Feminism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
It has come to my attention that The MCU has done something that many Superhero movies do not do, and that is having the strong female characters. When we see a female character portrayed in a Comic Book movie, or in fact most films, they are over-sexualized. The camera pans over their bodies showing us there full form. These shots have no real meaning to the movie. This is called the male gaze. While the argument can be made that since Disney produces these films that they cannot focus in on this, let us remember that Disney has in past franchises over-sexualized female characters, such as the Little Mermaid, and Deja Thoris from John Carter. We can analyze each other MCU films and compare them to other superhero films. We will Start with Iron Man.
I take a deeper look into the way women are portrayed in both MCU and in other superhero films. The MCU has done something that many Superhero movies do not do, and that is having the strong female characters.
Iron Man:Pepper Potts
Now, even though Tony Stark has the tendency to sleep around with multiple women, the main female lead is Pepper Potts. She is Tony’s Assistant. Though she is somewhat subservient to him, she still is not afraid to talk back to him, resists his charm even though she likes him. She waits until she is ready, and makes him work for her, instead of putting out like all other women do for Tony. Not only this, but she does not become a love interest by the end of the movie, it is only hinted at. Not only that, but she plays an active role in the film. She collects data from Obidiah’s Laptop, and then at the end, SHE is the one to defeat the villain.
The Incredible Hulk: Betty Ross
Now, while Betty Ross on the surface may seem like a typical love interest, she is very independent. She decides she is going to run away from her militaristic father, because he is trying to Capture/Kill her former boyfriend Bruce. She is a little weaker than most, but she clearly breaks away from her father making her stronger than some, albeit still a weak link.
Iron Man 2:Black Widow
Once Again, Pepper Potts is back, and not only is she still not a whole love interest until the end of the film, she has also been made the CEO of Stark Industries; A very powerful position for a woman in today’s time. Considering when we think CEO we tend to think male.
Some will disagree, but I think that Black Widow in this film is very strong in this movie. She kicks ass and takes names. There is also a scene where she is changing clothes in the car and demands Happy Hogan not look at her, and we only get a small shot of her “Changing” in the rearview mirror of the car. However, she suffers “Hollywood Action star” Syndrome. Where female characters are purposefully made strong, and the make characters surrounding them are made to look weak, so that the can look stronger. Such as the scene where she takes out 14 guys and Happy only takes out one. Though this works well in a comedic aspect, it still makes it seemed like they weakened a male character to make a female character look stronger. What was also surprising is that there was never a “Love Triangle” between Widow Stark and Potts. This movie had every chance in the world to do that, but it didn’t.
Thor seems to be one of the most despised of the MCU films. May people place that on the fact that they stayed on earth too long. This is strange because the movie is pretty evenly split between Earth and Asgard. But I have another theory as to why many MEN don’t like Thor. This is because Thor is probably the MOST feminist superhero flick, out there. Let’s review the female characters. Jane is an Astrophysicist, a job normally associated with males. All of her motivations are for herself, and NOT for the hero. She does not lose her interest in the astrophysics when Thor shows up, she becomes even more curious. While the love interest bit was rushed at the end, all together she was a solid female character.
Thor: Darcy Lewis
Possibly the most hated of any Superhero movie ever, maybe of any movie ever. Mentioning her name is like mentioning Jar Jar Binks to Star Wars nerds. Fans will become enraged and try to kill you. However people need to calm down. She is actually a very human character, and while YOU may not be able to relate to her, she does reflect some of what we see in our society today. She is very strong, she TASERS Thor at the beginning and is even prepared to do it again when he escapes the hospital. She knows this man could be dangerous he escaped the hospital and is clearly super strong, but she is still not scared to take him down. And under her bubbly ditzy façade she is actually very bright, especially when she says that a primitive culture like the Vikings may have worshipped them as Gods.
This is the big one. She was one of the FIRST female heroes in film NOT to be oversexualized nor need help from the male character. Sif takes responsibility of her own achievements and does not allow Thor to take credit for them. She defied the Asgardian culture by becoming a warrior instead of a being a stay at home mother. She also plans on dying in battle with the Destroyer in order to save the Earth. Another achievement is her costume. While other Superhero flicks tend to give the female her a very revealing outfit, Sif is given a practical outfit that shows no cleavage, buttocks or stomach. It protects the body and does not “Show off” anything it doesn’t need to.
The film Thor also passes the feminist Bechdel Test. What is that you ask? Well it is a list of three things that are rarely found in movies, or even superhero movies.
1. has to have at least two named women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
Captain America: The First Avenger: Peggy Carter
Do I need to say more? Though her transition to love interest only occurred after Steve’s transformation, you can tell she has a small crush on the man beforehand. It was also Steve’s boosted confidence that helped her fall for him. She is strong, she doesn’t take shit from the male soldiers and she is out there FIGHTING with the hero. This is extremely rare for the love interest to do in a film.
Last but not least we have....
The Avengers: Black Widow
Who is Much stronger than she is in Iron Man, and is still strong even when compared to her super powered counterparts. She is also well developed, she has human emotions, she gets traumatized, she can be manipulative, especially towards Loki, and the Russian Mob members early on in the film. She takes advantage of the fact that she can “look” like a helpless woman at times and turns that on her enemies. Also, she is not the part of a love triangle in this movie. None of the heroes fight over who should get to bang her, and she is not “In love” with any of the male characters. She has a sisterly affection for Hawkeye but that’s it.
She is motivated and gets things done on her own. She also questions Fury’s motives every chance she gets. Even in the alternate opening it shows how she is skeptical of Fury’s actions. Though she is still under him she is not above beating him down on certain things, like the cards which were originally in Coulson’s Locker, but he made it seems like they were in his jacket pocket.
And Pepper, though the love interest in this was never once a damsel in distress, she was still calling Tony out on his bullshit, and was genuinely concerned about him during the battle of New York.
Now let us compare this to previous female depictions of women in Superhero films.
Elektra, from Daredevil
Her only purpose was to fall in love with Daredevil and then die at the end, yes she kicked some ass, but overall she was underdeveloped. This goes for Her solo movie as well, she was bland and over sexualized just so males could get off on her flick.
Dear God don’t get me started. Her outfit screams impractical, and was touted as being sexually liberating, but when it comes down to it, if you are fighting people, you need something better than just this. It is horrid. Also, very typical female plot line, and of course she can’t go toe to toe with a man, her villain has to be female.
Mary Jane from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man
Oh my god she is the most clichéd female character EVER. Her only purpose is to get kidnapped by the villain. That’s all that happens to her in every film, she is also categorized into “bitch” status in the third film, because instead of just straight up telling Peter anything or why she is upset she holds out as long as possible and then gets upset at him for not understanding what she is going through.
A character trapped in the Love triangle that likes to permeate these types of films.
Essentially eye candy for the male audience, a completely nude blue female that will give a boner to every male nerd out there. The Male gaze is strong with this one.
In conclusion, The MCU is pioneering the Strong Female protagonist in Superhero films, and each movie improves on what the previous one did. Hopefully this will lead to solo female hero films that are actually GOOD!
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