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Superhero Strength

photo of Kelly Walters ’16

Kelly Walters ’16

Journalism, Gender and Women’s Studies Minor

Hometown: Washingtonville, New York

Role: Quest Presenter

Fueling the flame: Unrestricted Gifts, The Fund for Oswego

“One of the greatest opportunities I’ve been given at Oswego was the chance to present my research at Quest. This annual symposium gives students the resources they need to share their work, and gain experience presenting it in a professional setting; and for that I am grateful.”  

Kelly Walters ’16 has always had a passion for reading novels. Despite a full schedule of courses for her journalism degree and minor in gender and women’s studies, she found a way to continue to nurture her interests.

“At school I never had time to be reading full novels like I would at home,” Walters said. “Comic books were perfect because they’re nice and short, so I could read a few at a time without putting off work for too long and they were just as engaging as a novel. The stories they tell are very unique, especially when you incorporate the visual aspect, which is what really drew me to them.”

She knew she wanted to conduct some kind of research during her last semester at Oswego, so she teamed up with journalism professor Brian Moritz, who shared a mutual interest in comic books, to create an independent study to research the construction of gender in comic books.

“People sort of underestimate comic books, and a lot of times the characters and stories are seen as just for children, but comics have always been a medium that addressed social issues and often critiqued society,” Walters said.

“A few months before the semester I learned that Wonder Woman (one of my favorite superheroes) was, at one point, the secretary for the Justice League,” she said. “That kind of blew my mind because it seemed to really deviate from her character as a very strong, capable woman, and so I wanted to look more into the treatment of female superheroes.”

In her research, Walters found that although many comic books depict strong, liberated female characters, the female superheroes revert to traditional gender roles when put into a male-dominated team. Translation: Wonder Woman works wonders until the Justice League shows up. Then her dialogue drops off, her decision-making stalls and her role in driving the action fades away.

Walters argues that the female superheroes revert into one of three distinctive stereotypes: the passive supporter, the nurturer/mother figure or the weak dependent.

“One of the greatest opportunities I’ve been given in my four years at Oswego was the chance to present research that I’ve been working on for months at Quest,” Walters said. “Quest allowed me an audience, and the chance to meet people who shared my interests and discuss something I’m truly passionate about—the construction of gender in comic books.”

Thanks to the college’s annual Quest Day, Walters had the opportunity to share this research with hundreds of campus members who attended a poster session on the floor of the arena in the Marano Campus Center.

Much of the research presented at Quest receives some form of support from The Fund for Oswego, including through annual support to the Scholarly and Creative Activities Committee, which awards grants to faculty and students and through unrestricted gifts to college and department funds and Dean’s Funds.

“This annual symposium gives students the resources they need to share their work, and gain experience in presenting it in a professional setting,” said Walters, whose dream job would be to write for a publication where she can analyze gender issues in the media. “And for that I am grateful.”

Although she doesn’t plan a future writing or working in comic books, the experience taught her how to tap into her passion and present it in a way that is meaningful to others.

Inspired yet? Walters suggests people new to comic books begin with Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series for Marvel.

“He’s a hero who has no actual powers,” she said. “He’s just a regular guy trying to help people in any way he can, despite a lot of his own personal issues. It’s one of my all-time favorites.”