“And that bullet cut through her chest and into her pulmonary vein,"
I frown slightly in the mirror as my choice true crime podcast pulses through my speaker and then continue applying my second coat of mascara. “But in the end, there isn't sufficient evidence to convict anybody of the crime,” I sigh and flick through a variety of crop tops hanging in my closet. “And that is the real-life horror story of the murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy.” I turn off my JBL and walk out of my room to find my roommates waiting for me to Uber to a friend’s 21st birthday party.
My true crime podcast obsession started around 4 years ago when a friend recommended My Favorite Murder Podcast to me in casual conversation. Since then, I alternate about a dozen podcasts, detailing stories of murder, assault, kidnapping and indie rock playlists on a daily basis. Dark fascination with these blood, semen and luminol-coated tales is not unique. According to research titled "The Podcast Consumer 2019" by Boling and Hull, true crime audiences are about 73% female.
It's hard for women to not feel guilty about their obsession with true crime. Why should female listeners gain such pleasure and serenity by listening to stories of other women being beaten, shot and stabbed? The stories have listeners' hearts racing, constantly checking over their shoulders and avoiding any man who drives a Volkswagen Bug. Yet, women still tune in whenever their favorite podcasters upload a new episode and listen in horror.
It turns out, many others have noticed this pattern, too. Women accounted for roughly 70% of serial killer’s victims between 1985 and 2019, meaning that the majority of true crime podcast episodes chronicle stories of female victims being murdered or assaulted. Although, it is most often thought that women enjoy true crime so much because they think they can learn survival skills from it.
This idea makes sense. Humans crave knowledge in areas that will benefit them. For instance, aspiring entrepreneurs can tune into podcasts that cover business strategies behind successful companies, like on the popular podcast "How I Built This." Baking enthusiasts have podcast options like "Knead to Know" and "The Baking Podcast" to not only cover hot baking buzz but also give helpful tips. While listening, I am often putting away dishes, wandering to class or folding my piles of laundry while absentmindedly absorbing the horrors of the genre. Even so, I do know to always lock my car doors the second I get in, to always walk in packs and to never trust the distressed husband. When I interviewed other female University of South Carolina students who enjoy true crime, their answers lined up with my research. Lily Eman suggests, "The reason why women are so interested in true crime is because we need to know how to not end up on the victim-end of true crime shows".
From a young age, women are told horror stories and urban legends to 'keep us safe.’ True crime fan, Elizabeth Harlow, calls this trait "a healthy paranoia" women are taught to have. We are taught that men are constantly looking for ponytails to grab and lonely drunk girls to snatch in the dark alleys we shouldn’t be walking in. I believe most women reading this can recall some tragic, probably highly embellished, hometown story that used to spread through the halls of high school like the flu. These stories stick with us and keep us safe, maybe even a little paranoid.
Other than learning life-saving hacks, other theories suggest that female empathy is what keeps us tuning into true crime. The best true crime podcasts start with sympathies from the victim’s friends and family. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “she had a smile that lit up the room,” on my car radio before hearing the tragic tale that I’m tuning in for. And, guess what? It works! Every time I hear, “she had such a bright future ahead of her,” I feel a rush of empathy and sadness for those who the victim left behind.
Other theories include that listening to true crime podcasts has become an outlet for pent-up female rage. Men are encouraged to partake in rough contact sports and play violent video games. Women have less socially acceptable outlets for their aggression. Also, on the off-chance that the story is about a female killer, women see her as a female protagonist. It can be as interesting for listeners to learn why women like true crime as it is to listen to our beloved genre of podcasts. But, there are certain ways to go about furthering this obsession.
Rule #1: Listening to true crime is great, committing violent crimes is not.
Rule #2: Make sure the crime content you consume is ethical. The storytellers should always center on the victim and respect the victim’s family. Certain podcasts come across like demented love letters to the killer from crazed hybristophiles. It is also a plus when true crime podcasts donate a portion of their earnings to charities and funds that support victims and survivors.
Some true crime podcasts that generally respect victims and donate to worthy causes are My Favorite Murder, Crime Junkie, Murder Squad and True Crime Garage. Consuming true crime podcasts can be beneficial to both the listener and the victim. The listener can learn life-saving hacks and find ways to actually help victims and their families. Living victims can often benefit from increased publicity and money donated from fans and podcasters alike. So, the next time you mindlessly tune into your favorite podcast, listen to the way they describe the victims and the perpetrators. And it helps if they make an effort to support the victims.