Saturday, February 18, 2012

Violence Toward Women in Superheroine Comics

Female superheroines were made to counter the long standing domination of strong male leads in comics. These women were strong females for girls to look up to and realize that their gender does not inhibit them from making a profound impact on the world in the same way that society perceived men to make an impact in—through power and strength.  Although these super heroines ultimately meant to empower women, there are scenes where they are not only beaten in a battle, but their defeat even seems to reflect images of male gender domination.

            Wonder Woman is probably one of the most popular and respected superheroines of all time.  She is portrayed as a strong female character capable of cooperation with her fellow superheroes and destruction of her enemies. Embedded between many heroic battle scenes, one panel in Ex-Patriate really stuck out to me as particularly disturbing. Although Green Lanterns are good, in this scene, The Green Lantern loses sight of this mentality and takes out his aggression on Wonder Woman, someone who should be his comrade.  Initially, she fights him, but when she offers him her hand as a truce, he declines it, becoming more violent to her. As his anger and violence increase, she acts in a quite submissive manner, not retaliating at all until The Green Lantern stops on his own accord. 

Wonder Woman lets him take his frustration out on her in the form of physical aggression. Although she has the power to fight back, Wonder Woman takes the abuse from him. To me, it seems abuse is an appropriate term because it is no longer a fight once Wonder Woman ceases all retaliation. Many may argue that this is because she simply does not want to fight him—she feels that she should not fight back in order to prove to the Green Lantern that they are on the same side. By withdrawing her own violence, she is proving that she is strong enough to not fight against someone who is good, even if it means she should suffer physical harm herself. 

The art that portrays this submission though has undertones that reflect domestic violence. She stands sulking submissively as the Green Lantern, dominating her small frame in stature, swings his fist into the air yelling “FALL!” The next panel shows splatters of her blood. Her battered and bloody face is an unsettling image, with her expression telling of physical pain, but unparalleled emotional strength. In the next panel she extends her hand, offering a truce to Green Lantern again. Watching Wonder Woman be beat mercilessly and seeing her bloody face stirs feelings of sympathy in readers, with the reason for this perhaps being that she is a woman. It makes me wonder if the situation would ever be reversed, with Wonder Woman beating on a submissive man. Somehow, it seems that gender stereotypes prevailed even in a comic meant to empower women by showing a woman’s stereotypical compassion to cause her to fall victim to a beating.


  1. This scene from Wonder Woman does really seem to highlight the submission which is characteristic of women in comic books. The blood in these panels especially makes the scene seem more abusive and gives the impression that the male is dominating the female with no real reason for doing so. I think that a redeeming quality of this scene comes in one of the following panels, when Wonder Woman extends her hand. At this point, it proves that Wonder Woman may be the character with better morals, suggesting that she was being noble and not submissive. In a way, this gesture makes the previous scene more acceptable.

  2. I think in this instance the writers use the gender stereotypes to the advantage of the story. I do not believe that the writers are promoting domestic violence in any way - that would just be horrible. But I think the image of the strong Wonder Woman bloodied from the abuse of another superhero sells comics. It does create the emotional response that draws the reader more into the story.

    And at least in this plot, Wonder Woman doesn't fight back because she is weak or afraid (the common reason in domestic violence) but she shows that she, as a woman, overcomes the brash aggressive response of Green Lantern. She holds herself to a higher moral standard, though that in itself gives an interesting message...

  3. One thing that I've always loved about Wonder Woman is her ability to remain just and noble; she never goes off on these aggressive rants because of being hurt or betrayed. Somehow, she is better than acting in an impulsive manner. I do not think this scene makes Wonder Woman look weak at all; if anything, I think it makes Green Lantern, the male, look weak for being led purely by his emotions and not doing "what is right."

    I think one important character trait of being a superhero is having this ability to look past their own issues and move on. There can't be any room for vengeance when fighting for what is "right." Vengeance and Justice are completely different.

    As for gender roles in this situation though, I don't think her being female has much to do with her actions. Yes, she is a woman, but she is also a noble superhero who puts the greater good above her own welfare. Because she has the noblest and most selfless morals (maybe due to the fact that that is of highest importance in Themyscira), I'm not sure if any other heroes would have done the same thing, but more because of background, not gender.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.