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C-women-al ideas

25 July 2022

C-women-al ideas

Some unwise person (who is only remaining nameless because I can’t remember his name) said that women like reading crime more than men – notably the books that begin with a female dead body – because they love to see the competition being wiped out. 

Apart from the obvious WTF, my first thought on this is whether it’s even true that crime writing attracts more women than men. Crime is a broad genre encompassing everything from psychological thrillers (with more female writers and readers, to punchy police procedurals which are more likely to be read by men. If we can presume that most women have more empathy than most men, then maybe the truth is that women like reading certain types of crime novel not because they want to see all their competition being thrown under the bus but for precisely the opposite reason – that empathy muscle needs exercise. Who knows - maybe with a couple of years of Covid-enforced semi-isolation, that muscle has become flaccid, droopy, limp and... I’ll stop there because this post is supposed to be about women

Paula Hawkins’ latest novel is about the murder of a young man - an unusual starting point despite longstanding calls for change in the standard femicide opener. Writer and journalist Adam LeBor is convinced that ‘Crime novelists can do better’. So why do we (and this is men and women writers in almost equal numbers) favour the female victim over the male?

I don’t imagine it will be easy to move on from beautiful naked woman found dead on the first page for a whole bunch of reasons.  As Paula Hawkins pointed out, we live in a girls-are-victims world. We train our girls and young women to be constantly aware of the risk of crime against them. Don’t wear that, don’t let go of your drink, don’t talk to him, don’t walk anywhere on your own because otherwise you will be raped, spiked, abducted, even murdered. It’s true that the risks are out there, and there’s nothing wrong with the advice at all, but why aren’t we giving the same level of ‘stranger danger’ advice to our boys, who are statistically way more likely to be victims of crime, especially violent crime. My son has been mugged at knifepoint and (fake) gunpoint three times and he’s only twenty, living in a leafy wealthy London suburb. By offering gender-specific advice on the dangers out there aren’t we automatically bolstering the female victim trope?

Oh, and don’t get me started on fairy tales. As long as Cinderella, sleeping beauty, Rapunzel and beauty and the beast are still in print and on our screens, how can we hope to disabuse our daughters of the notion that they will be trapped, enslaved, dispossessed of all faculties until a man comes to the rescue? (That part is now more commonly called romanticised sexual violence). As long as little girls want to be princesses, as long as women are waiting for men to propose, and as long as we neglect to teach our sons the same lessons we teach our daughters, the disparity of male / female expectations in life and fiction will continue and readers will expect crimewriters to be killing women. Art imitating life imitating art… Voilà. Thoughts?

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