Men are twice as likely as women to be victims of homicide, yet in all genres, whether it be true crime, mystery, period crime, fantasy, in all media, whether print, TV or video games, female corpses outnumber male ones and we see more of them more often.
Images of murdered women appear and reappear in the news on the slightest of pretexts. Mention Soham, and you’ll get that picture of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in their Manchester United strips. Mention phone hacking and you’ll get a picture of Milly Dowler.
And this week, in the first few minutes of the new series of Scandi-noir drama The Bridge (Friday BBC2), we have a graphic depiction of a female murder victim, who has been buried up to her neck and stoned to death.
In a recent blog post, among a collection of anti-feminist rants, a male contributor convinced himself that this reiteration of images of female murder victims comes about because ideological feminists are pressuring opinionmakers to politicise murder as principally a crime against women.
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But who is watching and reading the proliferating imagery of female victimhood? Women, that’s who. Women make up between 60 and 80 per cent of readers of crime fiction. Dedicated true crime channels are principally watched by women. Strange as it must seem, the endless array of female cadavers laid out on slabs and dragged out of the undergrowth in crime drama on TV is designed to reel in a mainly female audience.
Experts tell us that one third of women are frightened of being raped. That doesn’t seem to mean that they shrink from imagining such an event. Among the conclusions of researchers at Notre Dame University and the University of Texas about the sexual fantasies of a study population of 355 female undergraduates is that 52 per cent admitted to fantasies of being “forced” by men and 32 per cent of being raped. When the researchers unpacked the fantasies of being “forced”, 20 per cent claimed to have such fantasies once a month, 11 per cent once a week, and 9 per cent at least four times a week.
The researchers were blasé about this. They concluded that it didn’t mean these women wanted actually to be “forced”, apparently, but that they enjoyed elaborating the fantasy and were in control of it. In my view the fantasy is commoner than these figures suggest. The man who groans and clenches his teeth as he struggles to resist the heroine’s fatal charms has been a staple of “chick-lit” ever since Jane Eyre. The delusion that rape is the result of overwhelming sexual desire is a female delusion.
Amid the media storm that is the #MeToo campaign, female celebrity after female celebrity has outed herself as a victim of sexual harassment. All have been congratulated for their bravery, even when they took payments for signing non-disclosure agreements and kept shtoom until the statute of limitations was well past. Their likenesses are replicated endlessly. The dozens of men alleging abuse by Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Kevin Spacey refrain from exhibiting themselves.
Male victims of sexual abuse have no desire to be seen and women have no desire to see them. For female victims the situation is different. The women involved in #MeToo have chosen to appear in news media as victims – these days called survivors – time and time again. The display of female victimhood in entertainment media is not the result of a conspiracy between wicked men to objectify, reify and sexualise women but a straightforward capitulation to market forces. Female victimisation sells. What should disturb us is that it sells to women.
Professor Germaine Greer is an academic, writer and broadcaster