Print Media Representations of Violent Women in 1960s and 1970s West Germany
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A proliferation of media discourse on the ‘phenomenon’ of violent women in 1960s and 1970s West Germany suggests that the violent woman is a troubling figure who provokes both fascination and fear. Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject provides a language for understanding and accounting for the complex mixture of emotions the figure elicits. For Kristeva, abjection is a violent revolt against something which threatens the subject, which may be both “other” or foreign, and familiar; we abject that which cannot be tolerated, cannot be thought or known, which provokes both desire and repulsion. Troubling about the violent woman, and what renders her culturally unintelligible or unimaginable, is that she takes life rather than giving it. In this study, I trace the various attempts made by the print media to assimilate the violent woman, to make her thinkable and knowable and, as a result, to defuse her threat. More frequently, she is made other, abjected either in the Kristevan sense or in the (related) more literal sense: ‘cast off,’ ‘excluded,’ ‘rejected’ or ‘degraded.’ West Germany of the 1960s and 1970s provides a good time-frame for the study: West German terrorism, which involved a large number of women, was at its peak in the 1970s, and a number of high-profile trials against non-politically violent women also took place during the period. In chapter one of the thesis, I look at how the violent woman is rendered the negative and ‘unnatural’ (m)other of the proper German woman and nation, the better to bolster hegemonic understandings of both woman and nation; in chapter two, how she is made hysterical and feminised so as to defuse the threat that she poses; in chapter three, how her crime is redefined as a crime against her gender and sexuality (one idea here is that it is the ‘man inside’ who is to blame). Finally, in chapter four, I explore how the violent woman is abjected through association with filth and defilement. Arguably it is because the strategies which attempt to assimilate, to know and to name her fail or are only partially successful, that the violent woman must be abjected from the body politic through association with dirt.