Author: Emilia Lounela

The writer is part of the team responsible for the Trends of Radicalisation in Finland report, and is working on a PhD on the incel phenomenon. 

The connection between misogyny, masculinities and violence have received increasing media attention lately, especially in the context of violence linked to the incel phenomenon. But acknowledging the role of gender in all violent extremism is necessary for understanding it. 

In our report Trends of Radicalisation in Finland, we analysed three different cases of violent radicalisation in Finland: a school shooting in 2007, a radical Islamist stabbing in 2017, and a deadly assault by a neo-Nazi in 2018. The three hotspots were chosen to show the scale and nature of political violence in Finland in the 21st century, and are representative of several veins of violent extremism. Interestingly, we found that misogyny or violent masculinity played a crucial role in all of them. You can read the report here >>. 

Analysing these three cases opens a view to Finnish political violence, its international connections, and the discourses around it. Our case selection on violent extremism had not focused on cases with connections to misogyny. In existing research gender perspectives to violence had neither ranked high in analysis. Nevertheless, as we began examining the violent attacks and the motivations, ideologies and beliefs behind them, it became clear to us that gender, misogyny, and violent masculinity were important aspects in all three cases. 

Typically for violent extremism, each perpetrator of the violent attacks analysed in the report was a young man. Existing research testifies that hegemonic masculinity, a culturally constructed set of norms valuing dominance and aggression, is an important factor in both lone actor terrorism and many terrorist organisations (e.g. Möller-Leimkühler 2017Windisch 2021Rottweiler et al. 2021). Gender, misogyny and masculinism have largely been neglected in analysing western P/CVE strategies (e.g. Agius et al. 2021), even though misogyny appears to correlate with and escalate violent extremism (e.g. Díaz & Valji 2019). 

Our first case, the Jokela school shooting in 2007, shocked Finland: the phenomenon considered something foreign and far away was now palpably present. The perpetrator considered his actions to be political terrorism, but the shooting was largely discussed as an individual tragedy and a result of the perpetrator’s personal problems. The shooter’s social exclusion and bullying have been central in understanding and explaining the event. The attacker frequented online communities of people deeply interested in school shootings. Less attention has been shed at the dimension of misogyny and violent masculinity. The perpetrator had misogynistic ideas and fantasies that he portrayed in his writings. Online, he cultivated an aggressive ultra-masculine persona very different from his shy and reserved personality offline. 

The second case addressed violent Islamic radicalism. Violent incidents by radical Islamic activists have been rare or on a small scale in Finland, especially compared to many other countries in Europe. The perpetrator of the Turku stabbing in 2017, the only case which has led to a conviction for terrorism in Finland in the 21st century, claimed to be fighting for ISIL. ISIL never confirmed this. The perpetrator agreed with ISIL’s hierarchical and misogynist ideology on gender. At the court hearing, the attacker claimed that he specifically selected women as his victims and said he was “at war with women”.  

The third case addressed a neo-Nazi assault in Helsinki in 2018. A passer-by was fatally kicked after protesting a neo-Nazi demonstration. The attacker was an active member of the Finnish section of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), a violent extra-parliamentary far right, neo-Nazi organisation that aims for a Nordic state ultimately through violent revolution. The case received extensive media attention and led to a legal process which resulted in the Finnish organisation of the NRM being banned in 2020. Far-right activism is considered to pose the most alarming threat of radicalisation in the recent decades in Finland. In this case, gender plays a less explicit role, but is nevertheless present: as is common for far right and neo-Nazi organisations, violent masculinity and militant brotherhood are key parts of NRM’s organisation culture and ideology. 

The role of gender in violent extremism and terrorism is becoming increasingly recognised, but still needs more research attention. As the three cases discussed above show, gender can be a significant aspect of violent extremism even if it is not the primary motivator.  Looking at radicalisation and violent extremism through a gender lens can open important pathways into analysing both the violence itself and the processes leading up to it. In order to address the root causes of violent extremism and to develop effective deradicalisation measures, we must understand the reasons that make young men especially vulnerable to violent extremism.  

Even when focusing on radicalisation, it is crucially important to remember that misogyny is not limited to extreme actions and ideologies. Misogyny is not a marginal problem – it is an integral part of broader political and societal structures in our everyday life. In its most extreme forms, from domestic context to public expressions of violent radicalism, it can be fatal. 


Agius, C., Edney-Browne, A., Nicholas, L. & Cook, K. (2021) Anti-feminism, gender and the far-right gap in C/PVE measures, Critical Studies on Terrorism.

Díaz, P. C. & Valji, N. (2019). Symbiosis of Misogyny and Violent Extremism: New Understandings and Policy Implications. Journal of International Affairs, 72(2), 37–56.

Möller-Leimkühler, A. (2018). Why is terrorism a man’s business? CNS Spectrums, 23(2), 119-128.

Rottweiler, B., Clemmow, C., & Gill, P. (2021). Misogyny, Violent Extremism and Interpersonal Violence: Examining the Mediating and Contingent Effects of Revenge Motivation, Hypermasculinity, Collective Narcissism and Group Threats. Preprint

Windisch, B. (2021). A Downward Spiral: The Role of Hegemonic Masculinity in Lone Actor Terrorism, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism.