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Death in the Shape of a Young Girl:…

Death in the Shape of a Young Girl: Women's Political Violence in the…

by Patricia Melzer

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In the early 1970s, a number of West German left wing activists, angry at their country's legacy of fascism and colonialism, took up arms, believing that violent revolution would lead to social change. In the years to come, the bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and bank robberies of the Red Army Faction and what become known as the "Movement 2nd June" dominated newspaper headlines and polarized legislative debates- while many West German citizens and government officials condemned these activists' brutal tactics, the core ideas of anti-imperialism that motivated them found at times considerable public support. Half of the terrorists declaring war on the West German state were women who understood their violent political actions to be part of their liberation from restrictive gender norms, Patricia Melzer persuasively argues. As women participating in a brand of systematic violence usually associated with masculinity, they presented a cultural paradox, and their political decisions were viewed as gender transgressions by the state, the public, and parts of the burgeoning women's movement, which considered violence patriarchal and unfeminist. Death in the shape of a young girl questions this separation of political violence from feminist politics and offers a new understanding of left-wing female terrorists' actions as feminist practices that challenged existing gender ideologies. Melzer draws on archival sources, unpublished letters, and interviews with former activists to paint a fresh and interdisciplinary picture of West Germany's most notorious political group, from feminist responses to sexist media coverage of female terrorists to the gendered nature of their infamous hunger strikes while in prison. Placing the controversial actions of the Red Army Faction into the context of feminist politics, Death in the shape of a young girl offers an innovative and engaging cultural history that foregrounds how gender shapes our perception of women's political choices and of any kind of political violence.
  Aficionado | Apr 23, 2015 |
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