The battle of the sexes took on epic, even cosmic proportions in Superman comics, with his love interest Lois Lane regularly threatening to uncover the precious secret of his Clark Kent identity.
Even more unsettling to adolescent boys was the recurring suggestion that Lois might become more powerful than Superman. In the 20th century, being physically defeated by a girl was said to be a terrible fate, you know.
In fact, that was the point of the Otto Binder-Kurt Schaffenberger story in the first issue of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (March-April 1958). On the Curt Swan cover, Lois, flying on her broomstick with the powers of a witch, gloats to the Man of Tomorrow about her superhuman abilities.
Actually, Superman was paternalistically protecting Lois, who had been exposed to a defective youth formula that causes her to age into a crone at night. Warned by a scientist that the shock of the truth might kill her, Superman concocts a series of elaborate super-hoaxes to keep Lois distracted by making her think she’s acquired supernatural abilities. I guess it made sense to Superman, and anyway it worked.
Superman stories are often thematically concerned with strength and weakness. And as masculinity has been routinely identified with power in American culture, and femininity with weakness, it isn’t surprising that these kinds of plots would appear again and again.
Also, the idea of being somehow threatened by someone you love has an underlying psychological power that’s reflected in the image of the “femme fatale” from detective stories. After all, the people whom we love are the people for whom we are truly vulnerable. To love, as someone wise once said, is to give hostages to fortune.
General Zod’s remarks to Ursa in Superman II were telling:
General Zod: This “super-man” is nothing of the kind; I’ve discovered his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for these Earth creatures.
Ursa: Like pets?
General Zod: I suppose so.
Ursa: Sentimental idiot!