Gender and Sexuality in Superhero Costumes


Men and women on movie screens change their traditional roles in society, but if a “weak” man is shown on the positive side and enjoys approval from the audience, then the image of a “strong” woman is often demonized and perceived as something negative, unnatural. This contradiction is most typical in superhero movie comics.

The films have focused on showing classic male characters such as Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hellboy, and others. These images were at the same time consistent with the traditional perception of men and the new. Big changes have taken place in the portrayal of character power. These are heroes, devoid of large muscles and extreme physical strength. Their characteristics as people with developed intellectual data come to the fore. If a character is physically strong (Hulk, Hellboy, Thor, etc.), then throughout the story, he suffers from his strength and does not receive approval from society. However, the costumes of most male superheroes highlight their muscularity and outstanding physical appearance. At this time, female superheroes have vividly emphasized elements that provoke traditional elements of sexuality (Wonder Woman, Black Widow).

Challenging the Standard Approach Towards Superheroes and Their Costumes

Despite the arguments above, it seems that superheroes and their costumes not only change views on the traditional roles of men and women in cinema. They also help young people to shape their own gender identity and they propose to change it depending on the conditions of the environment. As Miller et al. point out, the concept of gender in the world of superhero existence is flexible. There are several variations of female characters that replaced male characters (She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Thor-Woman, Batwoman, etc.). They had the same abilities, a similar suit, a similar biography. At the same time, they existed in one of the alternative spaces possible under the conditions of comics or came to replace the hero due to his death or physical dysfunction.

Moreover, modern teams of superheroes are one of the possible illustrations of young representatives of society, who themselves determine their characteristics and are free to choose gender and their behavior, independent of their choice. This freedom is best exemplified by the X-Men team. This universe of superheroes is characterized by a constant search for oneself in society, opposing the “other” sexuality to the “standard” one. Superhero teams are bringing the gender ambiguity of characters to the movie screen. A large number of heroes help each viewer to find the ideal that is close to them.

Universal Costumes

It might be assumed that the solution to the described issue might be in producing and focusing on “gender-universal” superhero costumes. These costumes would be mostly technological, and the superhero universe can make such suits and the characters be central ones; a good example is as follows. In the third part of Iron Man, Pepper Potts finally comes out of the power of Tony Stark, becoming an independent character. She is characterized by initiative, strength, and power, i.e., everything that belongs to a man in a heteronormative society. The final transformation of Pepper Potts takes place in the final part of The Avengers (2019), where she acquires a superhero costume, takes on the role of Iron Man, and, accordingly, Tony Stark. This costume is high-tech and contains no traits that would specify the character in terms of gender and sexuality.

Work Cited

Miller, Monica, et al. “Gender Differences in Movie Superheroes’ Roles, Appearances, and Violence.” A Journal of Gender New Media & Technology, vol. 10, 2016, Web.

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