'Sadistic, grinning rifle-women' : gender, emotions and politics in representations of militant leftist women

Proctor, Hannah; Parker, Hannah and Doble, Josh, eds. (2023) 'Sadistic, grinning rifle-women' : gender, emotions and politics in representations of militant leftist women. In: Gender, Emotions and Power, 1750–2020. New Historical Perspectives . University of London Press, London, pp. 261-284. ISBN 9781915249197 (https://doi.org/10.14296/cwfb4352)

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Terrorist girls, wild furies, unnatural daughters, crazed outlaws, gun broads, megaeras, amazons, furies, viragoes, jackals, hecates, madwomen. Hybrid creatures, drunken Bacchantes, hysterical Messalinas, devils, infernal witches, unhuman creatures from the netherworld, whore proletarians, shameless slatterns, moral monstrosities. Erotic women, unfeeling women, vulgar women. These are just some of the terms I scrawled in my notebook while taking notes to write this essay.1 This list, plucked from a range of texts written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries pertaining to women associated with left-wing political movements, gives a sense of the often mythical and historical analogies that have been resorted to when describing forms of political violence committed by modern women. Paradoxically, when political upheavals threaten to disturb the prevailing social order and the traditional gender relations associated with it, commentators hoping to uphold existing norms seem to reach for long-established, even ancient, archetypes of deviant womanhood. This tension between the historically specifc and the transhistorical runs through my discussion. This chapter will explore representations not only of impassioned female subjects but also of impassioned and politicized female subjects. It will talk about the figure of the politically militant left-wing woman, both in reality and fantasy. And it will attempt to probe the critical implications of the negative affects associated with such subjects. My approach is associative in form – ranging over time and space – and more interested in theoretical than historical claims. It is a tentative attempt to think about the gendered emotions associated with left-wing woman militants in different movements and moments in order to probe the relationships between gender, emotion and political violence.2 Usually I work as a historian of the psy disciplines but although the question of pathologization is relevant to these discussions, it remains in the background. Instead, I’m going to experiment by trying to think about iconography, archetypes and stereotypes employed by the right and how right-wing anxieties about Communist revolution have taken the form of a militant woman.