Socialist Worker

No such thing as a natural born monster

by Judith Orr
Issue No. 1896

AILEEN WUORNOS was executed by lethal injection in October 2002. She was only the second woman to be executed in Florida since the American Civil War. Aileen had killed six men. She was hailed as the US's first women serial killer and there's nothing the media loves more than a mass murderer, and if she is a blonde prostitute with a lesbian lover then just watch the headlines flow. Police officers involved in her case were said to be negotiating book and movie deals about her case before she was even arrested.

The new movie, Monster, tells a small part of her story but what it does show was that Aileen was no monster. As usual, the pundits have concentrated on the glamorous actress made 'fat and ugly' for the part. Any Hollywood star these days would have to put on a few stone to look like an average woman.

But Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, who has declared in interviews about the movie that she is against capital punishment, is utterly convincing as Aileen. She combines the aggressive swagger of someone who has learned to see everyone as the enemy with a naive and desperate optimism about how things can work out. Powerful as Monster is in exploring the dark side of life on the margins of US society, it is ultimately frustrating. It leaves you with too many questions.

The first years of Aileen's life are skipped through in the first few minutes of the movie and do not do justice to the experiences and conditions which shaped her.

She was physically and sexually abused throughout her childhood. Her father was a sex offender who hanged himself in prison when she was just 13.

Aileen and her brother were brought up by their grandparents believing them to be their parents. It is possible her grandfather might have actually been her father. She was forced to live wild in woods and went on the road as a prostitute not long after she gave a baby away for adoption having become pregnant by the age of 14.

Women have committed multiple murders before, but killed people they knew or members of their family. Yet despite the sensationalist label Aileen didn't fit any standard profile of a serial killer.

The first man she killed was in clear self defence. He had raped her and poured petrol over her-details of his past convictions for violence against women only came out after her trial and were not allowed to be heard. She got no thrill from killing and each time saw it as the only way to survive, to get money, a car or whatever she needed to look after her lover.

But the treatment of Aileen's crimes, in the legal system and in the media, confirms that women who commit violent crime are seen as more 'deviant' than men. This is because they have broken the unwritten rule of nature that women are more caring and passive than men. These values are starkly reflected in sentencing.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the US found that 'men who kill their wives or girlfriends serve an average of 2 to 6 years while women who kill their male partners serve an average of 15 years'.

Marx wrote that people make history but not in conditions of their own choosing. The brutal conditions of Aileen's life left her with few choices. Monster is a serious attempt to portray this reality without sensationalism and shows what sort of justice the poor and oppressed can expect to get in Bush's US.

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Sat 10 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1896
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