"Motherhood, ambition and risk": mediating the sporting hero/ine in Conservative Britain

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In May 1995, a 33 year-old woman named Alison Hargreaves made her name by becoming the first woman (and second person) to make an unaided solo ascent of the world's highest mountain, Everest. She was constructed as an exemplar of the highest order, a national heroine to be proud of, and in the vein of a series of British female heroes who punctuate the typically masculine narrative of national achievement. By August she was dead, the victim of a violent storm on the upper reaches of the peak they call the Savage Mountain, K2. The focus of vitriolic media attention, Hargreaves was stripped of her heroic status and condemned for the irresponsibility of leaving her two small children motherless, and so opened a national debate on `motherhood, ambition and risk'. This article explores that debate. In so doing it probes the meaning of heroism, as both a culturally mediated idea of extraordinary actions, and as part of a wider politics of recognition and representation that calls for a consideration of the role of public communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-414
Number of pages20
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


  • family
  • heroism
  • mountaineering
  • public recognition
  • representation
  • social construction
  • sport and leisure cultures


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