I really enjoyed Erin Keating’s essay The Female Link: Citation and Continuity in Watchmen. She does an analysis into the role that both Silk Spectre’s play in Watchmen, and questions whether the masculine conventions of the superhero genre are actually revised by these two characters. Her analysis of the text argues that it does the exact opposite of what it is thought to do, namely it reinforces and at times strengthens the “conservative, heterosexual framework” (1266) that pervades the medium. Keating builds upon critical theory pioneered by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler and she utilizes both theory in interesting ways. By addressing both gender performativity and male homosocial desire, Keating looks at Watchmen in terms of both feminist and gender studies.
She first analyzes the characters performative roles within the text. Now putting on a superhero costume in itself is performative, but Keating demonstrates that the costume (or lack thereof in the case of Dr. Manhattan) actually help to reinforce the gender stereotypes and their performative functions. While the male heroes are non-sexualized both Silk Spectres are from the onset hyper-sexualized, and yet these two women are virtually invisible in the text. Both of these women have very little power, other than the power imbued in them through gender. She goes on to show other examples, namely Sue Storm/Invisible Woman and Wonder Woman. By stripping them down to their basest parts, Keating shows how Moore and Gibbons have not revised the female superhero at all. Keating does a good job of explaining Butler’s theory of gender performativity and applying it to Watchmen.
Keating also analyzes the power structure of the novel through Kosofsky-Sedgwick’s idea of male homosocial desire. Keating effectively shows the triangulation of power between the characters (most notably Jon, Dan and Laurie). Again, here Keating does a fine job of explaining Kosfsky-Sedgwick’s theory and applying it to the text. Her incorporation of specific panels helps cement in the idea of the triangulation.
Here are some questions that I had after reading the text:
- Keating argues that “Watchmen reveals a conservative, heterosexual framework operating as a foundation for the moral ambiguity and the displacement of traditional superhero tropes enacted by the revisionist aspects of the text” (1226). Do you agree with her assessment. Why or why not?
- Keating uses Butler’s idea of gender performativity to enhance ideas of superheroic performativity. How is the role of a costumed hero similar to the gender performative? How is it different?
- Keating talk of Laurie and Sally being “invisible.” She uses the examples of Wonder Woman and Sue Storm to further her argument that superheroic women are an appendage of their male counterpart. Can you think of a counter-example or could this theory also be applied to other female characters like Storm or Jean Grey/Phoenix?
- Keating focuses on the triangle between Jon, Dan and Laurie. While this is the largest of the triangulations at play in Watchmen, can you think of some others that are in the text?