Books Explore Portrayals of Heroines Across Comics, Films, Literature, Television

By Mary Rogers, COMM student

With media coverage and popular culture interest in women at an all-time high, two Kent State University graduate students decided to explore the new roles women take on in television and in the movies.

Norma Jones and Maja Bajac-Carter, doctoral students in the College of Communication and Information (CCI) at Kent State University, have co-edited a two-volume book set regarding heroines in popular culture.

Heroines of Film and Television: Portrayals in Popular Culture, and Heroines of Comic Books and Literature: Portrayals in Popular Culture, bothpublished by Rowman & Littlefield, features a wide selection of essays from noted authors who explore the shifting roles of heroic women. The contributors wrote about popular culture heroines such as Wonder Woman, Bella Swan, Sorsha from Willow, Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Bride from Kill Bill, Buffy (the Vampire Slayer), Joan Harris in Mad Men, and Captain Janeway from Star Trek.

“Heroines may be portrayed like male heroes and extremely tough. These heroines include Xena, She Hulk, and Sorsha. At the same time, we also have heroic women that are different. For example, consider Bella from Twilight and Nancy Botwin from Weeds. We hoped to venture beyond the dichotomy of the damsels in distress and/or extremely strong warrior women to explore new ways of understanding, perceiving and thinking about women in a broader sense,” Jones said.

Jones added, “In other words, we are not just weak or strong, but as women, we exist across the board.”

After sending out the initial call, and receiving almost 80 proposals from award-winning authors across a variety of disciplines, Jones and Bajac-Carter realized that this topic sparked an interest that was far beyond expected. “The amazing thing about having two volumes with multi-disciplinary contributors is that we have a wide spectrum of ideas to consider, think about, debate and continue the research,” Bajac-Carter said, “The books facilitate discussion for both academic and broader audiences.”

Backgrounds represented by the contributing authors include English, history, women’s studies, gender communication studies, popular culture studies, comic book writers and many others.

“We hope to extend the conversation in communication and CCI through collaboration. We hope the books help to explore what it means to be female, what it means to be a heroine, as well as connecting different folks and getting them to talk,” Jones said.

The collaborative freedom fostered in the CCI doctoral program helped make this project possible, according to Jones. In fact, this theme of heroic women is also popular among the communication studies community at Kent.

Contributors from the School of Communication Studies include COMM Assistant Professor Suzy D’Enbeau, Ph.D., as well as Rekha Sharma and Carol Savery, doctoral candidates and instructors.

D’ Enbeau’s chapter is titled “The Erotic Heroine and the Politics of Gender at Work: A Feminist Reading of Mad Men’s Joan Harris.” This section critically examines Mad Men’s Joan Harris as an “unlikely heroine,” who manages the strain between workplace power and sexuality.

Sharma and Savory explored the cinematic portrayals of marriage in their chapter titled “Bollywood Marriages: Portrayals of Matrimony in Hindi Popular Cinema.”

Information on the companion volumes, Heroines of Comic Books and Literature: Portrayals in Popular Culture and Heroines of Comic Books and Literature: Portrayals in Popular Culture may be found on


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