Two women dressed in black walk on stage to deafening applause. After a few minutes of banter — discussing their outfits (to high heel or not to high heel) and all their human flaws — they take chairs and get down to business: Murder. Each tells a terrible story of death and mayhem. The other reacts, the audience claps, hoots, and hollers. Somehow they do all of this while making everyone laugh. This is My Favorite Murder live, give or take a location.
Twisted, right? Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark’s bi-weekly podcast has sparked a fan craze that reaches well beyond the limitations of its format. On the surface, My Favorite Murder (MFM to its diehards) is a true crime podcast with some comedy elements — which seems a strange if not downright disrespectful combination. But the show is important, and its adoring fans are in it for much more than a true crime fix. Kilgariff and Hardstark are women, advocating for women, while navigating a complex friendship.
In 2017, it’s nothing short of a feminist act to be a woman listening to a woman supporting another woman. Especially when those women aren’t conforming to any traditional vision of being female. Yet one of the best parts of MFM is that Kilgariff and Hardstark do not eschew any traditionally female behaviors, while also not necessarily conforming to them. In fact, they exhibit plenty of behavior that women have been historically belittled for — taking thirty minutes to get to the central point of the show, veering off topic to gush about a rugby team, talking body image, dresses… They do all of that, and yet they are also both highly accomplished and don’t shy away from harsh topics. Harsh topics are their jam.
Kilgariff and Hardstark both openly discuss being in therapy, their various anxieties and addictions, and most importantly, their relationship to each other. We’re accustomed to contentiousness between women. Mean girls and beautiful girls and girls competing and fighting and being catty and awful to each other are everywhere on TV and in our social media. That is all status quo. We’re not-so-used to seeing two women settling in for the long haul and being entirely three-dimensional and transparent, both with each other and their audience.
Karen is single, sober, and a seasoned comedian. Georgia is married, has social anxiety, likes vintage dresses, and is obsessed with her cats. Georgia loves cold cases. Karen is into creepy, potentially ghosty stories and people just losing it. They leave their listeners feeling like they have an intimate friendship and that they’re committed to each other, to being fully themselves and in total acceptance of their complexities, including this fascination with the darker aspects of the human psyche.
After listening to every episode marathon-style (if you are so inclined and can stomach the all the death), you can’t help but feel like you know them well, in all their weakness and all their glory. It’s sort of like how people felt about Oprah except, you know, with murder. There’s nothing glossy there, nothing that feels constructed. Their friendship is honest and gives us something to strive toward in our own relationships with one another.
MFM has its own lexicon, which is one of the things that sets the show apart. “Fuck politeness” is but one of the phrases that gets repeated time and time again. This is important to the MFM message: Women are generally taught to be well-behaved, but when it’s at the expense of your instincts, politeness can be dangerous. Listen to the show enough and it becomes incredibly obvious that politeness can have horrifying consequences.
Have you ever seen that creepy game show where the host kisses all the little girls? It’s just one scenario that can unfold when girls and women are too polite. As nurturers and caretakers, we typically don’t want anyone to get upset, we don’t want to offend by being confrontational or harsh in any way. But MFM isn’t having that. Kilgariff and Hardstark draw a clear line between that behavior and winding up headless and dumped at the bottom of a ravine.
Think that’s dramatic? Ted Bundy famously lured women by hobbling around on crutches before shoving them into his car and dismembering them. Even if we don’t wind up victims in the physical sense, being polite when we don’t want to be still carves away at our sense of selves. MFM says no to that in a big way. It says trust your gut, stay alert, and if someone is making you uncomfortable, take care of yourself and not some random person’s feelings. That’s feminist AF.
Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.
Perhaps the best known of all the MFM lexicon, “stay sexy and don’t get murdered” is more than it seems. At face-value it’s cute and sounds good, maybe a little inflammatory, but it speaks to one of the most insidious and mind-boggling aspects of rape culture. Female victims have their characters shredded when they’re raped and/or murdered.
What was she wearing? How many sexual partners did she have? Was she drunk? These are questions rape victims are used to fielding. Who cares about any of that? How could that possibly be relevant? A man physically violated her against her will. End of story. End of story. End of story.
It’s unbelievably infuriating. As a society, we continue to judge whether or not a victim deserved what she got based on her sexual self. Think of the many sex workers who are the victims of violent crimes, the “less dead,” who disappear and are never seen again. There is a direct correlation between sexuality, rape, and murder. Or at least how much we care about that murder. It’s safe to set those sexy women aside and comfort ourselves with lies about how as long as we cover up and remain demure, we won’t find ourselves in pieces in someone’s basement.
By saying “stay sexy and don’t get murdered” Karen and Georgia are helping empower women to reject that notion. Be who you are. Embrace your sexuality. Don’t hide it out of fear for your safety. Just be smart about it. Be vigilant. Hold strong to who you are. You don’t have to relinquish your self-expression out of fear. But also, don’t be stupid. Which brings us to…
Actual safety tips.
If you listen to the show, you’ll begin to pick up wisdom. For instance, as in the case of Ted Bundy, don’t help a hobbling guy just because he’s hot. Don’t meet someone and go home with them before you know more about them. Do lock your doors and windows. Do not — under any circumstances — hitchhike, especially in the 1970s (seriously). Don’t leave your friends at bars. Always make sure everyone you are with gets home safely. If you have a weird feeling, respect it. It goes on and on and on and on.
Does listening to the show make you a little more paranoid? Yes. A little more aware. Also, yes. As a fan, I find myself watching out for other women now in a way I didn’t before. I am aware when a man is yanking too hard on his wife or his kids. I make sure someone walks with me if I’m going somewhere at night. Where I used to want to squeeze my eyes shut against the violence and darkness in the world, I now want them all the way open. The show has literally terrified me into more intelligent behavior.
And because Georgia and Karen are naturally fascinated by cases that involve violence against women (I mean, let’s face it, most cases do), as a listener you cannot help but gain insight. Fortunately, somehow Karen and Georgia manage to laugh through their horror, so you can, too. After all, sometimes the world we live in is so grotesque, the people in it so monstrous, all you can do is giggle.
Oh, Murderinos. The fans of the show — who call themselves Murderinos — are beyond devoted. They have get-togethers. They’ve formed community around their own tragedies and their concern for others. They show enormous compassion for victims and for families of victims. A friend of mine was wearing a “stay sexy don’t get murdered” T-shirt recently and was shocked at all the Murderinos who approached her with whom she felt instant camaraderie. This is revolutionary.
Also, Murderinos are just cool. They make things. Hit up etsy.com for a taste. They get MFM tattoos. They make MFM cakes. And perhaps most importantly, they donate.
Mariska Hargitay’s organization, End the Backlog, works to process the many many unopened rape kits. This means repeat offenders’ DNA is potentially not in the system, which means they are roaming free. This, according to the org, “represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously….” Murderinos recently banded together and donated on behalf of MFM.
MFM has, to date, almost 158,000 members in their Facebook group. That’s a lot of people having a lot of backs. It’s a community that wants to help one another. It’s extra eyes and ears. It’s a real world benefit to a digital listening experience.
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Once upon a time, two women told each other some stories about murder and accidentally filled a need. They created a place where feminists — both male and female — can come together and engage in feminist behavior while examining the most depressing facets of human nature, learning about self-protection, empowering themselves, cultivating an understanding of the criminal justice system and how they are sexualized and dismissed within that system, and having a lot of fun.
These two women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, are steeped in honest self-examination, openly talking about women being murdered at a time when our president brags about denigrating and assaulting women, a time when being a woman is, in itself, a preexisting condition. They are riding the wave that has finally brought a discussion of rape culture into the open.
This is what makes them more than just podcast hosts. With their combination of salt, humor, and compassion, they have given women permission to lock arms, stare evil in the face, and laugh.