A Feminist Reconsideration of the Story of Aileen Wuornos: Hidden in the Shadows of the Media
MetadataShow full item record
Aileen Carol Wuornos, a woman who confessed to killing seven white middle-aged men in 1989 and 1990, was executed in the state of Florida on the 9th of October 2002. This thesis is going to provide an in-depth case study of how she was represented in the media from the moment she was arrested in 1991, to the moment she died. It is going to show that the historical dominant discourse that surrounded Aileen at the time, that of being a cold-blooded lesbian prostitute who kills men out of hate, should be reconsidered. On the basis of a critical discourse analysis of newspapers and a documentary, the research concludes that the power of creating ‘truthful’ knowledge lied in the hands of institutions. These male-dominated institutions labeled her non-normative behavior indirectly as challenging the power structures and social norms of femininity, heterosexuality, and whiteness. On top of that, the media spectacle that was created discursively punished her by making her a subject of becoming, unbecoming and gender regulation. Meaning that as a white lesbian prostitute who killed she ‘unbecame’ white, unbecame human and unbecame female in the eyes of journalists and the general public. Consequently, based on speculation and prejudice, she ‘became’ a lesbian because of her ‘hate for men’ and ‘masculine gender performance’. Besides the media analysis, this historical analysis exposes that feminists did not do enough to stop her from being reduced to the ‘victim’ of heterosexual patriarchy. Instead, feminist discourse should have tried to voice her subjectivity and narrative in order to impact the dominant media discourse. On top of that, feminists should have advocated that her agency was part of the resistance against the traditional objectification and victimization of women and sex workers. In researching her own words, she critiqued the victimization, the becoming and unbecoming, and therefore the dominant juridical, feminist and media discourse. This case study shows that the shadows of the media are well hidden, but that a reconsideration of the historical discourse is needed to uncover her success in failure. Turning failure into success in the name of shadow feminism.