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Alexandera Chipman

Writing 2010

Erin Rogers

16 March 2017

Gender Roles In Superhero Films

“Let’s go watch this movie Jackie!” Beth said as she and Jackie stood outside the movie theater

debating what movie to see. Jackie looked at the same poster and scoffed.

“Beth, I would rather watch a different movie than seeing a female looking half naked in the

superhero films that look like their breasts don’t belong to them” Jackie says crossing her arms. “It

should be equal for men and women in the films to look decent” Jackie continues. Jackie is a feminist,

so she doesn’t hesitate to respond.

“But that’s what superheroes look now in cinematic! To catch the eye of the audience so they

can see their movie” Beth told Jackie trying to convince her to go see the movie.

“I agree that they sexuality women in every superhero film to make money, but they need to

make them equal and less sexuality, because their bodies aren’t reality.” Jackie says.

“So can we go see it?” Beth asked eagerly. Jackie didn’t say anything but nodded her head

giving into her friends needs of wanting to go see a movie where the female superhero is a bad ass, but

is also half naked.

In recent years, cinematic have been successful in the genre of superheroes with Marvel and DC

Comics and how superheroes are sexulaized portrayed in the films to boost ratings. Critics that are

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more familiar with this type of genre say that it can be a difficult transition from comic to film, because

of the body types and costumes; they make it work even if it's different than what people are used to. In

films today involving superheroes, it is a wide controversial topic of how males and females are

sexually portrayed about their looks, personality, or how they act.

In particular, Monica K. Miller, JD., PhD. is a Professor at the University of Nevada, Reno in

the Department of Criminal Justice and the Interdisciplinary Social Psychology PhD program, says that

not only women, but men also is portrayed at a certain way for viewers. “By analyzing superhero

movies and reveals how superhero movies portray men and women in terms of their roles, appearance,

and the type/quantity of violence they commit. Furthermore, although the researchers recognize the

importance of examining race as it relates to gender, as will be demonstrated, in order to achieve

adequate sample sizes, the current project focuses on gender….Media research suggests that there

might be important gender differences in the roles of male and female superhero

characters.”(Adanewmedia) It touches what females and ales go through to become one of these

heroes. Females are visualized, because of their costumes and how they talk in the dialogue; males are

sexulized for the expectations of their body and personality that have to be greater than females

Females are mostly biased of the idea, seeing in the conversation above, of having a strong lead heroine

that are wearing inappropriate clothing, or the body which is unrealistic to the eye, especially for the

entertainment for men. Male superheroes can also be portrayed as “eye candy” for women to gawk at,

making them want a man like that. Superheroes in movies have improved with the costumes from the

1900s and the technology for the powers from the movie Superman (1978) where you see superman in

a costume with underwear over his pants, then in the Batman V. Superman (2016) you see that the suit

changes drastically making it modern and appealing to the eye. However, people are still not pleased

with how they are portrayed.

Often in cinematic films, they always have at least a few females that are half dressed or are is a

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damsel in distress. Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri

elaborates that, “it is not common to the heroines in superhero films as we see Risque, Wonder Woman;

Mystique; Ruby Summers; Storm; Supergirl; Poison Ivy, etc.” (Scientific American) and more, that

their body types and clothing is sexual so they could be noticed by movie watchers. Pennell and Behm-

Morawitz explains that they are often unrealistic, visualized representations of female figures, with

large chests, curvaceous backsides and unattainable hourglass dimensions. “Their skin-tight outfits

accentuate their sexuality with plunging necklines and bare skin, and many of their names connote,

shall we say, a slightly less respectable profession than super heroine.” (ScientificAmerican) It's saying

that with their clothing that the heroines wear, they are seen more sexy which makes them less

professional to the business and unrealistic with the bodies that females and nonetheless males can’t

have. For years, costumes have made a huge impact of how a female is seen at, because it what you see

in every movie. Typically, when seeing a superhero film, people have judgment on the females more

than males. “The female victim is typically delicate, naive, and defenseless, but at the same time sexy

and beautiful. What she lacks in strength and cunning she makes up for in kindness and curves. It is not

surprising (or insignificant) that she is often the object of the hero's affections.” (ScientificAmerican)

Not only do the heroines get judged for how they look, but this is going onto whom they act and look.

Examples are: Lois Lane and Felicity Smoak.

Other than their clothing, female superheroes are also viewed on how they appear with their

personality and males who are seen to be significantly smarter than a female would. According to

anthropologist Horace Miner, he explains that men have to have a standard about what they look like

in everyone’s view and look the part to be similar as the comic has the hero. “For the men, they are at

least six feet in height and are very muscular with wide shoulders and narrow hips. This body type

seems to be an exaggerated ideal for American men…(e.g. Henry Cavill, Hugh Jackman, Chris

Hemsworth, Chris Evans, etc)


Journal) This states that not only for women, but for men

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who has to be in the right shape to become the superhero that we see on the cinema screen and it's very

high demand that they need to work out and keep in shape, so they can have the part.

In today's society, directors are more open to try daring things that involve the DC Comics and

Marvel Comics for both men and women that go beyond each character and their looks. Heroes are

looked also at the fact if their bisexual or homosexual that are now being accepted into modern day,

which people who look up to them like. “Now that society is more accepting of non-heterosexual

relationships, DC and Marvel comic book companies have been more forward with both creating new

characters that are openly homosexual or bisexual from the start, as well as having existing characters

“come out” as being such. This process has been slowly progressing since the 1970s.” (The Artifice)

This is saying that you can find that heroes can openly be whichever sexuality they want, which relates

to people who go through the same thing to make them like them more. It goes beyond the appearance

of what the superhero looks like, now it's focusing on the personality and sexuality rather than being

condemned to their power and clothing.

Focusing still on what superheroes look like, they have more advanced technology to make

someone better looking, or not with the effects of it to make them into a real hero that are seen in

comics. Like special effects, the superpowers, the make up, etc. To make a good superhero movie, it

has to have the technology that makes it good, because since it's not real, it's there to make it believable

and make people wish it was real. “With new technology, today’s comic book films have become

“blockbusters” and sure successes for movie studios. These blockbuster comic book films are

characterized by big action sequences coupled with computer generated image (CGI) special effects

technology… have taken over the box office with movies like Spider-Man, Blade, X-Men, The

Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man.” (Sex Roles)

Millions of money is spent into a project mostly on the technology so it can make the appearance of a

character a better appealing to the eye.

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Males and females will always seem to be perfect in cinematic films, with the perfect body of a

six-pack, big breasts or toned body; they will always be judged. From Hulk to Spider Man, from

Mystique to Batgirl, there are different types of appearances that go through the history in comics, but

in modern films, they seem to look a like now. In the late 1940s and mid 1980s have a boom with the

creation of what the creators thought what superheroes should look like with their abilities.

“The bodies are literally created at the expense of the plot. The body becomes the site on which

the narrative is played out and enacted. In any film, deliberate and detailed aesthetic decisions

about how bodies "should" look are part of production, but where CGI is involved, the

possibilities for creating different bodies are theoretically endless. These discussions also

highlight the constructiveness of the bodies in superhero films. Considering CGI effects and

bodies requires a shift from doing a conventional textual analysis to a consideration of the

production process, or at least the production of CGI bodies.” (Cineaction)

This illustrates again, that technology will play a big factor in the cinematic films and a way to enhance

their bodies to be seen great.

Talking about Marvel and DC Comics, there are other genres that tie into the superheroes we

see today. Japanese versions of heroes are credited to be the most popular creations and for the looks in

gender roles. Japan’s superheroes have a rich and complex history quite different to that of their US

counterparts which make them more visualized. In the Japanese hero themed characters, they make

their females look girly, but they can be fierce and strong at the same time and are not portrayed as a

sex god in people's eyes. In the Go-Rangers (Power Rangers is the U.S name) collection, shows that

even though a female can act and be seen differently, doesn't give them a right to be “less” smart. “In

Go-Rangers, by contrast, the female team member is depicted positively as a powerful and active

soldier, in contrast with Cyborg 003. The only female member of Go-Rangers, Pink-Ranger/Peggy

Matsuyama, is a specialist with bombs and consequently represents an equal team member. Although

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her femininity (wearing earrings and a heart-shaped face mask) is commodified, being distinctive from

her male team members, she is not necessarily portrayed as the weakest

(Journal Of Japanese &

Korean Cinema.) This implies that again, women can look different but yet maintain that equality and

be professional; with other males on the team. These things are a major political hit that covers gender

roles with feminism.

In conclusion, going back to the beginning of the conversation, here in the U.S. females and

males are seen to be fake, artificial, and have a “good” body. Through the sources gathered, it's shown

to believe that the main reason to see a hero film is because of what the live action characters look like.

Serialization will forever be a part in superheroes today, especially with new technology that can

enhance their bodies in a more dynamic way. This can be analyzed by the fact that they had poor

technology back then, compared to modern day. No matter what, gender roles in cinema motion picture

representing superheroes will be always there for female and males have to look in a certain way to get

the part and which everyone's craves to have.

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Cite Sources

Akiko, S. (2014). Japanese superhero teams at home and abroad: super-sentai in Japan and

their adaptation in South Korean cinema. Journal Of Japanese & Korean Cinema, 6(2),

167-183. doi:10.1080/17564905.2014.961713. Net. March, 2017.

Demarest, Rebecca A. "Superheroes, Superpowers, and Sexuality." Inquiries Journal/Student.

Lebel, S. (2009). "Tone Down the Boobs, Please!": READING THE SPECIAL EFFECT BODY

IN SUPERHERO MOVIES. Cineaction, (77), 56-67. Net. March, 2017.

May, Cindi. (2015). The Problem With Female Superheroes. From helpless damsel to powerful

heroine, but still hypersexualized. Scientific American. Net. March, 2017

Miller, Monica. (2007). Gender Differences in Movie Superheroes’ Roles, Appearances, and

Violence. AdaNewMedia. Net. March, 2017.

Pennell, H. p., & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2015). The Empowering (Super) Heroine? The Effects of

Sexualized Female Characters in Superhero Films on Women. Sex Roles, 72(5-6),

211-220. Net. March, 2017.

“Sexuality in American Superhero Comics”.The Artifice. Net. March, 2017.