In connection with today’s atrocity in Volgograd the Russian authorities have once again blamed a “black widow”. This gendered narrative regularly appears in Russia’s state-controlled media. As Amanda Alcott has pointed out:
The monstrous narratives used to describe black widows have become a lynchpin in Kremlin propaganda… and show the world the Russian portrayal of the ongoing war and security services’ operations in the North Caucasus. The narrative is particularly founded in the basic moral superiority of Russian masculinity over femininity, and reinforces the patriarchal power of the Russian government and society by using black widow propaganda as a way to in effect blame femininity for the actions of the black widows, removing any agency, legitimacy or pity associated with their actions and plight.
Also, as I suggested on this blog in 2010:
- Almost without exception, Western media accepted at face value the official statements by Russia’s FSB and other agencies, including the terminology that was used in them. The existence of a “Black Widows” organization dedicated to obtaining revenge for the deaths of slain Islamist insurgents was also treated in some reports almost as an established fact, even though there is little independent evidence to support it.
- The alleged involvement of female suicide bombers – in particular, the “Black Widows” – was a feature of Russian media coverage and official statements (notably the FSB) following earlier terror attacks in Russia, particularly at Nord-Ost and Beslan. In the past, many commentators both in Russia and abroad drew attention to the fact that the “Black Widows” scenario, with its dramatic and even theatrical elements, does not look particularly convincing on close examination. For one thing, among North Caucasus Islamic insurgents shahid or “martyr” operations are usually carried out by men.
Update December 30: Today’s trolleybus blast in Volgograd – the second in 24 hours – was apparently carried out by a male bomber. Some reports say both explosions were the work of male suicide bombers, but others still mention a female guerrilla in connection with the station blast.