And while men are more likely to be murdered, Vicary points out that in some of the most disturbing crimes, like rape and serial killings, victims are more likely to be female. One of her studies showed women were particularly drawn to true crime stories that included a trick to survival—a victim who escaped or a murderer who chose his targets based on certain criteria—suggesting women may look to true crime for safety tips.
My Favorite Murder stands out from some other true-crime media because it does more than thrill and terrify the audience. Kilgariff and Hardstark, unqualified though they profess to be, offer their own advice for staying safe. Lawless, the mental-health counselor, thinks some of it is useful. “Even to say ‘Fuck politeness,’ that’s an empowering statement because now you have permission to not do things that are going to put you in danger,” she says.
One of the podcast’s better-known aphorisms, “Fuck politeness” comes up whenever a host recalls a woman who put herself in danger because she didn’t want to be rude—like agreeing to speak privately with a longtime stalker or stopping to help someone on a dark road. Other quotable tips include “Don’t get in that trunk,” “Unless you’re a ghost baseball player, you don’t need to be in that field,” and “You’re in a cult. Call your dad.”
Gina Barreca, a professor of English at University of Connecticut who writes books about women in comedy, thinks My Favorite Murder is an example of women using comedy to empower themselves. She paraphrases Margaret Atwood’s observation that women’s greatest fear is that they will be killed by men, while men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them.
“That’s the whole Wizard of Oz effect,” Barreca says. “’Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,’ or the man behind the mask. Rip it away, and you take some of his power away in that laughter. You’re not taking his terror seriously.”
But Vicary worries that indulging a true crime obsession, even to laugh in the face of fear, can create a feedback loop of terror. “You’re just hearing more and more about crime and learning about more and more serial killers and more examples of people being killed, which is only going to increase your anxiety,” she says. “I think it does get to be this vicious cycle.”
Bonn agrees that true crime can be addictive, but he thinks that’s normal. “We love the tension,” he says. “It builds and builds and releases and we go back for another fix.” It’s the same pattern of rush and release, he says, as going to a haunted house, or watching a horror movie.
However women are drawn into true crime stories, whether it's the jaw-dropping allure of horrific human behavior or a feeling of kinship with murder victims, it’s a way of directly confronting a fear of being killed. And once the door to one taboo subject is opened, it may be easier to step into discussing other private struggles.
Maitreme eventually admitted to her therapist that a podcast about murder encouraged her to make her first appointment. “She said yeah, listening to murder stories all day might not be the most healthy for most people, but she said everyone’s different, and if this is where you feel like you’re being supported and people are telling you it’s OK to get the help that you need, then listen to it all day long, if that’s what it takes.”