This interdisciplinary study examines the relationship between violence, empowerment, and the teenage super/heroine in comics and young adult fantasy novels. The author analyzes stories of teenage super/heroines who have experienced trauma, abduction, assault, and sexual violence that has led to a loss of agency, and then tracks the way that their use of violence empowers them to reclaim agency over their lives and bodies. The author identifies these characters as vigilante feminist teenage super/heroines because they become vigilantes in order to protect other girls and young women from violence and create safer communities. The teenage super/heroines examined in this book are characters who have the ability—through super power, or supernatural and magical ability—to fight back against those who seek to cause them harm. They are a product of and a response to both the pervasive culture of violence against girls and women and a system that fails to protect girls and women from harm. While this book is part of a robust intellectual conversation about the role of girls and women in popular literature and culture and about feminist analyses of comics and YA literature, it is unique in its reading of violence as empowerment and in its careful tracing—and naming—of the teenage vigilante super/heroine, a characterization that is hugely popular and deserves this close reading.
Laura Mattoon D'Amore is associate professor of cultural studies at Roger Williams University.
Chapter One: Finding Agency after Trauma: Crafting a Community of Consent in Sarah J. Maas’ Young Adult Series A Court of Thorns and Roses
Chapter Two: “Choice is Your Weapon”: Violence, Empowerment, and X-23’s Journey Toward Consent and Agency
Chapter Three: Hunting Wolves: Violence, Agency, and Empowerment in Jackson Pearce’s Retold Fairytales Young Adult Fantasy Series
Chapter Four: “I Know How to Do Things Most People Don’t”: Rape and Vigilante Justice on a College Campus in MTV’s Sweet/Vicious
About the Author
What Alison Graham-Bertolini does for our understanding of Vigilante Women in 20th-century
fiction, Laura D’Amore does for our understanding of vigilante feminists in 21st-century young
adult fiction and popular culture—which are the texts shaping the next generation’s belief in
their ability to survive trauma and to protect themselves and others from pervasive structures of
violence against girls and women.
D’Amore reads YA fantasy novels, reimagined fairy tales, and superhero comics and television series alongside the real-world traumas that these stories invoke and equip their young
audience to face: physical and emotional abuse, sexual violence and exploitation, and
victim-blaming and justice-denying systems.
D’Amore’s approach deconstructs the false choice between personal empowerment and
structural change. The vigilante feminists in these texts claim bodily autonomy and the power to
fight not only to protect self and others, but also to break patriarchal systems—particularly the
underlying gender system that compels women to be passive in the face of personal and
structural violence and to seek conciliation instead of justice.
As D’Amore’s analysis shows, the violence wielded by these young adult heroines is neither
anti-feminine nor anti-feminist. Rather, as Jack Halberstam puts it, “female violence transforms
the symbolic function of the feminine within popular narratives and simultaneously challenges
the hegemonic insistence upon the linking of might and right under the sign of masculinity”
In our current era of #MeToo, this book is vital. D’Amore’s scholarship speaks with girls and young women, not for them. In her analysis of violence and vigilante feminist characters, she shifts the focus from women as victim to women as agent. D’Amore positions young women and girls as active participants in their own stories, and reconfigures violence not as a tool of patriarchy and oppression, but of liberation and self-determination.
D’Amore provides a refreshing take on violence, agency, and empowerment as well as the feminist lens that does not always serve the audience of young adults who are thirsty for stories of super/heroines. The “vigilante feminist” gives us a novel way of understanding not only trauma and violence, but the girls whose lives are shaped by these stories.
D’Amore skillfully blends interdisciplinary research and close readings to craft a necessary intervention in discussions of feminism, violence, and agency.