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The Empowering (Super) Heroine? The Effects of Sexualized Female Characters in Superhero Films on Women

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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.

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Correspondence to Hillary Pennell.

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Pennell, H., Behm-Morawitz, E. The Empowering (Super) Heroine? The Effects of Sexualized Female Characters in Superhero Films on Women. Sex Roles 72, 211–220 (2015).

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