The main impediment to a feminist consideration of the case of Karla Homolka proceeds from the unpalatable suggestion that she may have enjoyed her crimes. This distaste does not result from her transgressions of the stereotypes of good wife and woman, as these are rarely problematic in feminist
legal or cultural studies theory. However, for such theorists, political exigencies do form a prime barrier to discussions of women like Homolka: it is harder to defend a person who has apparently willingly committed heinous acts of cruelty than one whose actions resulted from duress or oppression. Women who desire to do more than merely watch “a child being beaten” are not just castigated, it seems, but repressed out of conscious existence. In feminist theory this suppression has a lot to do with the original aims of the movement and the constraining/enabling power of identity politics.
In undertaking the primary feminist aim to expose and challenge female oppression within heteropatriarchal societies, it has been historically necessary to found feminist politics on particular feminist constructions of Woman. The two most important and enduring of these are the victimized woman and the nurturing woman. The victimized woman embodies the damage patriarchal oppression has inflicted upon women, and the nurturing woman demonstrates that women possess knowledges and modes of behaviour that, although developed as a response to oppression, nevertheless differ markedly and are considered preferable to those privileged under patriarchy.
Crucially, however, neither of these constructions of Woman acknowledge feminine potential for violence or sadism, which means that the actions of women like Homolka are effectively excluded from feminist representation. Furthermore, her media portrayal as the willing slave of a man is likely to be read in some feminist discourses as examples of“antifeminism” (Dworkin 1983,195), where women’s upholding of the injunctions of heteropatriarchal stereotypical good wifehood is considered inimical to a feminist dismantling of these very structures.19
Politically, then, it is relatively easy to determine the reasons for feminist legal and cultural studies theorists’ silence regarding the case of Karla Homolka as it would not seem very useful in advancing the cause of female equality and freedom from oppression. Nevertheless, representations of women like these have much to tell about mainstream law and media’s negation of female desire, violence, and agency. Such cases do have relevance for feminist projects relating to the representation of women in the media, the legal portrayal and sentencing of female criminals, and even for philosophical analyses of female agency and subjectivity.