Gendering Abbottabad: Agency and Hegemonic Masculinity in an Age of Global Terrorism

Lori Poloni-Staudinger, Candice Ortbals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


During the week after the United States' raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011, the media discussed women associated with the raid. Media reported that bin Laden hid "behind a woman" during the raid, describing bin Laden's wife as a human shield. The press also discussed a photo of the Situation Room during the raid, calling attention to Hillary Clinton, who was thought to be gasping out of emotion in the photo. The narratives surrounding Amal Ahmed al-Sadah (married to bin Laden) and Secretary Clinton elicit insights into the place of gender vis-à-vis terrorism. In this paper, we content analyze non-op-ed newswires, debating how/whether the media framed al-Sadah and Clinton as political agents, feminine representations, and/or as superfluous to terrorism. We find that the press described Clinton as emotional and largely saw al-Sadah as passive and generically as a wife. Women were portrayed differently than men, who are considered active, but unemotional. Additionally, articles critiqued President Obama's posture and clothing in the Situation Room and disparaged Osama bin Laden for unmanliness. We therefore conclude that the mainstream, print media press prioritizes hegemonic masculinity when discussing terrorism, overlooking women's agency and ascribing feminine identities to women and marginalized masculinities to certain men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-57
Number of pages24
JournalGender Issues
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Abbottabad
  • Gender
  • Hegemonic masculinity
  • Terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies


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