Women are the overarching victim in serial killer stories. Jane Caputi, in her book “The Age of the Sex Crime” argues that serial killer films usually include the following elements: reference to the established sex crime tradition, the killer corresponds with the police/media, psychological or physical abuse at the hands of the mother is usually to blame for the killer’s actions, the killer expresses love and/or assistance for his victims, female victims are responsible for their demise, and the killer is punishing women for their sexuality and/or disrespect toward men. This constant connection between females, violence, and victimization communicates a handful of social values.
First, the predominance of female victims implies both the weakness of women, and their dominated nature. Here, both implications communicate patriarchal perceptions that pervade the female body. Women are perceived as weak. Their weakness demands (and justifies) male dominance. The serial killer narrative illuminates this patriarchal dominance of women while reinforcing it to unsuspecting eyes. Serial killers target women because the killer perceives women as weaker, and women, thanks to social standards and upbringing, are easier targets (a stereotype strengthened by serial killer stories).
The consecutiveness of the serial killer, how he consumes one victim after another (a thought we will discuss in greater detail later), adds to the perception of the female body as an object to be consumed by men one after another. The objectification of women. The serial killer narrative pulls from this patriarchal conception of the female body, illuminating or reinforcing the narrative depending on the viewer.
This patriarchal foundation also naturalizes the male serial killer; who's behavior is seen as in-step with stereotypical male behavior. Although a serial killer's behavior is outside social norms it still plays to preconceived notions of male violence and domination. In “Crime and the Gothic: Sexualizing Serial Killers,” Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart outlines how this accepted reality leads society to laud the serial killer:
“…men who violate social norms/laws are seen merely as untamed or uncontrolled men. Male serial killers may be detested as aberrant, but the audience often ambivalently views the male serial killers’ skills of tracking, trapping, and physically overcoming their prey as skills that normal or real men are supposed to have as men.”
Male serial killers merely “went too far” with their natural abilities. Men are supposed (or expected) to be dominant, bent toward the physical and material, overly sexualized, and aggressive. The serial killer merely takes his nature too far, outside the bounds of the socially useful.
This is why female serial killers are largely left out. They are alien creatures, as Picart describes in her piece. Outside a few accepted tropes (the black widow, revenge/avenge against an abuser, the hysterical woman, witch, man-hater etc), the female serial killer is seen as an oddity. This is because the female is the “other” in relation to male; the subordinate, the excluded, marginalized. If man is expected to dominate, the woman is the one to be dominated. If man is expected to be aggressive and violent, the woman is the one to receive it (and to be at a disadvantage in the face of it). If she is not a manic “man-hater,” what else could she be but a victim?