Historical Social Research

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Amanda Third: Mediating the Female Terrorist: Patricia Hearst and the Containment of the Feminist Terrorist Threat in the United States in the 1970s [Abstract]

In January 1976, the trial of Patricia Campbell Hearst caused a Western media sensation. Representing the culmination of her spectacular kidnapping and conversion to the terrorist cause of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), Hearst was on trial for her participation in the Hibernia National Bank robbery almost two years earlier. As of the commencement of the trial, the story of the heiress-come-female-terrorist had been captivating Western media audiences for two years. This article analyses the ways that mainstream media coverage of this event operated to contain both the threat of this particular female terrorist, and the threat of second-wave feminism more broadly. Within Western culture, there has historically been a concern with the need to regulate the mainstream media’s coverage of terrorist events. In this line of thinking, the mainstream media are a precondition for, and a potential site of the contagion of, terrorism. However, as I demonstrate, ultimately, mainstream media coverage of terrorist events in which women are key protagonists operates to recuperate the threat of terrorism. In doing so, it reproduces and reasserts dominant patriarchal gender relations and thus works in the interests of dominant culture, rather than against them.

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