Female serial killers are a topic of interest for many people, since it is not in a woman’s “nature” to be violent, aggressive, or murderous. A woman is supposed to be caring, helpful and loving to everyone, but many times women are pushed over the edge by these ridiculous ideas of femininity. Just look at how popular the movie “Monster” was with Charlize Theron, it was the true story of a female serial killer, people were shocked and intrigued by the idea. The movie Women Who Kill also looks at the intrigue of female serial killers and the stereotypes of femininity. The movie is about two women who used to date named Morgan played by Ingrid Jungermann and Jean played by Ann Carr. The two of them star in a podcast series called “Women Who Kill” and they interview female serial killers. Morgan then begins to date a woman named Simone who they eventually discover is a serial killer and Morgan ends up murdering her (Women Who Kill). The movie Women Who Kill perpetuates the myths and stereotypes we hold in our society. Viewers see can see this through two main theories, Barthes theory of mythology and the theory of femininity.
Barthes theory of mythology is an important tool for us to use when looking at popular culture from the past and present. This theory works by taking popular culture (movies, television, advertisements, art) and breaking it down into smaller parts, dissecting it really. It’s broken down into three parts, the signifier, the signified and the myth. When we do this we find the distorted meanings behind the image, we are unaware of these meanings behind the “big picture” because they are distorted ideas that are not your first thought when viewing a piece of popular culture (Robinson). The main thing to remember is that these myths do not hide things, they simply distort the ideas, one only needs to be knowledgeable in culture to be able to see and understand the myth in things (Robinson). In Women Who Kill, our signifier is Simone because she shows different character traits than women who fit the stereotype of a “normal” women should show. These character traits like her mystery, promiscuity, sexuality and independence are traits that most women are not supposed to have. These unaccepted traits represent the signified. The myth is women that show traits similar to Simone’s, that don’t fit into our societies stereotypes, are often then seen as “evil” and bad-natured. All of these things can be seen when looking deeper into the movie’s distorted myths and simply looking with more of a critical lens.
In society we approach the idea of women in popular culture in such a sexually objectifying way that we have created a box that women must fit into in order to be seen as “feminine.” These women must not be sexual or mysterious, they must be dependent upon their “man.” Almost everything about Women Who Kill goes against the regular feminine stereotypes portrayed in movies. In movies like The Devil Wears Prada, the powerful non-feminine character in the movie, played by Meryl Streep is what many would call a “man-woman” because of the power she shows (Milestone and Meyer 102). She exudes her power through her character traits like her mystery, independence, fearlessness and confidence, this is taken in a negative light for the entire movie and the woman clearly must make a choice between her power and her home life in order to be happy. The character Simone in Women Who Kill shows many of the same traits, which also go against the feminine grain by showing her power and dominance through these traits. She shows that she is in charge of almost every situation she is in. This is constantly looked at as a bad thing and seen as a truly negative flaw in her personality.
Femininity can also create a pressure and need to succeed in fitting in with these stereotypes, this in turn creates the myths that I just spoke of, the myth that women who show non-feminine traits are automatically bad for society and cause harm to others. This movie perpetuates this idea through the way it manages its characters, like Simone, who at first is very mysterious and intriguing to the audience but slowly becomes a disliked and hated character by not only the audience but by many other characters throughout the movie. The movie shows that people like Simone, who are viewed differently will only cause harm to those around them. The fact that Simone is seen as a serial killer because of her personality only continues the idea that in order to fit into society one must conform to feminine ideals. The character Morgan also breaks many feminine ideals, because she acts more man-like than most female characters in movies do. Her man-like traits are her little interest shown in romance, and the way she dresses and conveys herself (Baba Habibe Burcu). It is common to hear her complain about people being too needy and attached, she also talks about her love of Simone’s mystery (Women Who Kill). All of these things create a non-traditional, female character, although in this case she is not portrayed as a negative character throughout the film, but rather is the main character. This helps viewers to have a more positive stance on a woman breaking free of the barriers of femininity.
This movie was enjoyable to watch but when breaking it down, I can see how even an ‘indie’ film like this can continue to perpetuate the cycle of myths and femininity. In our society there are so many things that slip by right under our noses, this is exactly what Barthes theory of mythology shows us, the things that are right in front of our eyes. This film is continuing the cycle of myths and femininity in our society without even seeing it. It is so important to see these things because the cycle will continue if we don’t look up and smell the roses, because honestly they reek of shit disguised as flowers.
Baba Habibe Burcu. “Week 3 Gendered Representations I: Femininities.” GNDS 125, 24 January 2017, Biosciences Complex Auditorium, Kingston, ON. Lecture.
Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. “Representing Women.” Gender and Popular Culture. Malden: Polity Press, 2012. 87-112. Print.
Robinson, Andrew. “An A to Z of Theory Roland Barthe’s Mythologies: A Critical Theory of Myths.” Ceasefire, https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-barthes-2/ Accessed 10 February 2017.
Women Who Kill. Directed by Ingrid Jungermann, performed by Ingrid Jungermann and Ann Carr, Alex Scharfman, 2016.