The Gender Differences in Subjectivity among Superbeing Characters in the Comic Book Film Genre

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


This study intends to evaluate the extent to which gender inequality permeates representation in the media. By drawing on the literature of feminist phenomenology I define subjectivity as the tendency of characters to interact with the world around them rather than merely have that world act upon them. I use the themes of sexual spectacle, motivation, and violence and protection to evaluate the gender differences among superbeing characters from the DC and Marvel franchises. Through the use of a qualitative content analysis this study has shown that the dichotomous gender hierarchy actively subordinates female superbeing characters through their diminished subjectivity. A character's ability to act upon the world through act-break motivations, direct capacity for violence, and the protection of others defines them as subjects. Conversely, a character's inability to do those actions as well as their instances of sexual spectacle and unmotivated sexual displays in costuming and gender performance relegates them to the role of object. The subjectivity score is used to more clearly show a definitive ranking of these characters. Female superbeing characters often hold negative scores. This means that their total deductions from categories that diminish their subjectivity, such as instances of sexual spectacle or revealing costumes, outweigh any points they earn from categories that award them more subjectivity, such as protection/rescuing others. The male characters hold double or triple the scores of their female counterparts, which perfectly highlights the gendered division of the attributes that inform subjectivity. By allowing superbeing characters to transcend gender dichotomy and engage with the full human spectrum of emotion and wellbeing, we could celebrate people as fully human and disrupt the gender normativity that maintains inequality.



Gender, superhero, violence, feminist phenomenology, subjectivity