The Empowering (Super) Heroine? The Effects of Sexualized Female Characters in Superhero Films on Women
- First Online:
- 5.8k Downloads
The present study was conducted with female undergraduates in the Midwestern region of U.S. to examine the potential positive and negative influences of the gendered depictions of women in superhero films. This study utilized social cognitive and objectification theory frameworks to experimentally examine the short-term effects of exposure to sexualized female characters in superhero films on 83 female viewers’ gender role beliefs, body esteem, and self-objectification. Results show that exposure to the sexualized-victim images of women in superhero films decreased egalitarian gender role beliefs. Exposure to the sexualized-heroine images resulted in lower body esteem. Additionally, a positive effect emerged with a greater belief in the importance of body competence to the self-concept for women who were exposed to the superheroine characters. This study demonstrates short-term effects from viewing sexualized images of women in superhero films and provides a significant understanding of how sexualized female representations may impact gender related beliefs as well as perceptions of one’s self-esteem and body objectification.
KeywordsSuperhero Sexualization Objectification Gender Stereotyping
- Aubrey, J., Hopper, K., & Mbure, W. (2011). Check that body! The effects of sexually objectifying music videos on college men’s sexual beliefs. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 55, 360–379. doi:10.1080/08838151.2011.597469.
- Aubrey, J., Behm-Morawitz, E., & Kim, K. (2014). Understanding the effects of MTV’s 16 & Pregnant on adolescent girls’ beliefs, attitudes and behavioral intentions toward teen pregnancy. Journal of Health Communication, 19, 1145–1160. doi:10.1080/10810730.2013.872721.
- Behm-Morawitz, E., & Mastro, D. (2008). Mean girls? The influence of gender portrayals in teen movies on emerging adults’ gender-based attitudes and beliefs. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 85, 131–146. doi:10.1177/107769900808500109.
- Behm-Morawitz, E., & Pennell, H. (2013). The effects of superhero sagas on our gendered selves. In R. Rosenberg (Ed.), Our superheroes, ourselves (pp. 73–93). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Buncombe, A. (2002). Spiderman swings its way to box office record. The Independent, p. 4.Google Scholar
- Clover, C. (1999). Her body, himself: Gender in the slasher film. In S. Thornham (Ed.), Feminist film theory: A reader (pp. 234–247). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- McCallister, M. P., Gordon, I., & Jancovich, M. (2006). Blockbuster meets superhero comic, or art house meets graphic novel? The contradictory relationship between film and comic art. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 34, 108–115. doi:10.3200/JPFT. 34.3.108-115.
- Meslow, S. (2012). The revenge of the second-tier superhero film. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/02/the-revenge-of-the-second-tier-superhero-film/253243/.
- Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. In S. Thornham (Ed.), Feminist film theory: A reader (pp. 58–69). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Richwine, L. (2014). X-Men sequel tops Avatar as Fox’s biggest global debut. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/26/us-boxoffice-idUSKBN0E61QZ201405.
- Spider-Man. (2013). The numbers: Box office data [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2002/SPIDR.php.
- The Amazing Spider-Man. (2012). The numbers: Box office data [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2012/SPID4.php.
- US movie market summary for 2012. (2013). The numbers: Box office data [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.the-numbers.com/market/2012.php.
- Ussher, J. M. (1989). They psychology of the female body. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar