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Lessons on Geek Anthropology: Super Gender, extreme gender in comics

This week’s lessons on Geek Anthropology wants to focus its attention on the super gender, or said, in other words, the extreme gender in comics. Have you ever notice how male and female bodies are exaggerated representations of the idea of masculinity and feminity we held in popular culture? Men are hyper-musculated, and women have intense curves. However, does the super gender show up the masculine and feminine qualities as super? I’m not talking about the bodies only, but also the roles that are attached by culture to men and women. Is the super gender super in all its glory, or do we have something different from reality?

Let’s pause and think for a moment about Thor and Black Widow. Or if you’re a DC fan, Superman and Wonder Woman. How are they drawn? Thor and Superman are pretty muscular, masculine and not very delicate. They show a pretty triangular shape on their upper bodies, with thin legs (as a general rule). However, Black Widow and Wonder Woman have really amazing curves. Sometimes they’re too curvy, so much so, that it would be hard for them to exist in reality. Their feminine traits, specially waist, bust and butt, are brought to extremes. If the depiction of their bodies is an exaggeration of reality, a caricature of what we understand to be male and female; do their personalities show up super gender traits?

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(C) DC Comics.

To answer that question, we must think about our stereotypes of men and women. Roles are attached to stereotypes of gender, and as such we might expect them to be super or to be extreme in comics. Men are more masculine, more violent, stronger. But are women more nurturing, feminine and sweet? The answer is no. Super gender is more “masculine” for our Superheroes, regardless of being male or female! While male superheroes will see their masculinity heightened and thus their gender turned into a super gender, females don’t see what society thinks of feminity heightened. They can be as super strong as their male counterparts, they might or not be nurturing, and they are violent, just as the male superheroes are. Since they’re fighting crime and evil, they cannot act with the set of feminine roles a woman in real life is subjected to! So, super gender is more likely to have male roles on comic book pages.

In essence, we could argue that the super gender is atypical. While we might cherish this type of super gender on the comic book pages, we are not so eager to do so in reality. Think about female bosses in large enterprises. They “act like men” because if they “acted like women” they would be regarded as weak, and thus no one would listen to their commands. While women who have certain masculine roles in our society are considered competent, in other areas they might be regarded as freaks. Men, however, are punished all the way if they act or have a feminine role since the stereotype of females is that of being weak!

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What does this tell about us now? What are comics telling us with this super gender? For starters: we live in a dual world. Super gender in comics just shows us that we see the world with a binary system in which there are males and females. The rest of possibilities still live on the edges. It also explains to us that the masculine is regarded as competent, desirable and vigorous. It’s telling us that stereotyped feminine gender characteristics like being nurturing are still considered as weak.

Taking a closer look at the super gender and how it is shown in comics and superhero movies gives us clues about how we think gender roles are applied to our societies. What’s more: it speaks volumes on what we regard as to be competent and incompetent. Spandex not only shows us curves and muscles, but it also explains where we stand out now.

Want to know more about the Super Gender and how it might work? Give The Psychology of Superheroes : An Unauthorized Exploration a go!

  • Danielle Knapp

    As always, excellent post that makes me think about different stereotypes both in comics and the real world 🙂

  • Danielle said it perfectly…great post Pepi! -good thoughts to mull around for the day 🙂