A regressive formula of perversity: Wertham and the women of comics

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This essay serves as a close reading of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's 1950s descriptions and critiques of female comics characters. I draw on archival sources as well as relevant texts in the study of gender and sexuality. Additionally, I integrate ideas from two of his close associates, folklorist Gershon Legman and psychiatrist Hilde Mosse, whose contributions to Seduction of the Innocent are woven—often invisibly—throughout that text. The character of Wonder Woman serves as a touchstone, but other provocative female figures that Wertham found objectionable in mid-twentieth-century comics accompany her. My goal is to illuminate Wertham's understanding of what he viewed as the “regressive formula of perversity” enacted through women's representations in comics, particularly those female characters who played active roles. Although not all of these concerns are tied to lesbian identity, they do all touch on broader notions of queerness vis-à-vis deviant sexual and gender expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-372
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Lesbian Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2018


  • Fredric Wertham
  • Wonder Woman
  • gender
  • lesbianism
  • postwar
  • the Comics Code

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies


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