Does the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore deconstruct gender? In particular, how are masculine gender norms depicted, and are they challenged?  

Masculine gender norms are challenged and reinforced in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen. The Comedian’s smiley face button challenges the seriousness of male superheroes. Conversely, the Comedian's predation, and Rorschach’s dismissive response to the Comedian’s sexual assault, reinforces toxic masculine perspectives about rape.

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An argument that Alan Moore’s graphic novel challenges masculine gender norms could center on the death that starts the story. Watchmen begins with Edward Blake (aka the Comedian) thrown out a window. The immediate dismissal of the Comedian suggests a fragile masculinity. It could get the reader thinking about how men—superheroes or not—are as vulnerable as everyone else. They can be quickly disposed. They don’t need to be kept around.

The Comedian also challenges masculine gender norms because of his style. The smiley-face badge might be interpreted as a symbol of the ridiculousness of the male superhero trope. It represents their ultimate silliness and frivolity.

Of course, the Comedian's predation on women does not challenge masculine gender norms. Rorschach, too, reinforces problematic masculine gender norms. The graphic novel starts with Rorschach’s journal in which he records his misanthropic views. “The streets are extended gutters,” he says. His hardened beliefs connect to the bleak, incendiary perspectives that are commonly held by an array of masculine characters throughout the pop culture canon, including Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s film, Taxi Driver and the Henry Chinaski character that appears in Charles Bukowski’s writings.

In chapter 2, Rorschach furthers his relationship to conventional, problematic masculine gender norms when he refers to the Comedian’s sexual assault of Laurie’s mom as one of his “moral lapses.” Downplaying the seriousness of rape does not signify a challenge to typical male behavior. However, Laurie vehemently challenges Rorschach’s attitude. “MORAL LAPSES?” she shoots back.

Indeed, when it comes to Laurie and Sally, it’s feasible to contend that Alan Moore deconstructs the various pressures and expectations that women face as people and superheroes. Laurie and Sally are presented as relatively dynamic characters with their own thoughts and beliefs. For instance, Sally sees no problem with starring in a pornographic comic. Laurie, however, has a different opinion.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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