Cartoonist Linnéa Johansson: Even Superheroes Brush Their Teeth!

Josefina Maria Bentz

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Batman is cooking dinner, Spiderman goes to the toilet and Darth Vader gets a kitten are just a few of the drawings made by Swedish cartoonist Linnéa Johansson. Reacting to a lack of diversity when it comes to role models for children in the popular culture, Johansson decided to draw superheroes in everyday situations.

The idea was triggered one day when Johansson’s three-year-old son came home upset from kindergarten. She noticed he tried to keep the tears back and asked him why he would not cry. Her son answered, “Spiderman doesn’t cry.”

The cartoonist then sat down and drew her son’s favourite superhero, not in a fight or saving an old woman, but sitting on the toilet with his daughter. To Sveriges Television (SVT) Johansson said, “I combined what my son thinks is the funniest: Spiderman and to poop. And because he hates to brush his teeth I added a toothbrush in Spiderman’s hand.”

Spiderman on the toilet

Image Credit: Linnéa Johansson

Johansson wanted to show that even superheroes have normal lives and that they also have to do daily chores like grocery shopping and cooking, and that they are able to show emotions.

The first picture attracted a lot of attention after it was posted on Facebook. Johansson started producing pictures of other superheroes such as Superman, Batman and the Hulk. However, the heroes are not pictured in their classical setting of ‘action’. For example, Superman is seen eating ice cream with his daughter, but drops it because he is lactose intolerant.

Superman

Image Credit: Linnéa Johansson

The reactions have mainly been positive, however some have found the drawings unsuitable. “I got negative response from the US, where people meant that the picture of Spiderman is ‘inappropriate’ and ‘strange’ that he would go to the toilet with his child. It is not strange that he climbs on walls and hits people, but it is odd that he goes to the toilet with his child,” Johansson said in an interview with Feministiskt Perspektiv.

The reactions show how rare it is to see superheroes doing ordinary chores and activities, and actually being more humane. Johansson argues that this is the reason why these kinds of cartoons are necessary even if some might find them absurd.

The Hulk goes grocery shopping

Image Credit: Linnéa Johansson

The cartoons are described as Fan-Art and cannot be distributed in exchange for money under copyright laws. However, on March 22 Linnéa Johansson will post her new cartoons as PDFs on her Facebook page, which allows anyone to download and print the cartoons for their children to colour them. Johansson also expressed that she is planning to produce colouring books for children that challenge common stereotypes.

Superhero kid

Image Credit: José María Pérez Nuñez (Flickr)

Professor Sharon Lamb at the University of Massachusetts released a study in 2010, which argues that modern-day superheroes promote a macho and violent stereotype for boys.

Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity.

Professor Sharon Lamb

Professor Lamb said that there is a big difference between the original comic book heroes and the superheroes we see on screen today. In the past, superheroes were portrayed differently – when out of their costumes they were ‘real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities’.

Dr Carlos Santos from Arizona State University studied 426 middle school boys’ ability to resist being emotionally passive, autonomous and physically tough – stereotyped images of masculinity – in their relationships. He found that as boys transitioned into adolescence, they found it harder to resist macho stereotypes. Boys who were depressed were more likely to act macho in their friendships. However, boys who did not adopt macho behaviours had better psychological health later in middle school.

Superhero kid 4

Image Credit: José María Pérez Nuñez (Flickr)

Representation of stereotypes are to be taken seriously as they have the ability to impact the socialisation process of children.

Through observations children develop systematic comprehension of the society they live in, and also how it defines femininity and masculinity. This makes up the framework where they learn what is acceptable behaviour for them and the people around them.

According to gender schema theory, once children decide if an object, activity, or behaviour belongs with their gender, they use the information to make decisions about whether or not to learn more about it.

– Maureen J. Fitzpatrick and Barbara J. McPherson

Already by the ages of 4-5, children learn to differentiate, value and adopt the gender cues for maleness and femaleness.

It is important to be aware of the stereotypical images that are sent out to our children, whether it is in the medium of film or even colouring books. These images send out messages to children of what it means to be male or female. The portrayal of hyper-masculine superheroes may suggest that young boys should have super-human strength, while not be nurturing or showing signs of vulnerability or emotions.

Gender-role stereotypes are collections of gender-specific attributes or traditional norms that differentiate typical ‘feminine’ behaviour patterns from typical ‘masculine’ behaviour patterns in society.

– Kaysee Baker and Arthur A. Rane

Superhero kid 2

Image Credit: José María Pérez Nuñez (Flickr)

In Equally Super?: Gender-Role Stereotyping of Superheroes in Children’s Animated Programsby Kaysee Baker and Arthur A. Raney (2007) looked at whether or not animated superheroes were portrayed in gender-role stereotypical ways. They found that male superheroes were pictured in powerful ways, such as being muscular, aggressive, angry, threatening, and tough. Female superheroes, on the other hand, where portrayed as warm, emotional, affectionate and superficial. The male characters were more inclined to brag, insult, boss others and to show more anger. The study established that generally all animated superheroes, male and female, were portrayed as virtually equal in terms of physical violence.

Children are more likely to identify with heroic characters, in turn, increasing the likelihood that they might imitate the characters’ behaviors.

– Maureen J. Fitzpatrick and Barbara J. McPherson

The fact that female and male superheroes are portrayed differently and often in accordance to certain gendered stereotypes is nothing new. However, the main concern is the way in which these stereotypes alter children’s attitudes and understanding of ‘maleness’ versus ‘femaleness’. A child, as an individual, should be allowed to grow up without pressure or limitations based on either old or new norms that define them based on their gender.

Superhero kid 3

 Image Credit: José María Pérez Nuñez (Flickr)

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Josefina Maria Bentz