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MYTHS IN THE REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN TERRORISTS RHIANNON TALBOT . . . the female murderer has proved herself as easily as deadly as any male and certainly more insidious. Her motives, as a general rule, lack the clearheaded and darkly reasoned purposes of the male. Whim and fancy often rule here. Long-smouldering emotions often burn themselves out only after the victim of the female killer—whether male or female—has been subjected to excruciating agony. Seldom is there the quick, clean stroke of death as with the male.1 Such perceptions of women who have murdered appear in both academic and more general media representations of women. The average depiction of women terrorists draws on notions that they are (a) extremist feminists; (b) only bound into terrorism via a relationship with a man; (c) only acting in supporting roles within terrorist organizations; (d) mentally inept; (e) unfeminine in some way; or any combination of the above. The representations of women terrorists within this particular discourse tend to present them as a dichotomy. The identity of a woman terrorist is cut into two mutually exclusive halves; either the “woman” or the “terrorist ” is emphasized, but never together. The construction of a “terrorist ” is a strongly masculine one, whereas the perception of femininity excludes use of indiscriminate violence. Not surprisingly, when a woman terrorist is represented, her culpability as an empowered female employing traditionally masculine means to achieve her goals very rarely emerges. She is seldom the highly reasoned, non-emotive, political animal that is the picture of her male counterpart; in short, she rarely escapes her sex. MYTHS IN THE REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN TERRORISTS 165 1 J.R. Nash, Look for the Woman: A Narrative Encyclopaedia of Female Prisoners, Kidnappers , Thieves, Extortionists, Terrorists, Swindlers and Spies from Elizabethan Times to the Present (London, 1981), vi. This essay explores the above dichotomy in five parts. First is a contextualization of women’s contribution to terrorism globally. Then consideration centers on how criminological explanations inform debates about women terrorists and our understanding of deviant and rebellious women. The main body of the paper offers an analysis of the explanations given for why women become involved in terrorism, including a critique of the separation of the “feminine” from the “terrorist.” The fourth section considers the perceptions of women who become involved in terrorism; discussion centers on the role of women as auxiliaries and depictions of terrorists as “unfeminine” women. The concluding section concentrates on female participants’ experience with terrorism; it examines what women terrorists do and how they subvert stereotypes to their own advantage, thereby corroborating the existence of the dichotomous representation. The material herein addresses the scholarly representations that often feed those of popular culture. Academic discourse is regularly presented as a superior form of knowledge. Whenever a terrorist attack or crisis occurs, general media sources frequently turn to academics for guidance in understanding the situation—and its actors. Thus, scholastic constructions of women terrorists can be particularly powerful propaganda tools. WOMEN WITHIN TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS The women who become involved in terrorism around the globe do so for very different reasons; they come from different cultures and have different experiences. Yet in the literature about them one would assume they are a homogeneous group. Historically, women have been very active in the causes they support. From women in Czarist Russia to those who fought for independence in Morocco and Mexico, in almost every rebellion or terrorist campaign women have been present—sometimes in very large numbers. For example, women constituted one-third of the Communist cadre in Korea.2 Georges-Abeyie has estimated that 20 percent of all terrorists during the time of his study (1966–1976) were MYTHS IN THE REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN TERRORISTS 166 2 See Kim Hyun Hee, The Tears of My Soul (New York, 1993). From the scant published statistical accounts of women’s presence within terrorist organizations and the roles that they maintain, some distinct trends have been claimed to be observed: feminist inspiration for women’s involvement, female terrorists continuing subservience to men in their organizations, and women filling only supporting roles. Most of these types of publications are based purely on official records and thus include no ingredient...


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pp. 165-186
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