A 1965 issue of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Photo via Joel Kramer, flickr.com.

In a recent article for Forbes, Christina Blanch, an instructor and doctoral assistant at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, discussed the results of a recent Pew Global Attitudes Project survey about gender. Her study found that, around the world, the idea of a career-oriented woman is becoming more and more accepted. At the same time, the study found that when the economy is shaky and jobs are few and far between, there is still a prevailing idea that men are more deserving of scarce jobs. This work can help us understanding worldwide perceptions of gender, which, in turn, influence real world interactions and phenomenon just as the gender pay gap and how people behave toward those of another gender.

Blanch then goes on to describe the highly unconventional medium through which she has been studying gender: comic books. Since the earliest issues of Superman, comic books have reflected shifting cultural attitudes toward gender. During WWII, Superman was a bastion of masculinity and Lois Lane was a strong and independent woman… who became a classic “damsel in distress” once the boys came back home. Even the characters’ body types represent cultural attitudes, with male heroes becoming hyper-muscular during the steroid boom of the 1990s. More recently, comics have ventured into hot button issues such as gay marriage, with Marvel Comics’ first openly gay character getting married in 2012. Comics are generally associated with escapism, so it’s simply fascinating to see them being used to better understand our complex—and very real—society.