On The Violent Lesbian: Part 2
“You sabotaged my ass, society. And the cops, and the system… a raped woman got executed. It was used for books and movies and shit. You’re an inhumane bunch of fuckin’ livin’ bastards and bitches and you’re gonna get your asses nuked in the end, and pretty soon it’s comin’! 2019 a rock’s supposed to hit you anyhow, you’re all gonna get nuked. You don’t take fuckin’ human life like this and just sabotage it and rip it apart like Jesus on the cross, and say thanks a lot for all the fuckin’ money I made off of ya. And not care about a human being, and the truth being told. Now I know what Jesus was going through.”
Aileen Wuornos, ‘Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer’ (dir. Nick Broomfield, 2003)
Hello and welcome back to Rosie’s tour of the wonderful world of The Violent Lesbian. For this segment, we’re going to discuss the biggest and the baddest, Aileen Wuornos.
The archetypal violent lesbian is of course Aileen Wuornos, who in mass culture represented firstly the clear relationship between killer women and sexual deviancy, cementing the pairing in the right wing mind as indisputable fact. Aileen, the only female serial killer in modern times who murdered 7 men around 1989 and had a female partner, made it very easy for the dodgy American media to insinuate into the minds of the public the projection of a whole range of homophobic and misogynist slurs onto her image (man-hater, dyke, whore, bitch), thereby thoroughly de-humanising her and making it extra pleasurable to see her executed. Aileen, from day one of her story breaking, became so much more than an individual: she became a monstrous symbol of female dissent that had to be destroyed … but she also became a symbol of the marginalised, abused and brutalised that was just beginning to have its own voice heard.
Aileen is the subject of two very good documentaries on Netflix and a film called Monster (2003) starring Charlize Theron (which wasn’t as bad as I was expecting), as well as countless interviews and books, all of which allowed her, despite whatever bias the authors may have intended, to allow her to speak for herself and allow her own story to be heard. This didn’t help her much as she couldn’t escape execution for her crimes for which she was unrepentant, but gradually I think the repetition of her story and the larger contexts of her life started to sink in. She was the subject, since birth, of unimaginable sexual and physical abuse, completely unloved, utterly impoverished, prostituted from childhood, passed from rapist to rapist and then discarded. As Ann Jones says in Women Who Kill, behind every violent woman is a lifetime of ignorance, degradation and abuse; and when you take into account Aileen’s terrible existence and complete lack of autonomy and education, you totally understand why she snapped in this way. Ultimately, the easy answer to why Aileen Wuornos exists is to blame her defective character and sexual deviancy, to see her as a freak occurrence; the hard answer is to address the systems of child protection, education and state benefits that failed her. It’s much cheaper to opt for the former.
The word ‘monster’, used to describe Aileen and eventually as the title of her biopic, comes from the Latin meaning ‘a warning’. A monster is a symbol of destruction and deviancy that has to be ultimately killed as a warning to other transgressive agencies, in order to safeguard the smooth running of society. However, while Aileen represented the most vile man-hating dyke that ever lived with a one-way ticket to Death Row, she also, in a sub-plot that slowly came to dominate her story, became re-humanised; she became the object of empathy, a victim of a life that should never have happened; the responsibility of a defective society. When you take all this into consideration, the dual interpretations raise even more questions: to whom does the word ‘monster’ apply? To the punters who raped her, to the lover who betrayed her, to the government that failed her? Who is being warned by her story, and what is the warning? In the age of neo right wing mania, Trump and #MeToo, it’s clear how these two narrative strands continue to battle; and you can see it all in Aileen’s story.