Women Three, Soulless Monsters Nil

Can a woman be a psychopath? Where I live, “psychopath” is the popular synonym for “ex-husband”, so at one level the answer is clearly negative, and that by definition.

On a higher plane, a Norwegian female psychiatrist (whom I knew socially) once told me that psychopathy was regarded as an exclusively male disorder. As far as I can see, however, this is by no means an internationally recognised truth.

It is true that there are practically no female serial killers; Aileen Wuornos comes to mind as the great exception, but, being a victim of patriarchy and an embodiment of “elemental female outrage” (in the words of a feminist reviewer of the film Monster), she doesn’t count. Serial killer is in any case a narrow definition of psychopath. Another sense, which is the one we were both using anyway, is the empathy-deficient predators, the cold-hearted, conscienceless, power-hungry manipulators, who don’t necessarily ever kill anyone. What then are the options for explaining the alleged absence of female psychopaths in this sense?

Firstly, that there really is some biological mechanism, some hardwiring of the brain, that prevents women becoming such conniving soulless monsters. I have no idea what that might be, but the thing is logically possible.

Secondly, that psychopathy is acculturated into males, and males alone. Again, such a thing seems logically possible. Presumably we are dealing here with a sort of Apostolic Succession, in which male psychopaths create other male psychopaths. This is presumably unintentional, as no predator is served by there being too many rival predators.

Thirdly, that there exist social mechanisms preventing the correct identification of the female psychopath. It might then be the case that, when women are psychopaths, they are so clever that no one can catch them at it. For disguise is part of the modus operandi; just as a convicted criminal is by definition an unsuccessful criminal, anyone whom others are actually calling a psychopath is obviously not very good at being one. It is like the way elementary particles can only be seen by their trail in a cloud chamber; the only way to track the competent psychopaths is via the broken lives of others, who are still trying to understand what hit them.

Such a social mechanism may consist in a perfect matching of the psychopath’s mastery of guilt-inducing techniques with victim-feminist techniques of predatory explanation and gendered self-exculpation. Common to the psychopath and the victim-feminist is, after all, that they never talk about the ethics of their own actions, only about our inconvenient responses to those actions. Moreover, the anger and emotional confusion left in the wake of the female psychopath can easily be presented as further proof of the innate male depravity that she has just finished avenging. It may also be noted that a woman will habitually avert all charges of “selfishness” by claiming that everything she wants is not for herself but for the sake of someone else – the children, society, or even the hypostasis of The Relationship, into whose needs she has exclusive insight.

“Psychopath”, therefore, may simply be the name we give to that rare male individual who has one-tenth of the manipulative ability of a perfectly average woman. The claim that a woman cannot be a psychopath may in itself be one of the most effective tools of the psychopath who just happens to be female. Perhaps, therefore, that Norwegian psychiatrist was herself a psychopath; I cannot judge, because I was never in her way or had anything that she wanted.

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