Aileen Wuornos: Sympathy For The Devil

In: Illuminating the Dark Side: Evil, Women and the Feminine

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Perhaps no one more successfully breaks through the confines of being ‘female’ than the woman who kills. She takes life, rather than gives it. There are multiple narratives around men and violence, many of them heroic. Male violence can be said to be normalised; an acknowledged and arguably acceptable response to stress. Under patriarchy women are constructed as nurturers, compliant wives and mothers, the moral touchstones of society, and the violent woman disrupts these gender expectations. She suggests alternative ways of being that break through binary oppositions. Dominant discourses work to contain this threat. They minimise it by making the violent woman dependent, weak and childlike (‘victim’), out of her (right) mind (‘insane’) or non-human and mythical, incapable of restitution (‘bad’). Discourses around violent men are much more fluid. These discourses allow men choice, the ability to make rational decisions, albeit ‘wrong’ ones, and agency. In contrast, the violent woman is not considered to be an agent in her own fate. She is not considered to be rational and capable of both good and bad. She is not considered fully human. American Aileen Wuornos killed seven men between November 1989 and November 1990. An examination of the way Wuornos has been narrated provides fascinating insight to the troubling question of female violence, in part because she sits at a highly charged nexus, where three damning discourses meet. Her work as a prostitute, the fact that she was a lesbian, and the ill-fitting serial killer label that was quickly assigned to her ensured Wuornos was narrated as beyond redemption, as bad. Three cinematic portrayals of Wuornos show these limiting narratives at work, but they also open up more complex, contradictory ways of reading her. She becomes victim, mad and bad, and therefore, none of these.

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