With acclaimed author and historian Jill Lepore as this year’s Festival Keynote Speaker, there will be a lot of discussions on the roles that female, queer and trans characters play in various superhero universes. On Saturday, Sept. 26th from 11:00am—12pm in Ketchum Hall at SUNY Buff State (Room TBA), Profs. Jennifer Hunt and Jennifer Ryan will give their presentation on the tensions between princess and superhero archetypes.

Princesses are ubiquitous in books, movies, toys, and apparel.  Parents of female children find it especially hard to negotiate the fraught waters of the Disney Princess universe, which at best sends mixed messages about gender roles. Even recent princess narratives emphasize femininity, traditional gender roles, and heterosexual romance. A quick Google search of “Disney princess op ed” brings up hundreds of pieces debating the relative harm that princess iconography causes  in American society.

However, these conventional roles can be countered through the radical actions and empowerment that superheroes exemplify. And there is a growing market for female superheroes as well. The success of, for example, the rebooted female version of Thor in the Marvel universe is a perfect example of the increasing desire in American audiences for a new model of femininity that breaks the princess mold.

During their lecture, Hunt and Ryan will discuss gender messages in princesses and superheroes from a feminist perspective, including Hunt’s original research showing how princess and superhero identification relates to gender ideology, relationship desires, and career choices for women.

Jennifer Hunt is Associate Professor of Psychology at SUNY Buffalo State.  She teaches courses on the psychology of gender, diversity, and legal psychology.  Her research examines how race, ethnicity, and culture influence jury decision-making and how princess and superhero identification affects women.  Jennifer Ryan is Associate Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo State, where she teaches courses in American poetry, women’s literature, and African-American literature.  She has published on black women superheroes, Bessie Smith, and Wanda Coleman.