Ms Kate Wilkinson graduated with a Masters in Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) for her research that delved into the role of women within the superhero genre.

‘We are exposed to so many superhero films and television series nowadays – that even non superhero buffs are becoming interested by the genre and are watching the films and TV series. I became intrigued by the genre and began to notice the imbalance between male and female superheroes as well as the repetition of the “damsel in distress” formula, which often drives the narrative of the films and television shows, despite the growing movement and popularity of feminist ideals nowadays,’ said Wilkinson.

She looked at this issue from a more theoretical perspective. She based her research on a fairly new show from The Marvel Universe, namely Jessica Jones – a show which has been praised in particular for defying the conventional projection of a superhero. She analysed the female characters in the show, presenting them as a counter to the patriarchal ideals that audiences had come to understand as a superhero.

Wilkinson sees the role of women as a conversation that is becoming more prevalent globally. ‘In all aspects of life, people are beginning to become more aware of social imbalance and any research that can act as evidence is beneficial to society – particularly when one thinks of the immense popularity of the superhero genre.

‘When one considers how films and TV shows normalise particular behaviours, it is important to identify the “White male” stereotype that has dominated the superhero genre and destroy the notion that he is the only one fit to be a superhero. My research shows the characters in Jessica Jones as specifically female who is as capable as her male counterparts within The Marvel Universe (eg. Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America),’ said Wilkinson.

During the research process, she enjoyed going into the history of the superhero genre while using feminist research to identify and find the problem around a single gender telling the stories of all genders, classes and races. Wilkinson also presented her research at conferences in Colombia and Grahamstown.

She thanked her family, friends and supervisor for their support. ‘My parents have always believed in the importance of education and have supported me both financially as well as emotionally throughout my career as a professional student.

‘My friends – many of whom were also undertaking postgraduate studies were supportive in many ways. They offered a kind word where one was needed, spell checked my work and let me have an overwhelmed cry on their shoulders before pushing up my chin and returning me to my laptop.’

Wilkinson plans to do her PhD and is keen to lecture and write. Her advice to students is: ‘Most postgraduates will often appear to the normal eye as a moody, unfashionable, occasionally hungover, paper-ridden explosion of stress but do not be alarmed, they are merely writing their literature review. If you have a dictionary at hand and a tissue nearby, you will be more supportive than you will ever know.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo