on a deserted island with limited resources. So, they’re probably more likely to watch Man vs. Wild to learn how to survive than they are to be taking notes from The Fall. Women, are far more likely to fall into the hands of a sociopathic predator. So what do they do? They read true-crime.

  • It's A Chance To Inhabit The Role Of The Smart Woman
    Photo: The Fall / Netflix

    It's A Chance To Inhabit The Role Of The Smart Woman

    Not all crime novels are about a man stalking a woman, terrorizing her, and bringing her under his control. Sometimes, it is the exact opposite. In Dorothy B. Hughe’s In a Lonely Place, the reader sees a man, the killer (Dix Steele... Yes, that was his real name), become unraveled by the power of the smart woman. There are in fact two smart women in the novel: the wife of the police detective on the case and the killer’s love interest. Both women inspire hatred from the killer because they can see him for who he truly is, not a man of absolute power, but a weak, vulnerable, and damaged person.

    This theme is often seen in true crime fiction. Take the role of Stella Gibson in The Fall. Stella, played brilliantly by Gillian Anderson, can understand the killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), for who he really is. He is a broken boy, driven to kill because of his deep-rooted misogyny. Stella is the only legitimate threat that stands in Spector’s way. Spector is obsessed with Stella, and at the same time hates her immensely because of her intellect and position of power, something that Spector was never able to achieve in his unremarkable life. For female viewers and readers, this inversion of the power dynamics between men and women can be highly appealing.

  • True Crime Fiction Takes Seriously Things The Broader Culture Looks Down On
    Photo: FL Gov't (PD) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    True Crime Fiction Takes Seriously Things The Broader Culture Looks Down On

    True crime fiction addresses important issues to womanhood that the larger society pays little attention to. It emphasizes the imbalance of power in the home, and it explains how that could lead to potentially violent situations. In addition, it takes on the idea of self-doubt in terms of motherhood and child rearing.

    Women are often portrayed in culture as naturally caring and born-to-be mothers. As true crime shows, in the many cases of women killing their children, this is not always the case. Many women feel trapped by motherhood and are ambivalent towards their children. True crime shows that women do not always bounce back from heartbreak, and they can actually become calloused and irreparably damaged. These are things that women come in contact with on a daily basis, but they don’t have the opportunity to hear or read about in the broader culture. For these reasons, true crime can feel like a safe space where it's OK to admit that the mundane aspects of your home life are actually different than they may appear.

  • Some Women Get Turned On By It
    Photo: Donn Dughi / State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Some Women Get Turned On By It

    People can discuss whether violence and rape fantasies are normal (or healthy for that matter) until the cows come home, but it doesn’t change the fact that some women are turned on by acts of violence. For the most part, these fantasies remain just that... fantasies. These women would never want these things to really happen to them in real life, and they publicly decry violence against women. But in the privacy of their own minds lurks a secret they would never share with the world; there is something that arouses them about violence. It is not uncommon for women to have rape fantasies. When Daniel Bergner posted asking women to share their fantasies on his DoubleX Desire Lab blog, he got a lot of responses from women who have had rape fantasies.

    You've probably also seen that real-life serial killers get huge fan followings made up of primarily women, the very group of people that they’ve brutally murdered. Does this mean that these women have a death wish and want to be murdered by them? Probably not. While on trial for murder, Ted Bundy got hundreds of letters from “groupies” and even married and fathered a child with one of his fans while in prison. For some women, the “bad boy” (that is taking that term very lightly in the case of Bundy) persona is just too irresistible.

  • It Allows Them To Understand The Justice System And Play CSI Specialist
    Photo: How to Get Away with Murder / ABC

    It Allows Them To Understand The Justice System And Play CSI Specialist

    Come on, there is an entire TV show called How to Get Away with Murder?, and the main character is a strong female lead, played by Viola Davis. It’s not so much that women want to actually study how to commit a crime, but it can be pretty fun to pretend. Women enjoy playing the role of the detective and CSI specialist.

    Shows like Making of a Murderer, Jinx, and the podcast Serial, have also given the American public a deeper understanding of the justice system. It’s not every day that you get an inside view of a courtroom and see the unfolding of the legal process. This is something that deeply intrigues women.

    “I think the real reason we’ve become so obsessed with true crime is more about wanting to understand why the legal system works the way it does. Most of us have never been in a courtroom, let alone a murder trial, and our knowledge of the legal system doesn’t encompass much more than a few episodes of Law and Order or The Good Wife,wrote Molly Fosco for The Huffington Post.

  • Women May Relate To The Victims
    Photo: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit / NBC

    Women May Relate To The Victims

    How often have you read or watched true-crime fiction and the line, “she was just a regular girl, it could’ve happened to me,” was said? A bunch, right? That’s because true-crime is extremely relatable. Most of the time the victims of true-crime fiction aren’t derelicts or sex workers. They didn’t “have it coming” (not that anyone does), but these women did not put themselves in harm’s way. Women are also able to empathize more with the victims of true crime than men, says Dr. Howard Forman, a forensic psychiatrist at Montefiore Medical Center.

    “By the time you get to adulthood, women are able to empathize to a greater degree than men on average,” Forman told Tech Insider. “That may lead to true crime being more interesting to women than men, simply because if you empathize more with the victim, it may be more relevant to you and more gripping.”