Gendering Women’s Terrorism in Historical Perspective

Caron Gentry, Laura Sjoberg

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This chapter takes a broader look at women’s violence and the reception thereof in historical perspective, with particular focus on the stylized narratives surrounding women’s terrorism contemporary to it and the preservation of these gender-stereotypical accounts across time, space, and culture. Reading women’s terrorism historically, the chapter recognizes both the historically consistent features and recent evolutions in both women’s relationships to “terrorism” and media, scholarly, and artistic responses to women, gender, and terrorism. It tells some of the stories of women terrorists in modern history, and then turns to tell some stories of gendered stories about women terrorists in the literature on women terrorists up to this point. Two lessons emerge: 1) women were participants in terrorist activities long before it became popular to pay attention to them, and 2) gendered images of women in terrorism are as old and as timeless as women in terrorism.
After briefly introducing women’s terrorism in historical perspective, this chapter provides a brief discussion of three 20th century cases of women’s involvement in terrorism that disrupt the perception of women terrorists as Islamic self-martyrs. While it is fashionable now to think of women terrorists as right-wing (Islamic) religious extremists from outside the West, the women in this chapter (from the West German Baader-Meinhof Gang, the United States Weather Underground, and the Peruvian Shining Path) come from countries where we do not usually think of women terrorists coming from, and engage in militancy for movements that are left-wing and political rather than religious. After discussing these women, the chapter turns to look at the early literature addressing these (and other) women terrorists, demonstrating that it is not just in thinking about Islamic women terrorists that gendered expectations about and gendered interpretations of women terrorists dominate research and public perceptions, but in thinking about women’s participation in terrorism generally.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen, Gender, and Terrorism
EditorsLaura Sjoberg, Caron Gentry
Place of PublicationAthens, GA
PublisherUniversity of Georgia Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9-780-8203-3583-4, 9-780-8203-4038-8
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2011


  • women
  • gender
  • terrorism
  • feminist IR
  • feminist security studies

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