Elevate Difference

Women Who Kill

Let me first just throw the creepiness right out there and admit I am a big fan of all media coverage related to serial killers. I love the horrible shows like Cold Case Files, and I love the even crappier rushed books written about every case. So when I saw Women Who Kill, I immediately zoomed in and claimed it.

I originally expected it to rely heavily on Aileen Wuornos, maybe some of the Manson girls, or even the women involved in couple-assisted murders, like Karla Homolka. I was expecting a similar sensationalized retelling of widely known to fairly well known cases, but what I got instead was an amazing surprise. Author Ann Jones doesn’t bore you with any of these tired old cases; in fact she rarely goes too deep into any individual case at all.

Women Who Kill marries the relationship between why and how women have killed during America’s history with the social problems of each time period behind them. This is a fascinating book for history buffs, sociologists, feminists, crime buffs—essentially, everyone. It’s so easy to write off a murderer as just being “crazy,” so I loved how this book went further to show that many of the female murderers throughout history actually had very rational reasoning behind their crimes brought on by their social position.

The book does not focus on any one criminal, but is divided rather loosely into crimes and time periods. The first type of murder brought up is that of women murdering their own children. Murdering your child is never a justifiable offense, but when Jones examines the American culture of the late 1600s and early 1700s to views on women, sexuality, and rape, the crimes become easier to understand.

The last type of murder covered is that of battered women retaliating against their batterers, from the late 1970s to the present. This was one of the more infuriating chapters, as it was closer to my lifetime. Jones never excuses any woman’s crime, but simply lays out each case on a carefully planned timeline of women’s social progress throughout the ages. All of the accounts are still extremely sad. And while this was a fascinating read that I could not put down, Women Who Kill left me feeling incredibly depressed and frustrated with how little progress it seems society really has made.

Between the language, euphemisms, and attitudes still in use—such as using seduction for the term rape in the 1600s, to the present favorite usage of had sex with, to the overall concept of how women still receive harsher sentencing for similar crimes committed by men—I didn’t feel our culture is much closer to equality, as I did before reading. Jones does a truly terrific job in presenting a morbid subject in an extremely interesting way, but I was left wishing for was some sort of guidance in what I could do personally to change things.

I don’t fault Jones for this though, as I doubt she has any idea herself. While it’s a wonderful book, the subject matter can be a little heavy to take in all at once. Surprisingly, Women Who Kill is not so much light beach fare (no ready-made for E! TV or movie sensationalism here) as it is a fresh insight to a little realized and ongoing problem.

Written by: Jen Klee, November 7th 2009