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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

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)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Lesbian Studies
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Apr 19 2018

Fingerprint

psychiatrist
gender
sexuality
twentieth century

Keywords

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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies

Cite this

A regressive formula of perversity : Wertham and the women of comics. / Tilley, Carol L.

In: Journal of Lesbian Studies, 19.04.2018, p. 1-19.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{d1e45eea881445fca8f973f3719e0c96,
title = "A regressive formula of perversity: Wertham and the women of comics",
abstract = "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-{\`a}-vis deviant sexual and gender expression.",
keywords = "Fredric Wertham, gender, lesbianism, postwar, the Comics Code, Wonder Woman",
author = "Tilley, {Carol L}",
year = "2018",
month = "4",
day = "19",
doi = "10.1080/10894160.2018.1450001",
language = "English (US)",
pages = "1--19",
journal = "Journal of Lesbian Studies",
issn = "1089-4160",
publisher = "Routledge",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - A regressive formula of perversity

T2 - Wertham and the women of comics

AU - Tilley, Carol L

PY - 2018/4/19

Y1 - 2018/4/19

N2 - 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.

AB - 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.

KW - Fredric Wertham

KW - gender

KW - lesbianism

KW - postwar

KW - the Comics Code

KW - Wonder Woman

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85046039606&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=85046039606&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1080/10894160.2018.1450001

DO - 10.1080/10894160.2018.1450001

M3 - Article

C2 - 29694275

AN - SCOPUS:85046039606

SP - 1

EP - 19

JO - Journal of Lesbian Studies

JF - Journal of Lesbian Studies

SN - 1089-4160

ER -