April 30, 2021

Nimmi Gowrinathan

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes acclaimed writer NIMMI GOWRINATHAN—founder and director of the Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative—for a discussion of her book Radicalizing Her: Why Women Choose Violence. She will be joined in conversation by JOCELYN VITERNA, a professor of Sociology at Harvard University and author of Women in War: The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador.


"Violence, for me, and for the women I chronicle in this book, is simply a political reality."

Though the female fighter is often seen as an anomaly, women make up nearly 30% of militant movements worldwide. Historically, these women—viewed as victims, weak-willed wives, and prey to Stockholm Syndrome—have been deeply misunderstood. Radicalizing Her holds the female fighter up in all her complexity as a kind of mirror to contemporary conversations on gender, violence, and power. The narratives at the heart of the book are centered in the Global South, and extend to a criticism of the West's response to the female fighter, revealing the arrayed forces that have driven women into battle and the personal and political elements of these decisions.

Gowrinathan, whose own family history is intertwined with resistance, spent nearly twenty years in conversation with female fighters in Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Colombia. The intensity of these interactions consistently unsettled her assumptions about violence, re-positioning how these women were positioned in relation to power. Gowrinathan posits that the erasure of the female fighter from narratives on gender and power is not only dangerous but also, anti-feminist.

She argues for a deeper, more nuanced understanding of women who choose violence noting in particular the tendency of contemporary political discourse to parse the world into for—and against—camps: an understanding of motivations to fight is read as condoning violence, and oppressive agendas are given the upper hand by the moral imperative to condemn it.

Coming at a political moment that demands an urgent re-imagining of the possibilities for women to resist, Radicalizing Her reclaims women's roles in political struggles on the battlefield and in the streets.

About Author(s)

Nimmi Gowrinathan’s writing on the female fighter has been featured in publications as varied as ViceHarper’s MagazineForeign PolicyFreeman’s JournalGuernica Magazine, and the New York Times, among others. She is the Publisher of Adi Magazine, a literary magazine aiming to rehumanize policy, and creator of the Female Fighters Series at Guernica Magazine. She is Professor and the Director of the Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative at the City College of New York.

Jocelyn Viterna is Professor of Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University. Her research examines how social mobilization affects gender norms and practices in politics, in government institutions, in warfare, and in communities. Viterna’s work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological ReviewPolitics and Gender, and the Latin American Research Review, among other journals. Her book, Women in War: The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador won four distinguished book awards.