There’s been a lot of talk about male sociopaths lately, for obvious reasons. For now, let’s deny them the pleasure of occupying our brain meats. Instead, let’s relax by talking about lady sociopaths.
Film editor Merve Emre recently wrote this article about female sociopaths, including several fictional sociopaths and one real one. I’m not sure about Emre’s collection of fictional sociopaths, but I’m going to focus on M.E. Thomas, the real live sociopath.
A clinical definition of sociopathy exists, but let’s follow Emre’’s example and use some pop culture definitions of sociopathy. “Sociopath” is a label that we attach to people who commit brutal, unexpected acts of violence. Eliot Rodgers was a sociopath not just because he was a hateful person, but because he expressed that hate by stabbing people and running them over with his car. “Sociopath” is also a label we apply to someone who may not be personally violent, but who charms us into a life of violence and self-destruction. Charles Manson is a good example; so is Jim Jones, and that bug-eyed comet dude.
M.E. Thomas is a self-defined sociopath. However, she hasn’t murdered or raped anybody, and she hasn’t founded a cult. Her sociopathic activity is some really low-level shit. She takes a book from the lost and found box, walks up an escalator that’s been closed off, flirts with some guys in the office in front of her female boss. She steals a bike. I guess that’s pretty bad. And only in America could dragging out paid sick leave after a cancer operation be the evil act of a cunning sociopath. Yeah, and once I pretended to have a cold to get a paid day off, now I’m the equivalent of John Wayne Gacy. Only in America.
OK, so maybe Thomas hasn’t done the atrocious things that are normally ascribed to sociopaths. That’s really a good thing–I don’t need her to “earn” her title as a sociopath by killing a bunch of people. However, pop culture has one more definition of sociopathy, and that’s the sociopath as the evolutionary “killer,” the top of the Social Darwinist pyramid. Sociopathic traits, if held in check, can be used as an entrée into a glamorous world of satisfaction—sociopaths can rack up money, hot sex partners, and corner offices because they don’t have the nasty burden of caring about other humans. cold, calculating corporate raiders.
However, M.E. Thomas’s sociopathy hasn’t done much for her. Thomas was in line to get a job at Brigham Young University until her outings as a self-defined sociopath cut that short. (Top tip for non-sociopaths: Don’t do an interview on Dr. Phil talking about wanting to kill people if you want a job at a Mormon university.) Her job before that was as a law professor at a small university. Not a terrible career path, but not the kind of blaze up the corporate ladder you would expect from someone with Magical Sociopath Powers.
Thomas’s lack of murder charges/boardroom success has led to speculation that she isn’t a real sociopath. Maybe she’s a narcissist or has borderline personality disorder. I’m not interested in Thomas’s exact diagnosis. I mean, maybe the bump of sociopathy on her skull is too big, who knows? What I want to know is why someone would voluntarily promote themselves as a sociopath. “Hey, everybody, I’m mentally fucked up in a way similar to spree killers! Come listen to my story!” Really? Why not save that story until you’re on trial?
Why give yourself such a nasty diagnosis? Well, a female sociopath just isn’t as threatening as a male sociopath. Unlike male sociopaths, whose abnormalities lead to people dying in horrific ways, female sociopaths apparently just have nasty thoughts (that they don’t act upon) and have lots of sex. On one hand, this means that the spectrum of “normal” behavior is wider for men than for women. On the other hand, it mean that a woman can reap the short-term financial rewards of presenting herself to others as an interesting sociopath, while almost any man would have to have bodies stacked up in his basement like cordwood to qualify—and you can’t collect royalties while serving consecutive life sentences. Misandry in action, folks.
It also means that, in a publishing market in which women are confined to memoir writing, Thomas can present a unique narrative to her life–something that will sell and something that, in a weird way, makes Thomas the hero of her own story. Thomas swears up and down that she didn’t experience abuse in her childhood, but what she describes in her memoirs is abuse—her father punches through a locked door because she won’t talk to him? That’s pretty clear-cut. Many women’s life narratives would start with this behavior, clearly label it as abusive, and then detail how that behavior warped their life and caused them to go through all sorts of trauma before they exorcised the bad memories through therapy or prayer. Thomas casts herself as a person with biological rather than learned behaviorial abnormalities. She’s just somebody who just never felt at all in the first place, and if there’s one thing that women are supposed to do, it’s have feelings. Voila, instant new narrative!
The best way to “cure” the lady sociopath? Thomas doesn’t seem to need curing, unless you think that teaching at a low-level law school is a shameful medical condition, like dandruff or excessive flatulence. The best way to cure the sociopathic memoirists would be to let women write about something other than themselves–it’s easy to build a life, or at least a life story, around a diagnosis. Then again, there’s a market for that, and it’s not just for women only…