Fetishization of female masculinity in She-Hulk, Big Barda, and The Mighty Thor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The superhero genre of comics has historically depicted hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine characters, with men being the ones masculinized and women being feminised and, subsequently, sexualized. Against this genre trope, the muscular superheroine performing female masculinity demonstrates Judith Butler's notions of gender performance as well as the transferability of the phallus, which confronts and disrupts the notion that masculinity is confined to male bodies only (Bodies 57). While arguing that neither Jacques Lacan nor Sigmund Freud can conceive of a powerful female masculinity, Butler claims that women can possess traits that have been traditionally seen as exclusive to men. In superhero comics, characters such as She-Hulk, Big Barda, and The Mighty Thor offer concrete examples of female masculinity through their body-building muscles and phallic objects. When a woman who is decidedly other performs masculinity by constructing her body as muscular, she actively goes against the curated ideology of the superheroic body as an able-bodied, cis-gendered heterosexual white male. This chapter will examine the female masculinity performed by the superheroines She-Hulk, Big Barda, and The Mighty Thor during their first comics appearances versus later iterations to reveal the ways in which the characters have been and continue to be punished and fetishized for their subversive, gendered performances by editors and fans alike.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge companion to masculinity in American literature and culture
EditorsLydia R. Cooper
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9780367520090
ISBN (Print)9780367520083, 9781032156620
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2021


  • fetish
  • superhero
  • Masculinity
  • female masculinity
  • big barda
  • mighty thor
  • thor
  • butler
  • gender
  • performance
  • Comics
  • comics studies
  • marvel
  • DC
  • phallus
  • phallic
  • toxic masculinity
  • toxic geek masculinity
  • geek


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