Women terrorists in the Italian news: the representation of agency from ‘red witches’ to ‘lady Jihad’


  • Giuseppina Bonerba University of Perugia, Italy
  • Sofia Verza European University Institute, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Italy




Women are usually considered as peaceful, domestic and caring mothers, whereas men are considered strong, autonomous and political individuals. This appears to be true also when politics turns into political violence: ‘terrorism’ is usually associated with the sphere of masculinity, while women terrorists challenge this construction. This article investigates the press representation of four Italian militant women in two different historical moments: in the ’70s, the Red Brigades’members Margherita Cagol and Barbara Balzerani, and nowadays the Jihadists Maria Giulia Sergio and Alice Brignoli. The aim of this study is understanding if the Italian press has been assigning or depriving women terrorists of political subjectivity, autonomy and agency. Our results suggest that these women are often represented through so-called cautionary tales, namely frames showing them as not ‘real women’, attributing them characteristics like masculinity, folly or monstrosity. Also, the explanation of why women commit terrorist acts is often connected to the fact they are partners of terrorist men. The results however suggest interesting differences in the representation of women terrorists in the different historical moments, and among the different news outlets (with different political affiliations) under analysis.


Keywords: terrorism, women, Italy, media representation, agency.