Welcome to the Inaugural Address at the opening of the Logan Institute for the Study of Superhero Masculinities. My name is Eva and I would like to welcome you, to invite you to join me in creating this project. This is a topic close to my heart, and I would like to tell you why.
A key part of my childhood, and some of my favourite memories, are of watching cartoons with my best friend and our little brothers. In a flagrant display of age, these cartoons included ThunderCats, Transformers, Spiderman and the X-Men. And I loved Wolverine, and I still do. Logan was everything that I was told I should not be as a girl growing into a woman; angry, furry, sarcastic, aggressive, opinionated, powerful, muscular, strong. This collection of traits, both physical and psychological, initially read as a textbook diagnosis of hyper-masculinity. However, Logan was something else I could identify with; he was short. Logan’s masculinity is hyper-performative, it’s a raised middle finger to a world that insists on binary classifications, assigning every mental and physical trait to so-called ‘opposite’ genders. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t read Judith Butler’s seminal work Gender Trouble at the point in my young life when I was watching saturday morning cartoons, but in watching them I got my first inkling that the sex/gender binary was questionable, that sex and gender roles were mediated by cultural expectations. How? Because Wolverine demonstrated to me that being short didn’t make a man more or less masculine, but more aware of his masculinity as read by others.
An interest in superheroes, in comic book narratives, action movies, and cartoons has also been coded as masculine in contemporary Anglo-American culture. Female fans have recently spoken out about their experiences of being labelled as ‘fake geek girls’, of encountering male cultural ‘gatekeepers’ who question their access to and knowledge of such pop culture texts. This, then, is the very personal inspiration behind this project. A project that hopes to unpick and unpack the tangled web of gendered assumptions, inscriptions, and accretions that adhere to the image of the superhero. It should come as no surprise to this audience that I, as both an academic cultural theorist and a Wolverine fan, like to rip things to shreds. Lets take a sharp claw to the image of the superhero in popular culture, and scrape back layer after layer of assumption.