Esther De Dauw and Daniel J. Connell, "Toxic Masculinity: Mapping the Monstrous in Our Heroes" (UP of Mississippi, 2020)

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Scholars Esther De Dauw and Daniel J. Connell have assembled an array of chapters that explore the idea of masculinity in the realm of contemporary heroes and superheroes. Toxic Masculinity: Mapping the Monstrous in Our Heroes (UP of Mississippi, 2020) examines not only the presentation of masculinity in which we are constantly immersed in the superhero narrative in films, television, and comics, but also how this translates into our expectations as to what is the model for heroism. The editors and authors unpack this concept of hegemonic masculinity, and how it generally incorporates hypermasculinity and toxic masculinity, and how it also, by definition, tends to reject femininity, thus bifurcating gender and gender performances and images into two distinct silos. This reification is communicated in so many of these superheroic narratives and is re-absorbed by the audience. The contributing authors to Toxic Masculinity interrogate these presentations and continue the conversation that is active in the academe. This conversation, according to the research, is also quite active within superhero fandom.

The first section of the book specifically examines masculinity and the pop culture superhero artifacts. The second section of the book examines the contrast to masculinity—namely those who embody a different gender or sexuality but are still superheroes. If masculinity itself is a kind of fan service in this superhero genre, the question arises as to what it is that non-male characters must do for fan service. How are consumers of superheroes satisfied if the superhero isn’t hard bodied in the same way? The final section of the book focuses on unexpected heroes, who play with gender a bit more than the hypermasculine heroes who dominate so many of the contemporary superhero films and television shows.

Toxic Masculinity examines both the male and the female gaze in the way that we see and interpret these superheroic narratives. This is a fascinating book, for scholars, for fans, for anyone interested in our current popular culture environment and questions of gender.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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