The XX Factor

Why Women Love True Crime

There’s a new study out that says women are bigger fans of true crime -defined by the Web site ScienceDaily as the “genre of nonfiction books is based on gruesome topics such as rape and murder”-than men are. According to research initially published in Social Psychological and Personality Science , “what makes these books appealing to women are relevant in terms of preventing or surviving a crime…By learning escape tips women learn survival strategies they can use if actually kidnapped or held captive.”

Reading the research, it seems like the authors are making fairly unfounded assumptions about why women prefer true crime-it doesn’t actually seem fear-based at all. In one experiment, participants of both genders were asked to choose between a true crime book that pondered psychological motivations for the killer and another that didn’t. More women chose the book that included the psychological motivations. The study’s authors write, “Such understanding might increase a woman’s chances of detecting the signs that a jealous ex-lover or stranger may turn violent.”

Or maybe women just prefer knowing the psychology of a situation because they find it thrilling-not because they wish to apply it to their own lives. As someone who has read Helter Skelter more than once , I certainly enjoy the true-crime genre, but I don’t find tales of violent death intriguing because I fear it happening to me. In the case of Helter Skelter , I was curious about how all those nice suburban high school girls ended up murdering in the name of Charlie Manson and how their stories fit into the cultural upheaval that was going on around them during the ‘60s. I’m not interested in the Manson women because I secretly fear that my perky girl friends are going to murder me eventually. Still other women may be interested in true crime for more titilating reasons: They’re sort of turned on by it. When Daniel Bergner posted calls for women’s sexual fantasies on his DoubleX Desire Lab blog , he received many responses from women who enjoyed rape fantasies. Either way, the notion that women who like true crime are only reading it to assuage their fears seems like a misguided intellectual leap.