Representations of Women in Crime:  My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

‘My Sister. The Serial Killer.’ by Nigerian writer Oyinkan Braithwaite is a quick and gripping  read. It is about two sisters; Ayoola, the serial killer and Korede, the meticulous healthcare professional and an accessory to murder. Ayoola’s seemingly endless killing sprees test Korede’s loyalty and reserve.

Some would say that the ending disappoints as it doesnt allow you to neatly categorise this book at horror, crime or murder mystery. In fact it is probably better described as a family drama along the lines of ‘my sisters keeper’. Except with a much darker storyline. 

The story centres not on the serial killer but her sister, Korede. She is the fierce protective older sister and through her eyes the author builds up a story of a deep and intense sibling relationship. Characterised by the usual insecurities and rivalries but also bound by a deep loyalty that these murders test. Korede and Ayoola’s relationship dynamics is central to the plot. It humanises the situation, if not the killer.  

Ayoola is a bubbly and charming millennial. Popular and attractive. Her beauty is her greatest weapon (followed by the actual weapon she uses on her victims). Here Braithwaite relies on the temptress, seductress trope a little bit. I would have liked to see more of Ayoola’s character to be fleshed out a bit more. We hear a lot about Korede and her motivations and only have speculate about Ayoola’s. It would have been good to give her a voice, to give the readers insight into why she kills and why she picks the men she does.

Korede is the opposite, head nurse at her local hospital, meticulous and detailed. In fact, she is more of the ‘traditional’ female serial killer type. There is a large body of literature dedicated to understanding the phenomenon of Female Serial Killers (FSK). According to psychological studies FSKs are disproportionately from the health-care field.* 

Although this book is short and left me with some answered questions it really got me thinking about representation of women in traditionally male dominated genres in media and popular culture. By and large killing and violence is the domain of men. It is seen as a natural by-product of toxic masculine rage. Men are predators and women are always the prey. This is clear in the popularity of Netflix shows such as Mindhunter that looks at infamous male serial killers in the US – most of whom directed their violence at women. Braithwaite flips this narrative on its head by introducing the character of Ayoola, a female serial killer. 

Thankfully there has been an increase in crime novels with women protagonist lately. There is the argument that narratives that centre around female perpetrators allow women to perform “the male role of the killer…[and] move to a place of power”**.  I don’t entirely agree with this argument – as I fundamentally disagree with the man vs woman categories and believe that one cannot become equal simply by adopting the stereotype of the other. In fact it is the very existence of these stereotypes that what we must question. However, in a context of overwhelming male violence I get that it can be subversive. It is an extreme way to empower the woman. By making the charming and beautiful Ayoola the killer Braithwaite questions tropes of ‘femininity’ that establish women as the ‘weaker sex’. 

Overall a quick and interesting read that definitely lives you with some food for thought!


* Trigger warnings: this book explores some strong themes of domestic abuse. *

References 

* Studying Female Killers, report by international honor society in psychology [link]

**Female killers and gender politics in contemporary South African crime fiction: Conversations with crime writers Jassy Mackenzie, Angela Makholwa, and Mike Nicol, The Journal of Common Wealth Literatue, 2017, Vol. 52(2) 263 –280

“Painfully aware of the limitations of this (patriarchal) order, they seek to enlarge the scope of agency for women and explore alternative notions of justice and different ideas of power and agency. Creating transgressive female figures allows the authors to address the country’s pervasive gender-based violence and to expose the effects of constraining gender norms across colour lines”


Further References:

Women on screen : feminism and femininity in visual culture / edited by Melanie Waters. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Representations of murderous women in literature, theatre, film, and television : examining the patriarchal presuppositions behind the treatment of murderesses in fiction and reality / edited by Juli L. Parker ; foreword by Paula Ruth Gilbert.Lewiston, N.Y. : Edwin Mellen Press, c2010.

Gender and contemporary horror in television / edited by Steven Gerrard, Samantha Holland, Robert Shail. United Kingdom : Emerald Publishing, 2019.

‘We’re more than just pins and dolls and seeing the future in chicken parts’: Race, magic and religion in American Horror Story: Coven

O’Reilly, Jennifer European journal of American culture. Volume 38:Issue 1 (2019); pp 29-41 — Intellect Ltd

 

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