The XX Factor

Amy Bishop, Feminist-Era Killer

In yesterday’s New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus posits a very provocative theory about Amy Bishop , the University of Alabama professor accused of shooting her colleagues. Bishop, he proposes, represents the modern, feminist-era killer. “For all her singularity, Dr. Bishop also provides an index to the evolved status of women in 21 st century America,” he writes. In literature and film, female killers often grow out of some feminist dilemma: battered wives who kill abusive husbands, psychotic mothers overwhelmed by infants, prostitutes turned vengeful. They are, he writes of his examples,

Essentially exculpatory parables of empowerment, anchored in feminist ideology. Their heroines originate as victims, pushed to criminal excess by injustices done to them. The true aggressors are the men who mistreat and objectify them.

Now, he argues, this version of lady killer anchored in feminist ideology does not really make sense. Domestic abuse and sexual violence are widely acknowledged. A working woman is not a lonely harridan haunted by the image of someone else’s perfect family (Glenn Close). Instead, it’s Amy Bishop who represents the next frontier of female anxiety: a scientist in a field dominated by men in a world in which women are increasingly the primary breadwinners in their families. Bishop exists in a world in which women’s empowerment has turned into actual power and, as writer Patricia Cornwell tells Tanenhaus, “the more women appropriate power, the more their behavior will mimic that of other powerful people.”