Monday, March 9, 2015

Girls Gone Wild

I can see from the ebbing of public interest in it that the story "young girls are joining ISIS" has ceased to be enough of a boob bait, even for the alte kockers who watch Fox News in between denture cream Ads. But while we were hearing every five seconds about how unbelievable, disgusting, terrifying, inhumane, and just plain unheard of it was for young girls to leave home and family to join up with a terrorist organization I had a strong feeling I'd heard this story before. And I had.  In this weeks New Yorker we are reminded that radical chic transcends religious dogma and, in fact, (rather obviously) can create a space of agency for young women even in the most unexpected of social situations. Becoming a recruit for a violent faction can sometimes be the only way a young person, or a woman, can assert herself in a society that doesn't prize agency or initiative in young people or women. Being cannon fodder is, at least, a kind of being.

Historically, women had enlisted in the I.R.A.’s female wing, known as the Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council). Dolours Price’s mother and grandmother had both been members of this group. But Dolours did not want to bandage men’s wounds, she said—she wanted to be “a fighting soldier.” The leadership of the Provisional I.R.A. convened a special meeting to consider her case, and, in August, 1971, Price became the first woman admitted to full membership in the I.R.A. She was twenty.

Marian soon joined her in the I.R.A. Dolours later said, “I should be ashamed to admit there was fun in it in those days.” People are often drawn to radicalism by a sense of community and shared purpose. In this case, there was also glory. I.R.A. members referred to themselves not as soldiers or terrorists but as “volunteers”—a signal that they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the cause.
Educated, attractive young women had not been seen carrying guns on the rubble-strewn streets of Belfast before, and the Price sisters acquired an iconic glamour. “They were sassy girls,” Eamonn McCann, a longtime friend of the sisters, told me. “They weren’t cold-eyed dialecticians or fanatics on the surface. There was a smile about them.” One press account described them as “pretty girls who would finish their school work and then take to the streets armed, one or both hiding an Armalite rifle under their raincoat, to take part in gun battles with the British army.” The sisters became the subject of sexualized lore, with stories circulating about Marian, in a miniskirt, charming her way past a British Army checkpoint while driving a car full of explosives. At the time, there was a shopping center in Belfast called Crazy Prices, and, inevitably, the sisters became known as the Crazy Prices. Another friend of the sisters told me that Dolours was drawn to the I.R.A., in some measure, by “rebel chic.” (From the New Yorker)

In another irony embedded in this story we are reminded that the murdered woman, Jean McConville, was a Protestant girl who married a Catholic boy and was so under the glamor of that relationship that she converted and proceeded to have ten children before she was 37 and widowed.  In other words she, too, had longed for something and gone out and gotten it and a religion to boot. And sacrificed her life doing it.  She might have had a longer life if she'd picked up a gun.