My Open University mate Helen Owton and I just got together to write a piece about gender and superheroes in the run up to the new Batman v. Superman movie (with huge thanks to Joseph de Lappe for his expert input)…
Why is Wonder Woman only playing a secondary role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? This article looks at the role of gender in superhero films.
The new Batman v Superman film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is coming out on 25th March 2016 so we thought this would be a good chance to reflect on superhero movies: particularly the place of gender in them.
We’re particularly interested in the role of binaries and hierarchies in these kinds of films. Batman v Superman pitches two well-known superheroes against each other in a binary way, and – of course – the superhero genre as a whole is based on the linked binaries of hero v villain, good v bad, and right v wrong, with the former winning out in the end. More recent versions of superhero movies trouble these simple distinctions somewhat. For example, The Dark Knight version of Batman is less clear cut, and the two groups of X-men can be seen as more about assimilationism v radical approaches to activism. However, audiences may well not pick up on such nuances.
An additional binary and hierarchical consideration in Superhero movies is needed. Characters are male or female, with predominantly male characters, and masculinity is privileged over femininity in various ways.
Currently, we are living through a golden age of comics, with a vibrant independent comic and graphic novel scene which includes strong representations of women and LGBT+ characters, much of which has been taken up by mainstream superhero comics too. Nonetheless, there is a serious disparity between this shift in comics, and the continued limited representation in the movies which are based on these comics.