De-Monsterizing the Myth of the Terrorist Woman: Faranda, Braghetti, and Mambro

By Orton, Marie | Annali d'Italianistica, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview

De-Monsterizing the Myth of the Terrorist Woman: Faranda, Braghetti, and Mambro


Orton, Marie, Annali d'Italianistica


This single-minded, fanatically inhuman hostility or contempt for the victim's humanity ... is typical of the pitiless attitude many women terrorists are capable of assuming. It is one that men find curiously hard to match.

H. H. A. Cooper, "Woman as Terrorist" (152)

The date May 9, 1978 stands out as a reference point in the cultural history of post-war Italy, the day the president of the Christian Democratic party, Aldo Moro, was shot by militants of the Brigate Rosse (BR). Nearly twenty years later, on July 16, 1996 in Rome, Germano Maccari was sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in Moro's death after another former Brigate Rosse member, Adriana Faranda, identified Maccari as the mysterious "quarto uomo" at the apartment where Moro was held for 55 days. The eighteen-year investigation of Moro's death has hardly concluded with Maccari's highly unexpected sentencing. If anything, as Italy approaches its twentieth year after the assassination, "il caso Moro" continues to draw attention to disturbing issues relative to the investigation of extra-parliamentary political groups in Italy, including the legal status of members and former members of those groups, the State's past and current reactions to those organizations, and the socio-political climate in Italy which gave rise to those groups, in sum, the issues which have marked Italian history surrounding the anni di piombo.

This period in Italy between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s saw unprecedented internal political and social upheaval, including thousands of acts of political violence initiated by both right- and left-wing groups. (1) Not surprisingly, since the dramatic increase of extra-parliamentary militant groups internationally since the late 1960s, studies published on the subject of violent political subversion, commonly termed "terrorism," also number in the thousands. However, within this oceanic volume of works, only a few dozen deal specifically, even in part, with women who participated in those organizations. (2) Clearly, the precise number of female or male militants is inherently difficult to assess, given the clandestine nature of the organizations as well as myriad variables that differ from nation to nation. In the Italian context, estimates place the number of female participants between five and twenty percent, with women's membership in left-wing groups averaging twice that of their right-wing counterparts (Weinberg and Eubank 101-05). (3) But differences in national and political affiliations among militant women notwithstanding, stereotypes of the female militant exist which are universal to representations of the "terrorist" woman, stereotypes which exploit entrenched ideas about women and violence.

Foremost in this "myth of the terrorist woman" is the notion that militant women are intrinsically more violent and behave more inhumanely than do men. In Shoot the Women First, journalist Ellen MacDonald traces multiple manifestations of this notion, which she attempts only partially to debunk, and takes her text's title from instructions reportedly given to the terrorist task forces in Germany and England to fire first on the female members of groups, as the women were considered to be more ruthless and perilous. Within the stereotype, the image of the woman who commits acts of violence for political ends is united with the image of the criminal woman, the deviant woman, the unnatural woman. Susanne Greenhalgh has pointed out that the "myth of the terrorist woman" ironically is not a "political" stereotype at all; in fact, it minimizes the female militant's political commitment in order to align her with the deviant female criminal: "Although there is a powerful popular tradition which makes the role-reversing 'woman-on-top' a symbol of revolution itself, [the female terrorist] is always an ambivalent figure, regarded as potentially monstrous ... even in an arena that privileges violent protagonism, her activity will be judged to be intrinsically deviant or psychotic" (161-62). …

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