My Greek penpal, Markela, and I discussed the recent suicide bombings in Russia and gender as it relates specifically to this act of terror and more generally to all acts of terror. I told her that I felt that gender is only made salient when females are responsible for terrorist acts and that this might be because these events defy gender norms worldwide of a caring, peaceful woman who raises children and takes care of her household, largely isolated from society. Though these norms have changed, we are still shocked to see women commit these acts. Here is what Markela had to say:

“…the terrorist attack was done by women (possibly the Chechen so called “Black widows,” the same group of extremists that was involved in the Beslan school incident of 2004) You are absolutely right…its not like we are used to seeing female terrorists, plus terrorist acts are tough & require a lot of guts…characteristics that are obviously associated with men. Moreover, I´m not sure but it seems as if the world of politics, business and war are entirely dominated by men. In countries like Russia, it might even appear humiliating that a couple of women caused such a turmoil & murdered 40 people, while injured several others. As if the strong military & the police are not allowed to be defeated by terrorists, especially women. Nevertheless, as I told you women in terrorism in Russia is not something new…we first saw them in 2004 when they captured a school in Northern Osetia & held hostages the children & their parents. While the incident was underway, the impression I got was that the “Black widows” (female suicide bombers) were in charge instead of the men.

In Europe, the stereotype of women as caregivers & housewives is no longer as strong as it used to be. I would say that the media sensationalize it because it is out of the norms…it is not something you see everyday or something you expect to see in terrorism.”

I also brought up the fact that gender is hardly an issue when men commit terrorist acts. It is almost as if we expect men to do these things. If we had to bet on a gender societally, we would bet on men, to stay in line with our largely universal gender norms. In some cultures, gender norms can be reversed. It would be interesting to see how media in these areas handle terrorist acts committed by females versus males.