SuperMOOC Update: Gender Through Comics Books

On April 16th, I announced on this blog that I was taking part in a SuperMOOC, a Massively Open Online Course, titled Gender Through Comic Books. You can read my initial thoughts here.

At the time, my intention was to blog about the course each week. Then I realized it was over.

That’s what happens with 6 weeks long courses: you enjoy meeting new people, participating in live interviews with major contributors to the comic book world and you develop a habit of keeping up to date with news about the industry. Then you become to busy to keep up for a week, then two weeks, and then it’s over.

So in order not to disappoint (too much) the readers who had expressed interest in the course, I’ve decided to summarize my experience here, and link to relevant websites. Better late than never!

Overall, I had a great time. As I have stated before, the course’s most enjoyable aspect  was socializing with other students. The live interviews were also a great opportunity to interact digitally with authors and artists who shape the comics books we enjoy as readers.

Many videos were available to students, which cut some of the reading time away. Various links to documentaries, blog posts and articles were included for those wishing to learn more about the topics explored in each chapter. A few academic papers were comprised in the reading material, most of which were easily readable.

However, being used to the 15 week format common to many university courses, I lost track very quickly once I became too busy to keep up during the 4th week. Despite the fact that there wasn’t so much material to read, and that some of it was comics, I couldn’t always manage to sit down for a few hours and get it done. Networking and sharing with students, although very enjoyable and a great excuse to exchange hilarious, and mostly relevant, material such as Our Valued Customers, was more time demanding than I expected. Additionally, it wasn’t always possible for me to watch the interviews live, and when I couldn’t do so I sometimes forgot to watch them later during the week during which they took place.

Of course, the purpose of the course was to allow people to connect and reflect about gender representations within a flexible framework. It accomplished this beautifully. But I feel that I could have learned more had the structure been a little more rigid and the course longer.

The timing was not great for me either: April is a very busy month for anyone working in a university. The semester is about to end, papers have to be  written or graded, conferences and coming soon and travel arrangements have to be made, presentations prepared, etc. Two of my colleagues who were registered in the SuperMooc never even got around to reading the material as they were too busy from the moment it started to its very end. That said, I’m sure most of the 7000+ students registered in the SuperMooc were not academics!

Art by Donald Soffritti

Art by Donald Soffritti

What I learned about gender and comics, and gender in comics

Being an anthropology student, and one who has taken classes about gender and the role of the media, I already had pretty solid knowledge of many of the topics that we discussed during the class. For instance, in some of the chapters, the reading material and the videos were about the ways in which gender identity is influenced by culture. Six years of studying anthropology had led me to reflect and read on this topic extensively. We also discussed the social construction of feminity and masculinity, as well as the role the media plays in reinforing or contesting gender roles.

What I did learn is a great many things about comics books. I discovered fascinating series I absolutely want to keep reading, such as Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. And it was fantastic to be able to hear from people working in the industry and understand their intentions when representing gender in certain ways.

But what was probably the most interesting aspect of the course, for me, is that exchanging with students, the instructor, Christina Blanch, and members of the industry led me to approach some comics with fresh eyes. Through the debates we had, I started to question my own relation to gender and gender representations in new ways.

For instance, comments and questions during a live interview made me Art by Dean G.wonder why I might relate more to Batman’s darker, less nuanced personality and emotions than Superman’ sensitive and more gently persona. Why do I find Superman’s character, often described as more in touch with his feminine side, extremely boring? And why do I, a women, generally relate to male characters rather than female characters? What does this reveal about myself, my conceptions about gender and my relations to standard representations of gender? More so, what does this indicate about the complexity and place given to female characters in comics? Are they simply not compelling enough? Any thoughts?

In other words, my perspectives on comics books, despite the fact that I have been an avid reader for years, have been broadened by the class.

If you missed out on this incredible experience, you can:

Join the SuperMooc public Facebook page and check the related Wikipedia page and #SuperMooc and #Genderthroughcomics hastags on Twitter and  Tumblr for additional links and info;

Learn more about the course and read on other students’ experiences on GeekGirlCon‘s page, the ad astra comics blog;

Learn more and gender and the construction of gender roles:


Illustration Wonder Woman by Lora Zombie.

About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am an anthropologist living in Quebec city, Canada. I specialize in native studies and anthropology of health. I am a geek. I founded and now co-manage The Geek Anthropologist blog. I am working on transforming my memoir into a book and journal articles. I like to knit while watching Star Trek. Reach out to me for collaborations!

There are 8 comments

  1. Kandi

    Does your website have a contact page? I’m
    having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to send you an email.
    I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing.

    Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.


    1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

      Thanks for the nomination!

      Finding appropriate material for kids at comic shops is an issue, but there are a few series made specifically for young audiences. It can serve as a good introduction to the medium.

      It’s too bad, though, that after reading ”cleaner versions” of the universes, DC and Marvel readers are later introduced to hypersexualized representations of women and exacerbated masculinity (physical strenght and violence).

      Thanks for sharing your experience as a parent!


    1. The Geek Anthropologist

      Looking at it from another angle, aren’t most characters in pop culture, or various entertainment genres, reflections of gender stereotypes? For instance, Feminist Frequency videos highlight some of the most common stereotyped female roles, such as the damsel in distress. It takes very gifted authors to create characters that don’t fall into preexisting clichés, and such authors are rare in my experience.


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