Gender In International Relations Essay Research Paper

Gender In International Relations Essay, Research Paper

Gender Relations:

Italian Women in Violent Organizations


The essay, “Mafiosi and Terrorists: Italian Women in Violent Organizations,” by Alison Jamieson, discusses the role women have played in violent organizations in Italy. Despite male exclusivity and authoritarianism, women involved in such organizations have come a long way in widening the horizons of female influence in administration and commercial roles. The paper looks at, analyzes and compares two main violent organizations in Italy, the leftist terrorist Red Brigades and the Sicilian Mafia.

The Italian feminist movement of the 1960s spurred a new drive toward female activity in violent organizations on the extreme left side. “For the majority of women adherents, the feminist cause was an end in itself, but within the growing militancy of the extra-parliamentary Left it was a political exercise ground for a more radical battle and more extreme methods.” (Jamieson 53) By insisting on a separate identity and a set of demands that purposely excluded men, women paved their way to higher standing in the extra-parliamentary left. Jamieson also comments that mainstream feminism involves embracing a broader set of goals that explicitly required the use of violence.

The fight for female equality and ascendancy in a male dominated society took a great effort and involved a great struggle. Many women joined the armed struggle not only to bring down capitalist society, but also to fight the return of fascism. Susanna Ronconi of the Red Brigades “recalls that the choice to abandon the feminist group in which she had militated overtly in favor of clandestine armed struggle had been particularly difficult because it implied breaking off all contact with her mother, who had shared some of her non-conformist views.” (Jamieson 54-55) The choice to enter the Red Brigades not only meant sacrificing outside family ties, but choosing to occupy yourself day after day, morning till night with political, organizational, and violent matters. However, the Red Brigades justify the use of violence as an inevitable and necessary starting point in the process of societal change. It is the way in which they achieve their goal, by altering society to be more suitable for their wants and needs.

As female involvement increased in the Red Brigades, one would think their influence would increase as well. Though former female members of the Red Brigades report that gender equality was maintained in the organization, it has been proven that no woman had ever sat on the Brigades’ strategy-making body. Not to say that there was any distinct discrimination, but men were certainly listened to more. However, “gender per se does not necessarily seem to have determined differenced in attitudes to the exercise of violence, which were the product of individual character and experience.” (Jamieson 56) If a woman had the will to perform in such violent situations, they found the way to make it happen.

On the other side of the scale was the right-winged Sicilian Mafia or the Cosa Nostra. “Whereas the Italian woman terrorist adopted a consciously exaggerated stand against institutional and societal paternalism, the women of Cosa Nostra have remained trapped inside traditional behavioral patterns.” (Jamieson 58) Women of the Cosa Nostra cannot participate directly in acts of violence nor can they hold decision-making positions in the hierarchy of the organization. Despite this, women play a role in this exclusively male organization through the membership of their husbands, fathers and sons.

Women are not allowed membership for they are perceived as untrustworthy due to their “irrationality and uncontrollable emotion.” (Jamieson 60) However, women exhibit a sort of self-control, loyalty and sacrifice that are crucial to their role within the Mafia world. Women hold the reins of a strategic function in Mafia relations, linking together two clans through marriage and objectively reinforcing clan strength. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, women were crucial in the transport and trafficking of drugs across the Atlantic, which meant large sums of money for the Mafia. Women of the Mafia play a minimal role in the everyday life and dealings of the Mafia organization.


It is obvious that there is more female participation in the Red Brigades organization than in the Sicilian Mafia. Women in the Mafia had no role except the wife, mother, or daughter of members and the occasional illegal assistance. However, in the Red Brigades, women made a break through with their influence and growing power.

Though the Red Brigades was a male dominated organization, the feminist movement of the late 1960s introduced a strong female population. At a time when emotions were running high for women’s rights, it is conceivable that women would be pushed to the extreme. Violent organizations meant power and triumph against the male-dominated capitalist and possibly fascist society. Women were looking for a voice, rights they could claim as their own. This and more is what they saw in a great and powerful violent organization. The power to make their voices heard and to change society, to have positive effects for women. It was a struggle, one they could win, with the help of the organization’s power and force. I believe this is what fueled these Italian women to engage in such non-feminine actions.

Women of the Cosa Nostra had completely different motives, their involvement is organizational violence. These women were associated with the Mafia through their male relations; father, husbands, and sons. Some women were born into the mafia, reaping all the benefits, riches and fame, without any of the effort or labor. Others married into the organization, starting a family centered on the Mafia lifestyle. These women truly had nothing to do with the organization, though, except to marry two clans together and unify them or to have sons who would become members. Such women only reaped the benefits of Mafia association rather than working for their gain.

Both the Cosa Nostra and the Red Brigades represent two different types of female involvement. While the Red Brigades encourage female involvement and association, the Cosa Nostra respects female passivity. However, the Red Brigades represents much stronger female membership and activeness, therefore symbolizing the epitome of female involvement in Italian violent organizations.


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