gender studies

CFP: “Strong Female Characters: Subversive Femininity in Literature and Popular Media” (Northeast MLA, April 2018, Pittsburgh), Submission Deadline 9/30/17

Below is a call for papers by my colleague, Mary Ellen Iatropoulos. “Strong Female Characters: Subversive Femininity in Literature and Popular Media” seeks abstracts that draw parallels between 19th-century literature and 21st-century popular media representations of subversive femininity. Successful papers will describe what critical insights such a comparison yields, as well as what conclusions for modern audiences such analysis reveals.

The CFP summary is below, and you may read the full CFP and submit abstracts online with a free NeMLA CFP List account at this link by September 30, 2017:

Please email me ( or tweet at Mary Ellen (@metamare) or me (@dereksmcgrath) with any questions.

Image layout by Mary Ellen Iatropoulos


Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses

During July 4th weekend in 2016, I presented at the Anime and Manga Studies Symposium, part of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation’s Anime Expo. Below is the copy of the presentation as I wrote it. As this was a discussion about fanservice in anime and manga, some content below is not safe for work (but censored).


REVIEW: Ghostbusters (2016)

Like The Simpsons or Parks and Recreation? That’s the kind of comedy in this film, so you should see Ghostbusters in theaters. Researching gender studies? Get up now and go see it in theaters. Otherwise, skip it until it’s on Netflix.

I had said I was going to see Ghostbusters (2016)–and while it has numerous flaws, I’m glad I went to theaters to see it.

The film, starring a female quartet, is an overly long movie with the kind of awkward humor, cartoonish characters, and over-the-top but bloodless slapstick frequent in some network sitcoms. While the plot rushes to get to ghost battles, in the process also rushing through characterization such that even the villain is monologuing about his motivations directly to the audience, it is also such a long slog due to a failure to edit down what could be hilarious jokes that drag too long. Directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Feig and Katie Dippold, the film treats the viewers as if they are not smart enough to understand the joke that is obviously on screen, preferring to have characters explain the joke in awkward ad libbed dialogue rather than letting a stunned silence linger for the funny moments that appear. Many jokes are obviously added in post-production with ADR, undermining a lot of the comedic energy when characters off-screen are making half-ways funny lines instead of ad-libbing them on set.

None of this copious amount of criticism, however, is to say the film lacks entertainment or is unbearable. The story has the seeds for excellent narratives about sexism in academia, has female characters in main and supporting roles including in government (with Cecily Strong as the mayor’s assistant looking and dressing  like Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson Karen Finney), and gendered differences in how men and women react to feeling isolated and ostracized. All of that could make this a well-done story with feminist arguments, and which would have benefited from better editing and more varied designs to the ghosts and in the battle scenes. But none of it is realized enough to satisfy what I wanted to see in the film.

If this kind of comedy and analysis of gender appeals to you, as most of it did for me, definitely see it in theaters; otherwise, wait to rent or stream it, as it is an entertaining film worth at least one viewing. This is an important film to see, because so few action movies in theaters are centered around predominantly female protagonists with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to collaborate to solve problem–but the film’s many missed opportunities make it unsatisfying.


My upcoming presentation at Anime Expo: “Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses” (Sunday 7/3/16)

Next Sunday, I’ll be in Los Angeles to participate in a special session hosted at Anime Expo, the largest North American anime convention. Each year, Anime Expo features an Anime and Manga Studies Symposium, which seeks to facilitate the development of anime and manga studies as defined fields of study. Our special session, “Using Anime and Manga in Education,” on Sunday, July 3, 2:30 PM to 3:30 PM, considers how we use Japanese popular culture in the classroom.

My presentation, “Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses,” builds upon presentations I have given at the Modern Language Association and the Northeast Modern Language Association, regarding potential gender-related double-standards in certain anime and manga, and how these texts provoke important discussions in literature and gender studies courses.

Much of this presentation is based on my own involvement, online and at conventions, in fan communities, and my own practices to identify gendered differences in character portrayals. For example, as shown in the image above, I have used PhotoShop to show differences between how characters, along gendered lines, are portrayed in some anime with or without blush on their cheeks. In one anime, Soul Eater NOT, these so-called “blush stickers” are often featured on female but not on male characters. To identify the difference and how it may alter the portrayal of characters, I applied this blush in PhotoShop to a male character, Death the Kid, and use this example to motivate discussions about

The session description and my presentation’s description are below. Thanks to the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, as well as Brent Allison and Mikhail Koulikov, for organizing this special session.

Special Session: Using Anime and Manga in Education

Moderator: Prof. Brent Allison (University of North Georgia)

  • Creating Confident Readers Through Unconventional Texts
    Stevi Grimm (Jefferson Union High School District, Daly City, CA)
  • Digital Literacy: Expanding Students’ Literary Toolkits with Manga
    Alexandra Dean (Eastern Illinois University)
  • Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses
    Derek S. McGrath (Stony Brook University)

In this session, three practicing educators provide responses to the question of how manga, anime, and other Japanese popular culture texts can be incorporated in a formal classroom setting. Old and new challenges to educators color this question – proscribed academic standards that limit teacher autonomy, barriers to students who struggle with traditional forms of literacy, and persistent conceptions of gender that reinforce certain types of readings of these texts. The session will review strategies to overcome these problems as well as engage the audience to consider how using Japanese popular culture texts can redefine gender, literacy, and ultimately what it means to “read.”

“Dudes Need Blush Stickers, Too: Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses”

While writing my PhD in literature and gender studies, I have participated in online fan communities around anime and manga. In these communities, I draw upon my experiences in teaching to write and collaborate with other fans towards analysis of various texts, whether through liveblogs and re-blogged discussions, or roleplay, wiki development, and PhotoShopping. Content I develop has identified problematic representations in certain texts work, whether silencing of female characters or gendered disparities such as the application of “blush stickers” to female characters but not male characters (as I show visually by PhotoShopping screen captures to add blush stickers to male characters).

Discussions on these topics that I have hosted in the classroom, at fan and academic conventions, and online have influenced the design of my syllabi and lesson plans, which integrate anime and manga into the teaching of works in United States literature. My courses identify bidirectional influences in United States and Japanese popular culture, and my syllabi incorporate traditional and untraditional assignments: in addition to researched analytical essays, lessons provide students with opportunities to contribute to wikis, to create and to analyze fan fiction, and to use roleplay and PhotoShop to draw out alternative interpretations from assigned texts.

Over the course of the semester, students come to understand various works in anime and manga not only through analysis but through creation: they learn to recognize potential cultural, formal, and textual differences between the United States and Japan, and how their own situated perspective can affect interpretation. This has been particularly valuable in teaching gender studies to students who are interested in feminist analysis of manga and anime.

Saturday and Sunday at NeMLA 2014: “Vexing Gender” and “Can The Subaltern Be A Superhero?”

I am in Harrisburg right now, and in addition to working as marketing coordinator for the 2014 meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, I also have the honor to be part of two exciting sets of panels, two parts of them taking place back-to-back Saturday afternoon.  As with previous sessions of NeMLA, scholars are making important contributions to studies of gender studies, popular cultural studies, and nineteenth-century American studies, and I am happy to be a part of these conversations.

First, “The Con in Convention: Vexing Gender in 19th-Century American Women’s Writing” begins Saturday, April 5, at 1:30 PM in the Hilton Harrisburg (Second Floor, Metropolitan A Room), featuring four presentations that look at how women writers negotiated various gender roles.  Presentations include:

“Messing with Minds: A Cognitive Exploration of Readers’ Emotional Response to Behind a Mask,” Andrew Higgins, SUNY New Paltz

“Who Will Reign and Who Will Serve:  Domesticating the Self in Elizabeth Stoddard’s The Morgesons,Paula Kot, Niagara University

“Sojourner Truth’s Household Lessons and Domestic Activism at Freedman’s Village,” Derek McGrath, Stony Brook University

“Laughing and Crying Behind Her Mask: Code-Switching and Sentimental Strategy in Fern’s Ruth Hall,” Mary Ellen Iatropoulous, Independent Scholar

Then at 3:15 PM, NeMLA will host the first part of “Can the Subaltern Be a Superhero? The Politics of Heroic Alterity.” This two-part session considers how texts have responded to expectations based around, among many topics, race, nation, gender, and sexuality work through the concept of the superhero.  The first session, “US Edition,” will be at the Hilton Harrisburg (Third Floor, Delaware Room).  Chaired by Rafael Ponce-Cordero of Keene State College, the session includes the following:

“The ‘Other’ Hero: Framing Female Characters in Alternative Comics,” Danielle Frownfelter Michael, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, and Nick Scott Greene, Independent Scholar

“The Bulge That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The Evolution of the Gay Superhero,” Sarah Panuska, Michigan State University

“Succeeding in the Super-Biz:  New Worlds Through Disidentification in Xaime Hernandez’s God & Science,” Osvaldo Oyola, Binghamton University

Then on Sunday, April 6, at 8:30 AM, I will chair the second session, “World Edition,” in Hilton Harrisburg (Second Floor, Penn Harris B Room), which includes the following:

“With Great Power Comes Great Loss: The Tragic (Super) Mulatto,” Dwain Pruitt, University of South Florida

“South African Superhero in Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying,” Stephanie Selvick, Utica College

“Baby Hanuman:  A Subaltern Superhero?” Anuja Madan, University of Florida

” ‘They Didn’t Know I Was So Astute!’ A Postcolonial Reading of Mexico’s Chapulín Colorado,” Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College

I hope that interested NeMLA visitors enjoy all of these three sessions.  While in Harrisburg, please attend these and many other sessions taking place–the organizers this year have scheduled excellent panels on a range of topics, and as someone who studies nineteenth-century United States culture as well as comics, I’m happy to see numerous sessions on these topics. 

I look forward to tomorrow and Sunday’s productive discussions.