If you didn’t skip past the opening credits of Mindhunter during your binge-watch these weekend, you would notice that, woven between images of recorders, are flashes of a decaying corpse. A dead woman’s body is shown in parts. Her gaping mouth. Wounds on her back, increasingly mangled by time. Her wide-open eyes, with no one to close them. We never find out who she is, because it doesn’t matter who she is, really. She could be any of the many women whom the serial killers on the show had murdered.
For serial killers like Edmund Kemper and Richard Speck, women were objects of scorn and fascination, receptacles for their pent-up rage and humiliation, and ultimately, absolutely disposable. Women were not worthy of life.
Despite its gruesome implications about the value of a woman’s life, Mindhunter was surprisingly bingeable. Forty hours after I began, I emerged knowing more than I ever really wanted to about serial killer psychology. Days later, I don’t remember many specifics about how serial killers think — but I can’t forget what they did. What has stayed with me are those images of the women in the opening credits. The victims we never got to hear from.
On any week of any year, Mindhunter and its depictions of inexplicable violence towards women would’ve gotten under my skin. It would’ve given me nightmares (yes, I got nightmares) no matter what. But Mindhunter came out on October 12, a week in which a different type of violence against women was already taking center stage in media headlines.
Earlier that week, on October 5, a New York Times exposé revealed powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged long history of sexual assault and harassment. Since that day, over 40 women have come forward with accusations against Weinstein. Their accounts of Weinstein’s behavior are harrowing, and it’s almost shameful to recognize that a culture of secrecy and shame had silenced these stories for so long.
Yet the problem of sexual harassment and assault extends far beyond Weinstein, far beyond Hollywood, and into the daily lives of all women. To demonstrate the extent of everyday harassment, on October 15, Alyssa Milano encouraged her followers to tweet the words #MeToo if they’d ever experienced assault or harassment.
Using the #MeToo hashtag, women began sharing their own experiences, sometimes with vivid detail, in highly public forums like Twitter and Facebook. In the past, these stories had been whispered among friends, either as warnings or as as ways of sharing trauma. Now, these stories are being shouted. In the same week, I’ve heard accounts from Jennifer Lawrence and from my high school classmates. I’ve heard stories from Reese Witherspoon and from friends.
Consuming Mindhunter in the same week as the Weinstein scandal unfolded left me feeling depleted. This isn’t to compare Harvey Weinstein to a necrophiliac serial killer like Ed Kemper. Clearly, Mindhunter is on one very far end of the spectrum of violence against women. The men on this show perform awful, unspeakable acts on unsuspecting women. But what Weinstein allegedly did, and what harassers do, might not put them in jail — but it’s on the same spectrum of violence, because in all of these instances, women are lesser. They are objects, instruments of pleasure.
The victims in Mindhunter can't speak out. But we can, and we are. I hope we will continue to do so.
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