WorkSafe ACT has released a superhero video and comic strip as part of a campaign to teach young people about safety, but its use of gendered stereotypes is questionable.
The Hazardman campaign includes a video, four comic strips, fact sheets, posters and a competition.
The story is largely based on the superhero Hazardman and includes other characters: Manuelle Mayhem, Safety Women, Betty Brown, The Toppler and Dr Complacency.
WorkSafe says the campaign’s initial target is school students, and construction, retail and hospitality workers.
ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe described Hazardman as a lighthearted and engaging way to get young people talking about workplace safety.
However, the video and comic strips make use of gendered stereotypes to tell the story. So what else are they teaching/reinforcing apart from safety?
In the video, for example, the female villain Manuelle Mayhem is depicted using the temptress stereotype. She taunts a male worker who is about to lift a heavy object, saying, “Are you man enough to lift it?”.
Also, in the list of characters Mayhem’s weakness is described “as anyone who can think or reason for themselves”, raising questions about her intelligence.
The female superhero, Safety Woman, doesn’t appear in the video, but she is in the comic strip. However, she is depicted as a sidekick. Although she is described in the list of characters as a smart, bold expert, who is never far when danger is near, she only saves the day in one of the four online comics when Hazardman knows he can’t get there on time.
Her presumed alter ego, Betty Brown, while described in the list of characters as a talented head chef at a classy restaurant, is cast as appearing clumsy and accident prone to hide her true identity, and a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by Hazardman. He saves the day by swooping in and scooping her up in his arms, and she responds by saying, “Thanks Hazardman. You’re my hero”.
McCabe dismissed assertions that the stereotyping in the comics and video depicted women in subordinate and negative lights, saying the female characters had been misinterpreted.
Manuelle Mayhem was not depicted as unintelligent, he said.
Safety Woman was not Hazardman’s sidekick, but his “equally competent ally and a superhero in her own right, with her own history, adventures etc.,” he said. Her story would be told in the near future.
He said Betty Brown is made to appear clumsy and accident prone to cover up her true identify just like Clark Kent in Superman. “Being a head chef is very tough job in an industry generally dominated by men,” he added.
McCabe said the goal was to create engaging characters. “The overall goal is not to create a character or characters [that] are so bland that the target audience does not engage with them.”
He conceded there was “a bit of gender stereotyping in the comics”; however, he didn’t believe it was a “prominent characteristic”.
“Many hero-type characters do display a bit of gender stereotyping in some way—even if only in that they are usually presented as males with impossible physiques.”
He said the audience would understand “that the world of super heroes is not portrayed as the real world—it is a fantasy creation.”
If that’s the case, will the audience distinguish safety from the fantasy?
He also rejected assertions that WorkSafe ACT had responsibility to help promote gender equality. “Our job is not to promote gender equality; our job is to promote safety at work.”
A Safe Work Australia spokesperson said it supported the Hazardman project as part of Safe Work Australia Month as well as other activities to raise awareness about work health and safety within a variety of demographics and industries.
But at this stage Safe Work Australia does not intend to roll out the Hazardman project nationally.
For more details, visit the Hazardman website.