I came across a blog and newsletter project recently that I just want to point to in appreciation.
[Note: this is the first in a post category I’m dubbing “Making an Appeal” (get it?!), which is to highlight the projects (sites, podcasts, other goings on) I come across that are relevant to this blog’s topic (true/crime/etc.) and seem worth checking out.]
Uterish began as a high school student activism project in 2016 focused on reproductive justice. They describe their mission as:
“Uterish combines art and feminism to raise money and awareness in support of reproductive justice.”
They have a merchandise shop with mugs and tshirts and greeting cards with sex positive and woman positive slogans and imagery. But they also have a blog and monthly newsletter that provides information about issues relevant to their mission. And they also offer reviews and criticism regarding popular culture.
So they’ve posted about true crime in the context of their stated “intersectional feminism” goals.
In 2017 Alex, one of the creators, posted about “Feminism in True Crime Communities” with the premise that
“Previously, women used to only be able to locate themselves in the role of victim. Men told stories of masculinized violence to a perceived audience of other men. But since women have begun reclaiming these narratives, the experience of delving into true crime has become a feminist practice that holds the potential to empower targets and victims.”
While I might quibble with the part about assuming a men-only audience, this situating of true crime within the power of “communities” and as potentially useful in “feminist practice” is important. If they’re referring to the circulation and reception of “true crime,” there’s much in the history of the true crime genre and its circulation practices that relies on appeals to women, and not just women in general, but often “mothers” in particular and, especially since the 19th century in Western culture, appeals to “white womanhood.” However, if they’re referring to the impact of true crime in the institutions that control justice, such as legislative bodies and court rooms, then of course that audience was almost exclusively made up of men during what we consider “modernity,” and only recently includes women.
Alex comes with some statistics about the relationship of crime to gender:
“True crime is a study of gendered violence. Statistics report that 90.8% of serial killers are men (www.statisticbrain.com). Other recent data suggests that men make up 80.4% of those arrested for violent crime in the United States (en.wikipedia.org). Though murder victim rates are much more evenly distributed, women still remain primary targets for gendered violence. For example, it is reported that nearly 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault while on a college campus (www.nsvrc.org). Toxic masculinity threatens everyone regardless of gender. However it targets women and trans/nonbinary people, in particular. Thus, feminist interest in true crime is tied to survival.”
The post goes on to describe My Favorite Murder, the popular true crime podcast created by two women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, as an example of true crime in feminist practice. After describing the show’s style and quirks as building feminist community around difficult topics, Alex offers some critical reflection and context as well:
“My Favorite Murder is not the be-all-end-all of feminist true crime spaces/communities. In fact, the podcast consistently receives critique for the hosts’ word choice, criminal justice stances, and exclusion of certain victim narratives. To Karen and Georgia’s credit, sometimes this criticism is taken and changes are made. However, the two still remain representative of a white, middle-upper class feminism that has always excluded other feminists (namely, qtpoc). They have a lot of work ahead of them and seem to be having trouble navigating their own white fragility and the scope of their platform.”
And the closing thoughts of that post:
“So if you are pouring over the details of the OJ case and trial, or considering deeply every possible scenario of the JonBenét murder, or devouring Ann Rule books, do it with the attention of a true crime enthusiast and the radical imagination of a feminist. The two go hand in hand.”
I especially appreciate the added links to further reading as well as the sound practice of providing links to sources at the bottom of the post.
In a more recent post on the Uterish blog, Alex returns to the True Crime topic with a discussion of “Five ‘Feminist’ True Crime Podcasts.” And yes, MFM is there, but so is This Land, a podcast focused on crimes involving Cherokee Nation — one from the 19th century, and one that had a Supreme Court hearing as recently as 2019 — and hosted by Rebecca Nagle, Cherokee writer and activist. And also The Fall Line, a podcast explicitly focused on “the cold cases of marginalized communities,” as Alex paraphrases.
And in February of 2019, Alex posted a kind of follow-up to the first post about “feminist communities” as potentially part of the cultural work that true crime does in popular culture, this time addressing more squarely the issue of Black Lives:
“I posited some broad answers to these big questions at the end of my first blog post. But, I want to circle back specifically to the murders of women of color who often disappear without the attention or care of some supposedly-feminist true crime circles. There is a tendency in true crime spaces to categorize white deaths as tragic and undeserved, yet those of people of color (particularly those of black and indigenous women) as political. I want to explore how the pillars and work of the Black Lives Matter movement can also apply to the narratives perpetuated in true crime communities. Making sure that all stories are given attention, outrage, respect, time, and scrutiny is a necessary (and a very overdue) step towards more feminist true crime communities.”
There’s an important appeal and recognition here that I think often goes unnoticed or unremarked in popular/public discussions of the Black Lives Matter movement. That is the core appeal and charge of the slogan itself: care, quotidian attention, even, for the loss of Black Lives. Alex powerfully juxtaposes true-crime care, attention, sympathy, and even sensationalism or obsession for dead white women with the “political only” popular framing of murders of Black women — those murders that do receive popular attention, anyway.
Alex’s critique isolates the exclusion of Black Lives from discourses of tragedy that are at the center of true crime narratives.
I mean, you can’t really put it more succinctly than this:
“Black Lives Matter and true crime storytelling seem to (or should) share two basic missions: honoring the lives of victims and seeking justice.”
So, yeah, I’m a fan, Uterish!
If there’s a true-crime (adjacent) project out there that you love, let me know.
Send me your hot tips!