Posted in: Feminism, Gender, Psychology & Law
Published on Dec 22, 2020 by Phyllis Chesler
Going inside the mind of a female serial killer with Phyllis Chesler
HALLIE EPHRON: Phyllis Chesler--yes that Phyllis Chesler, feminist icon, provocative and brash--has never shied away from controversy or been afraid to upend stereotypes. Her new book (nonfiction) dares to ask: Are women always victims? Even female serial killers?
Today I'm happy to welcome her to Jungle Red, talking about her psychological true crime thriller REQUIEM FOR A FEMALE SERIAL KILLER.
The eponymous serial killer is Aileen Carol Wuornos who murdered seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990, shooting them at point-blank range. If this sounds familiar, it's probably because Charlize Theron won an Academy Award for portraying her in the 2003 film "Monster."
PHYLLIS CHESLER: Like the great, late Ann Rule, I, too, am haunted by my time with a high profile serial killer.
I am talking about Aileen Carol Wuornos. There has never been a female serial quite like her, not before or since.
If you think that you already know all about her—prepare to be learn otherwise. Wuornos is not exactly the woman who has been portrayed in books and films. The fact that her working uniform was to pass as a “normal” housewife with car troubles is brilliant.
Feminist ideals, feminist dreams, drew me to her case. I wanted the jury to know that most of the corpses strewn along Florida’s highways were female prostitutes murdered by male serial killers. This time, a whore had flipped the script, turned the tables, and had begun murdering Johns.
After Aileen was arrested, I flew down to Florida, not as a journalist, but as a feminist organizer and courtroom witness.
I wanted a jury to understand what a prostitute’s life was like, how she had to endure a toxic level of contempt and the most extraordinary violence. I wanted jurors to consider the fact that Aileen may indeed have killed in self-defense, at least that first time.
As a psychologist, I believed that the thousands of violent rapes and gang-rapes that she experienced could easily have led to the kind of paranoia and rage that could account for (but not justify) her murder spree. She killed seven men, all strangers to her. At least three, perhaps four of them were Johns, because they were found naked or with their pants in disarray.
I assembled a team of pro bono experts for her first trial. We wanted to conduct a public forum on what prostitution is and what it does to the prostitutes. We wanted to ensure that Aileen, no matter how foul her language, no matter how explosively angry she could get—that, she, too, deserved a fair trial.
I envisioned the political trial of the decade, rife with burning questions. Did a prostitute have the right to kill in self-defense? Could she be raped if she was selling her body anyway? Was Aileen even competent to stand trial? Did it even matter? Did she hate men? Are John ever innocent?
The answers may surprise you.
Although Wuornos was seen as a “monster,” no one understood how unique she was. Although I had many phone conversations, exchanged letters with her, and visited her on Death Row, it still took me many years to figure it all out. To date, no one else really has.
She was not like male serial killers—nor was she like other female serial killers. (There are many.) Aileen was also unlike other women who had been severely abused in childhood. I explain all this in REQUIEM FOR A FEMALE SERIAL KILLER.
Take a walk on the wild side with me. The ghost of Aileen Wuornos beckons.
HALLIE: Okay, I'm hooked. In the world of crime fiction, the villain is the hero of their own story. I wonder of what "story" did Aileen Wuornos see herself the hero of?
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