Scandalous subwomen and sublime superwomen: exploring portrayals of female suicide bombers’ agency

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When the terms ‘women’ and ‘violence’ are used, it is usually in the context of women as victims and rarely as perpetrators of violence, and yet women do behave aggressively – for instance, as female suicide bombers. An ethical analysis of this role, however, has tended to be somewhat overlooked, partly because of the gender stereotypes at play, with little (or spurious) focus on the agency and autonomy of the women. This has resulted in an incomplete understanding of the unique ways in which societies treat female political aggressions, and the consequences of this for their agency. This paper seeks to redress these issues by evaluating two different societal portrayals of female suicide bombers; that of the ‘scandalous subwoman’ and the ‘sublime superwoman’. It argues that violent women's agency is often distorted to extremes beyond that of their male counterparts, and that it is imperative to avoid misrepresenting them either as agentless victims (‘subwomen’) or wholly agentic (‘superwomen’) since, even in times of political instability, they can rarely be dichotomised in this binary way.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-240
JournalJournal of Global Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011