Killer Women Dispatches #3: Is crime fiction misogynistic?

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 22.39.21The next panel session for me was ‘Is Crime Fiction Misogynistic?’, which was hosted by journalist India Knight and featured Sam Baker (who co-created The Pool, an excellent online magazine for women), journalist Julie Bindel and Irish novelist John Connolly. Elsewhere, there was the ‘How To Solve A Murder’ session (excellent, by all accounts), but I wanted to attend this because it’s such an interesting subject that can and could be debated for hours. 

Julie Bindel – who I’m a big fan of – said, when asked whether she thought crime fiction was misogynistic, that on the whole, no, it wasn’t – while sex trafficking, rape, torture and domestic abuse goes unchecked in the real world, in crime fiction there’s often resolution and justice for the perpetrator. She also said that crime fiction is only as misogynist as the people who write it and the society who created them. Not everyone is born a rapist or a sadist, but it’s society that makes them.

She went on to say – and this is a crucial point, I think – it’s the way violence is presented in a book or on the screen that says a lot about the intention. She said that she can watch or read any sort of violence against women as long as it had a context and a point, and as long as it didn’t titillate or pornographise.

20161015_150734John Connolly, meanwhile, was a crucial member of the panel, giving a male perspective on the whole point. He said that yes, if he had the chance, he would re-write some of his earlier books (his ‘young man’ books) because he remembered the feeling of having to shock in order to make a name for himself when he was first starting out. He still thinks that the pressure to shock, to come up with something new and more depraved still exists. He also said there seems to be a hierarchy in terms of what’s acceptable anwhatht isn’t: don’t kill cats and dogs, and be careful with how you deal with children; the treatment of women seems to come third on that list.

We then got onto to TV drama, and Sam was quite emphatic when asked about The Fall. She said the first series was just about watchable because you wanted to see what happened to Gibson and whether she would catch Spector, but from the end of series one it had become so voyeuristic as to become unwatchable. It had jumped from a line it had just about straddled to being a series that was just too voyeuristic.

As a counterpoint, India asked what Happy Valley, for instance, got right. Julie gave another emphatic answer: everything! Happy Valley is feminist because none of the female characters are written in relation to or used by men. They just are, Julie said.

And then John asked the audience this: Are female readers complicit in creating a culture that permits misogyny? Let’s face it, he said, the readers of crime fiction are mostly women. It was an interesting question, which Julie answered: women absorb rather than create misogyny.

As Sam said, there is so much grey area here and many, many discussion points. This panel made a terrific stab at answering some of the main questions.

Paul Hirons

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