HARLEY QUINN COMICS AND ADOLESCENT FEMALE READERS: AN ANALYSIS OF GENDER REPRESENTATION AND INTERPRETATION

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2022-12-01T06:00:00.000Z

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Abstract

With roots that can be traced back to the pulp and dime novels of the past, comics are a uniquely American creation that interconnect word with image and allow for multiple ways of reading and interpreting, which results in multiple ways of knowing and understanding. As comics continue to grow in popularity in mainstream culture, it is important to consider the messages being interpreted from these texts by readers.

This qualitative study explored how female adolescent readers experience and understand their gender through the comics of the popular character Harley Quinn (of DC Comics) and how Quinn is seen as performing gender within her stories. Using the lenses of critical literacy, feminism, and transactional theory, this investigation was conducted using content analysis of texts and language-in-use analysis of transcripts from interviews and a readers response meeting with five adolescent females. The data collected indicated gender to be more influential on Quinn’s characterization and storylines than anything else, including her superpowered nature; and participants saw Quinn as enacting the socially recognizable identity of “American Female.” Overall, the results showed Quinn to be more in alignment with cultural gender norms than not and, thus, she reinforced existing hegemonic patriarchal narratives seen in comics. It is only through recognition and knowledge of what exists in comic texts that readers can demand changes with these narratives and promote gender equity.

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Education, Reading, Education, General, Gender Studies

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