What’s So Unusual About Female Suicide Bombers?

In the wake of the tragic subway bombings in Moscow, I’ve been asking myself a question that puzzles me every time I hear about female suicide bombers, or “black widows.”  Discussions of these women ultimately center in a strange way on their gender, which seems to significantly amplify the fear with which they are portrayed.

We seem obsessed with knowing why these women would kill themselves and others, and while this is certainly a question that applies to all suicide bombers, our fascination and horror seems far more intense when the bombers are women.  In an article published on March 29 in the NYT, Andrew E. Kramer articulates some of the potential reasons, writing,

“While there is no single reason that women decide to give up their lives, experts said they have usually suffered a traumatic event that makes them burn with revenge or question whether they want to live. In the case of the attacks in Russia, this could be the death of a child, husband or other family member at the hands of Russian forces, or a rape. Russian authorities have said the women are sometimes drugged.”

The funny thing is, we don’t ask these same questions, at least not to the same degree, when suicide bombers are male.  It seems that there is really nothing scarier than the idea of a woman committing such a heinous act of violence, unless she had some kind of mitigating reason – a traumatic event or the influence of drugs.  And while this is, for the most part, probably true, what about the men?  Are they simply ideological fiends?  Haven’t they had deeply scarring experiences that led them to this extreme path?  Should the idea of any suicide bomber, regardless of gender, be disturbing? 

Hanna Rosin at Double X and Irin at Jezebel both have great posts on the subject.  Rosin points out, fascinatingly, that female suicide bombers seem to be far more effective than their male counterparts.  Quoting Lindsay O’Rourke, a researcher who wrote her dissertation on the subject at the University of Chicago, Rosin writes, “A female suicide bomber is more likely to be successful, and kill 9 victims, as opposed to 5.5 for a man.”  Which certainly unsettles some of our preconceived notions about whether violence like suicide bombing is a particularly “feminine” act.

So while there do seem to have been an unusual number of female suicide bombers in the conflict between Russia and Chechnya, we should remember that their gender alone should not increase our horror at the crime, or even gain more media coverage.  After all, as Irin points out, why don’t we call male suicide bombers “Black Widowers”?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.

122 comments

Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba5 years ago

Female "Kamikaze" are a new thing to me. I didn't know that it existed and they say it's not uncommon because some are widows and they do it for revenge or in the name of their religion....

Ray P.
Mary P.5 years ago

David Tohunga - "Examination of the forensic evidence proves 911 was an inside job! Yet the civilians of Afghanistan & Iraq are subjected to depleted Uranium WMD's, white phosphorous ordinance, predator drones and random shooting by evil invaders intent on stealing the oil resources now that America has past peak oil. And Americans are puzzled by desperate anguished people who have been driven to extremes by on-going injustice attempting to fight back? Evil, torturing, mass murdering, invading yanks and their brainwashed supporters are the cause. It's that simple. Americans are in the wrong despite their lies to the contrary."

Thank You David. America believes in DOING the DEED and PUTTING the BLAME on INNOCENTS for their OWN MATERIAL Gains same as ISRAEL OPPRESSING the Palestinians then BLAMING the VICTIMS(Palestinians).

Anyway ALLAH(GOD ALMIGHTY) is ALL KNOWING ,ALL SEEING & ALL HEARING. May HE guide all mankind to luv each other for HIS SAKE Inshallah(If GOD Wills) Ameen.

Dave Tohunga
Dave te tohunga5 years ago

Would a yank whose nation was invaded, women & children mass murdered as well as men, consider fighting the invaders as terrorism? Examination of the forensic evidence proves 911 was an inside job! Yet the civilians of Afghanistan & Iraq are subjected to depleted Uranium WMD's, white phosphorous ordinance, predator drones and random shooting by evil invaders intent on stealing the oil resources now that America has past peak oil. And Americans are puzzled by desperate anguished people who have been driven to extremes by on-going injustice attempting to fight back? Evil, torturing, mass murdering, invading yanks and their brainwashed supporters are the cause. It's that simple. Americans are in the wrong despite their lies to the contrary.
Examine the horrors the US has inflicted on these people and understanding becomes crystal clear.
To blame all Muslims and their belief system for the reaction of some victims to the evil actions of the US govt is mentally deficient... or as some might say, typically american bullshit!
Personally i support the arrest and trial of US war criminals for their crimes against humanity. These people are not heroes or patriots, they are trturers and mass murders no different than Hitlers henchmen! It's about time honest americans cleaned their house of such filth as the neo con torturing mass murdering international criminals responsble for the 911 psy-op.

Aliyah K.
Aliyah K.5 years ago

Good post

George Mclaughlin

Since male Muslim murderers get to go to heaven and have sex with 70 odd female virgins, what's in it for female Muslim murderers? Do they get to be one of the virgins being raped for eternity? Gee, if that's the case, I sure would want to speed my way to "heaven" by murdering other women and children.

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E.5 years ago

What an incredibly sick world we live in.

Fa'izah J. A.
Jauharah Andrews5 years ago

Naturally people want to focus on the religion of the female suicide bombers or for that matter suicide bombers in general. But why? It's not only Muslims who are guilty of such things but whenever the guilty party isn't Muslim, his/her religion isn't mentioned as part of the equation but it should be since only then will people realize that religion has nothing to do with the issue. People are increasingly becoming for vicious - period! If my personal safety or that of my children were in jeopardy I wouldn't hesitate to cause harm to whoever was threatening me or them and I'm about as gentle natured as they come. I know which side of this anti-Muslim "war" I stand on as well and nothing will change my position. These women took a stand and didn't waver. I don't agree with what they did but they had courage which many people lack today.

Alicia Nuszloch
Alicia N.5 years ago

Noted. Read the article but no comment. Thanks, anyway.

Ray P.
Mary P.5 years ago

Ana Lorraine "Most religions are great, when you look at their message. The problem is that religions are practiced by humans, and humans are imperfect. That doesn't make religion bad in and of itself."

THANK YOU ANA I couldnt have said it better.

Timmi - from Anna "The "Muslim" terrorists are not really Muslim at all, as they have been denounced by their own religious leaders and believe in a twisted own version of their holy book. You say it is unfair to judge the whole Christian religion based on a few nutcases who believe in violence-and you say these nutcases are not "real" Christians. Well, it is unfair to judge Islam based on a few nutcases who are not "real" Muslims either."

Timmi -Hope you ponder carefully about anna"s statement because that is exactly how a true muslim believer and the muslim world reacts to the suicide bombers attacks of killing innocent people.

We MUSLIMS are sick and tired of People who are IGNORANT of our Religious Beliefs making Unjustified Accusations Claims and BLAME on ISLAM and its TRUE BELIEVERS. Its time ALL YOU IGNORANT PEOPLE GO and EDUCATE yourselves About ISLAM and PLEASE STOP with your RIDICULOUS statements.

ALL TRUE MUSLIM BELIEVERS CONDEMN outright the KILLING OF INNOCENT PEOPLE. Killing of Innocent People is NOT according to shariah in ISLAM as some of you ignorant ones believe.

Ray P.
Mary P.5 years ago

Ana Lorraine "Most religions are great, when you look at their message. The problem is that religions are practiced by humans, and humans are imperfect. That doesn't make religion bad in and of itself."

THANK YOU ANA I couldnt have said it better.

Timmi - from Anna "The "Muslim" terrorists are not really Muslim at all, as they have been denounced by their own religious leaders and believe in a twisted own version of their holy book. You say it is unfair to judge the whole Christian religion based on a few nutcases who believe in violence-and you say these nutcases are not "real" Christians. Well, it is unfair to judge Islam based on a few nutcases who are not "real" Muslims either."

Timmi -Hope you ponder carefully about anna"s statement because that is exactly how a true muslim believer and the muslim world reacts to the suicide bombers attacks of killing innocent people.

We MUSLIMS are sick and tired of People who are IGNORANT of our Religious Beliefs making Unjustified Accusations Claims and BLAME on ISLAM and its TRUE BELIEVERS. Its time ALL YOU IGNORANT PEOPLE GO and EDUCATE yourselves About ISLAM and PLEASE STOP with your RIDICULOUS statements.

ALL TRUE MUSLIM BELIEVERS CONDEMN outright the KILLING OF INNOCENT PEOPLE. Killing of Innocent People is NOT according to shariah in ISLAM as some of you ignorant ones believe.