Illustration for article titled Is It Sexist To Wonder Why Women Would Become Suicide Bombers?

With today's arrest of three women thought to be wannabe suicide bombers in Iraq, it's probably about time to wonder, again, what drives women to do this. We've posited a couple of different views on the topic recently as the violence committed by women in Iraq has increased sharply this year. But Faith at Muslimah Media Watch posits something else: the media is obsessed with women's personal motivations because of sexism. When you read about male suicide bombers, you read about politics, religion and ideology; when you read about women, there's lots of discussion of coercion and emotions. She's not entirely wrong on that, but is that sexism?Generally speaking, if I commit (or try to commit) suicide in this country (generally done for personal reasons), that's considered a criminal act so that they can lock me up and get my the psychiatric help I need. When a person of either gender straps explosives to their body and kills him or herself and as many other people as possible — is that a rational act? Can it be a rational act? Is it any less of a sign — regardless of gender — that the person in question is in need of a mental health intervention? By now, male suicide bombers are de rigueur in the Middle East (if not in other countries where suicide bombings are common). The stories are played out, the irrationality of the situation accepted, the coercion and indoctrination involved go without saying. And so the question for the Western media, tired of "yet another" suicide bomber story is — why women now and why not all along? Obviously, the recruiting and coercion is different, given that much recruiting of men is reportedly done in sex-segregated religious settings. The personal reasonings are probably also different — given that men and women have significantly different and entrenched roles in those societies, and what they lose by making an early exit from them is going to be different. The rationale of the clothing provides a stepping-off point to understand why a male-dominated terrorist organization would think of recruiting women (or more women than ever before) when they come from a supposed religious ideology and secular background in which women are not normally allowed in combat situations. On Sunday, Lindsey O'Rourke argued in her New York Times OpEd that the media is sexist in the way it reports female suicide bombings because the political context in which men and women choose to become suicide bombers is the same, while admitting that recruiting tactics for men and women remain significantly different. If men and women are recruited differently, then doesn't it stand to reason that the differing recruitment works because men and women have different person motivations that they are more likely to share with others in their gender? The external motivating factors — or, if one accepts the premise that suicidal impulses are inherently irrational, the rationale given for an inherently irrational act — might be similar but, at the end of the day, the personal reasons for getting involved in a situation are going to be different and in a society in which gender plays a huge role on your place in that society, it's probably going to be gendered, at least in part. While there is no shortage of other string of female suicide bombers — particularly in a secular context — through which we can contextualize the recent spate of Iraqi suicide bombings committed by women, the fact remains that such bombings are an anomaly in that country at this time. There is obviously something driving the increase, and understanding why Chechnyan women or Tamil women agreed to participate in suicide bombings in their respective countries doesn't really get us that much closer to understanding why Iraqi women are doing it now — or how to stop it. And that, really, is what the media and our governments are trying to understand — why women, why now, why there, and how do we stop it. If, as Faith suggests, the sexism comes from the world is wondering what is making women irrational enough to start becoming suicide bombers, what they're actually proposing is that women have been more rational all along. And that might be sexist, but it might also be aimed at men. Three Women Held In Iraq Suicide Bomb Plots [CNN] The Vulnerable Robed Women: Coverage Of Women Suicide Bombers [Muslimah Media Watch] When The Suicide Bomber Is A Woman [Marie cCaire] Behind The Woman Behind The Bomb [NY Times]


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