University of Leicester
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Hot Pants and Spandex Suits: Gender in American Superhero Comics

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posted on 2017-12-04, 11:06 authored by Esther Ludwina Lucia De Dauw
This thesis analyses the representation of gender and its intersection with sexuality and race by examining twelve mainstream comic book superheroes in their socio-historical context, particularly those published by the ‘Big Two’ publishers in the industry: Marvel and DC. The superheroes are: Superman, Captain America, Iron Man, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Wiccan, Hulkling, Batwoman, Black Panther, Falcon, Storm and Ms Marvel. Focusing on superheroes’ first appearance in World War II up to their current iterations, this thesis discusses how superheroes have changed and adapted to either match or challenge prevailing ideas about gender, including dominant views on masculinity and femininity in the US military, attitudes to American national identity and the Other, homonormativity and minority communities. Engaging with Butler’s theory of gender performance and Critical Race Theory, this thesis extends existing comic scholarship by moving beyond justification or condemnation of the genre. It contends that superheroes create gendered scripts that are increasingly pro-diversity, supporting gender, sexual and racial equality, and yet fail to construct anti-hegemonic narratives that challenge the status quo.



Graham, Sarah; Parker, Emma

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of English

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


Due to copyright restrictions illustrations have been removed from the electronic version of this thesis. The unabridged version can be consulted, on request, at the University of Leicester Library.



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