The very excessiveness of Homolka’s transgressions raises the possibility of an alternative reading of her case based around Luce Irigaray’s ideas on mimesis. Through its deliberate and subversive assumption of the feminine role in discourse, mimesis aims to thwart the continued subordination of women. Irigaray (1985, 75-76), in using this technique to reveal and speak the often silenced feminine, explains its political purpose in her essay “When Our Lips Speak Together”: “[Women] must, through repetition—interpretation of the way in which the feminine finds itself determined in discourse—as lack, default, or as mime and inverted reproduction of the subject—show that on the feminine side it is possible to exceed and disturb this logic.”
Lynda Hart, citing Elin Diamond, asserts that Irigaray posits two sorts of mimesis that exist simultaneously. The first, “patriarchal mimesis,” involves mere copying of the patriarchal ideal. The second, “mimesis—mimicry,” subverts the first in its excessive production of “fake offspring,” which threatens patriarchal order via simulacra that may look like the original but that, through their multiplicity, reveal a semblance indicative only of the non-existence, the lack of authority of that original (Hart 1998, 85-86). Through “playful repetition,” then, mimesis might become a strategy that has the potential to reveal the construction of Woman by illuminating that which is supposed to remain invisible” (Bell 1999,139).
Although Homolka heretofore appears representative only of the horror of a femininity so perverted as to turn against itself, she can also be interpreted as mimetically identified with the stereotypical role of the good wife. In pushing to their extreme limits the demands of passivity and selflessness typically made of women in heterosexual ideologies of love and romance, and especially in the role of good wife, Homolka subverts such fantasies and turns them inside out. The extreme passivity these roles demand is transformed into passive aggression as Homolka’s enactment demonstrates that, in the end, lack of action becomes a form of acting and that spectators are never just neutral observers. She may not resignify the term “woman” in a way appealing to feminist theory, but she does make overt the monstrous limits of comforting heteropatriarchal allegories of obedient, loyal, and accommodating wives. In this sense, then, she has behaved mimetically, enacting this stereotype of wife so effectively that her performance becomes both criminal and terrifying.
A mimetic reading of Homolka’s performance of conventional roles shows as well that agency is a product of the discursive regime that portrays it. Traditional stories of good wives and mothers generally reduce agentic representations so as to emphasize feminine passivity. Mimetic tales, however, such as this alternative reading of Homolka, stress female agency by presenting overidentification as a deliberate subversive tactic.27 This interpretation does not diminish her agency or culpability; rather, it shatters the myths through which such a woman is represented. The full horror of her acts is therefore preserved rather than hidden, analyzed rather than ignored. Indeed, such analysis in effect forces recognition of the “ruse of reality,” as Lynda Hart (1998, 203) puts it, where the Real is excluded in favour of the production and maintenance of culturally and socially acceptable “reality.” The experience of female sadists is thus granted a moment, a place, an identity within “reality,” which then allows female sadism to exist at all.
This chapter demonstrates some possible reasons for the absence of feminist criticism with regard to cases like Homolka’s. In considering these, it becomes clear that cases such as this one operate as the “limit” cases for feminist female gender performatives and serve as good tests for the paradigmatic subject models upon which feminist legal theory is premised. These models of subjectivity are necessary because they allow the discourse to speak generally about women’s representation and treatment within traditional legal discourse. Nevertheless, the silence surrounding this sort of case shows that these narratives and performatives of subjectivity do not necessarily allow for even an acknowledgment of certain violent women who radically transgress their parameters. Feminist failure to publicly recognize the agency of women involved in truly heinous crimes, and its disregard of the mainstream law and media’s vilificatory portrayals and later recuperations, denies the ramifications such representations have for all women.
The complexities of desire and agency operating in the case of Karla Homolka needs means of feminist expression. As Lee Fitzroy (1997, 44-45) has stated, we need to question and to challenge homogenous aggressive masculinity and passive femininity, even if it doesn’t always seem immediately politically expedient, for it is philosophically vital that we acknowledge violence as human rather than as solely masculine. In Patricia Pearson’s (1998,232) terms, it is also important that we “develop a vocabulary of motive that incorporates concepts of female power and accountability,” so that we don’t undermine the rationality of some female aggression.
The non-agentic recuperations of female sadists produced in the malestream law and media can no longer remain unchallenged. Certainly analytic difficulties are raised due to the moral repugnancy of the crimes, but to ignore such cases is to allow their protagonists the refuge of the myth of female passivity. Homolka’s is an important case because, through her own narrative of her crimes, she embodies the slip from masochism to sadism inherent in Freud’s female beating fantasy. She makes clear the false neutrality of specta – torship, in particular exposing the floating identification of the watcher from beater to beaten, revealing the sadistic pleasures the one who watches enjoys when she, too, finally begins to beat. Most significantly, she shows that women possess the potential for sadism, even though this has been repressed, denied, and submerged under an avalanche of protestations regarding the innateness of female masochism.