Le Brigate Rosse, Red Brigades were Italy’s most notorious extremist group during a period known as the anni di piombo years of lead. This term refers to the number of bullets fired throughout approximately ten years of Italian history, and was taken from the Italian title of Von Trotta’s film Die bleierne Zeit, based on German terrorism. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Italy faced a large amount of intensified mobilisation and politically motivated violence, carried out by radicals at both ends of the extreme political spectrum. Amongst these perpetrators were women, who actively participated in acts of aggression. Their involvement impacted the social anxiety surrounding the fear of armed violence which controlled Italian culture and politics; women denoted as terrorists disrupted the traditional social order and were considered a threat to society. For this reason different media presented gender stereotypes to portray perpetrators; some of whom were able to portray their own experiences through autobiographical and biographical writings in order to rehabilitate their public image. This dissertation examines the case studies of prominent female figures who were subjected to such scrutiny. The use of press representations portrayed Margherita Cagol as a wife who followed her husband’s ideals; whereas writing the ex-terrorist self-aimed to reintegrate women into society through accepting responsibility of their pasts. A number of female perpetrators were given the opportunity to portray themselves; Silvana Mazocchi’s Nell’anno della tigre constructed Adriana Faranda as a mother who fought for a better future for her daughter, and Anna Laura Braghetti’s and Francesca Mambro’s Nel cerchio della prigione depicted themselves as sisters who overcame their political differences.
Organisations on the left included the Brigate Rosse and Prima Linea Front Line who aimed to defeat the democratic Italian state and substitute it with the concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat. They targeted individuals who symbolised their capitalist opponents, such as large business enterprises, law enforcement groups, mainstream media in favour of state capitalism, and politicians. The Red Brigades perpetrated violence such as beatings, kidnappings and shootings as a political strategy, their motto being ‘colpirne uno per educarne cento.’ hit one to educate a hundred On the other hand, Far Right groups such as Avanguardia Nazionale, Nuclei Armati Proletari and Ordine Nuovo were less particular with regards to their victims and planted bombs in public spaces in order to create maximum damage and provoke a disruption of the status quo. They were accused of implementing large-scale terrorist attacks; such as the bombings of Milan’s Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in Piazza Fontana (1969), Brescia’s Piazza della Loggia (1974), the Italicus Express train (1974), and Bologna’s train station (1980). These acts are often described as ‘terrorism’, a politically loaded term. Jamieson states that between 1969 and 1987, 14,591 terrorist attacks took place in Italy; 1,182 people were injured and 419 people died. However, the wounds of domestic terrorism have yet to be healed, as many of the cases remain unsolved, usually without names of those responsible and unsettled legal verdicts.
The social anxiety surrounding women’s changing roles during the years of lead is due at least in part to the disruption of the relationship between women and the nation. According to Nira Yuval-Davis: ‘the dependance of people on the fertility of “Mother Earth” has no doubt contributed to this close association between collective territory, collective identity and womanhood.’ Due to the feminisation of nature, women are considered ‘closer’ to nature. This use of gendered language reinforces gender stereotypes; indicating that women who take on a subversive role are similar to nature itself being depreciated and subordinated. Patriarchal communities have long established a link between nature and the characteristics they called for in women. As a result of this, women are constructed as symbolic carriers of the collective identity and are appointed with the role of the protective guards of the nation. Yuval-Davis’s theory suggests that if women’s behaviour represents the personal guidelines of the collectivity, those who go beyond these limits appointed to them threaten the collective psychologically and culturally. The severity of the threat posed by women’s involvement in violence is due to the nation being attacked from within, carried out by its very own protectors.
Despite Italian culture now confronting the reality of female perpetration through cultural products such as media and literary fiction, these women historically have been denied their active role of violence during the years of lead. Female offenders are presented as escalating the threat imposed by the country’s internal conflict. This is due to the figure of the violent woman overthrowing the approved social constructs defining male as perpetrator and female as victim. Sjoberg and Gentry state that ‘women’s violence is often discussed in terms of women’s gender; women are not supposed to be violent.’ In an attempt to manage this threat, a disproportionate amount of media attention and scrutiny was focused on female gendered violence; politically active women were confined to narratives such as wives, mothers or sisters, relating to the stereotypes of subordinate victims. They were often depicted as being coerced by their male partners in order to explain their motivations; the process through which they became involved; and their use of violence for political ends. This characterisation of female perpetration raises the issue of the gendered treatment of violence; male and female violence is not treated equally. The media attempts to construct notions of femininity in order to identify these women, such as relationships; if a perpetrator is a wife or girlfriend, she is depicted as a token terrorist who has sought male approval and has followed the political ideals of her partner.
Denying women their own political consciousness contains the threat of women’s transgression, therefore returning them to their assigned roles and reinstating their place within the patriarchal society. Moreover, women who took part in the violence of during the years of lead were also portrayed as mothers, fulfilling their ‘natural’ destiny. Therefore, it was argued that violent women either looked after their male counterparts within the organisations, carrying out menial tasks; or they were self-sacrificing mothers who were determined to change their children’s futures. As a result of violent women acting in an unnatural sphere and abandoning pre-conceived notions of women being peaceful, ideologies of femininity are introduced to contain female subversion by placing these women in acceptable and subordinate roles. Despite these women subverting gender norms, press representations reflect dominant male ideologies which remain rooted in Italian society. These principles ‘replicate the Woman-as-other construction that exists in a society in general and disallows these women’s choices the status of independent thought.’
This dissertation challenges the notions of femininity and characterisations of politically violent women within the years of lead, in which cultural representations deny violent women their agency.