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Talk explores representations of female superheroes

March 1, 2013

On Thursday, February 21, Monmouth College Professor Michael Harrison held a campus-wide viewing of the documentary “Wonder Woman! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.”

The film gave students a peek into the world of superheroines, with a key focus on the legacy of Wonder Woman.

Harrison, who teaches an Integrated Studies Reflections course, Great Powers and Great Responsibilities: Superheroes, Philosophy, and Identity, has recently been discussing representations of female superheroes.
“As students in my class know, examining our popular culture texts can help reveal how we understand ourselves as individuals and as a culture, so I thought that this would be an excellent film for the campus at large to see as it asks some very important questions,” said Harrison.

“It examines how we understand women, feminism, and the concept of power, strength and heroism as they intersect with women and feminisms.”

As the documentary recognized the link between women, feminisms, and the concepts related to heroism, there was also a focus on how popular representations of women in power tend to reflect society’s angst on women’s liberation.

These hot topics were outlined by real-life superheroines of the movement, including Gloria Steinem and Kathleen Hanna. Other comic writers and artists appeared in the film, along with Lynda Carter, the actress who played the notable role of Wonder Woman in the 1970s television series.

“I hope the audience walked away with a more critical eye toward how strong women heroes are presented in our culture,” Harrison said. “I hope they might begin to question how the female heroes in their favorite films, television shows, and comics are portrayed and ask the difficult questions about what certain representations communicate to an audience about femininity, women, and power.”

Following the film, Harrison invited fellow professors Trudi Peterson and Kate Zittlow Rogness to join a discussion on the representation of women and the role of Wonder Woman, whether on or off the big screen.

Along with Harrison’s knowledge in the superhero realm, Peterson and Zittlow Rogness share a background in Women’s Studies, which provided an empowering and insightful discussion.

“What resonated with me were the references to television shows of the 1970s like the Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels. I remember those as the first strong female characters I had ever seen on TV,” said Peterson.

“Those shows changed the games that my girlfriends and I enacted on the playground where we would pretend to be Charlie’s Angels, instead of playing house or school. We would dare the boys to mess with us. It was empowering and changed the way I thought of femininity, about women and what women could do.”

Braunwyn Feil
Sports Editor

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