Feminism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Feminism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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.

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.


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:Jane Foster
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.




Thor: Sif
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.
and


Maria Hill
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.


Catwoman
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.


Jean Grey
A character trapped in the Love triangle that likes to permeate these types of films.


Mystique
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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37 Comments
GoILL - 8/22/2012, 9:07 AM
@yoss that burger looks delicious.
DCjohnny - 8/22/2012, 9:09 AM
catwoman is from DC comic
GoILL - 8/22/2012, 9:26 AM
All of these damn food pics are making me hungry.
Ghostfire - 8/22/2012, 10:31 AM
@Speed
My two favorites Black Widow and Peggy. I liked Sif as well, but she had very little screen time. Hopefully she'll get more time in Thor 2.

Back on topic, BW showed that super-heroines can be sexy and kick ass, without being oversexualized. Peggy showed that women don't have to be portrayed as the damsels in distress where the whole movie the hero is trying to rescue her.

Which one of the reason's why I can't stand MJ. She was the most annoying thing in the spidey movies, which is why I loved the fact that Emma Stone didn't act that way in the reboot. In my opinion, when we get characters such as Kirsten Dunst's it brings down the movie experience and just makes it very cliche.
Bane2099 - 8/22/2012, 12:07 PM
Thats wat I like about Marvel Studios , thus far they have the females in the films able to hold their own, even fight back and highly intellegent...Theyre not ur typical "helpless, airheaded damsel in distress, i need to the hero to come save me and protect me cuz i cant do it myself ". they are scientists, warriors, soldiers and highly intellegent assitants/CEO of multi billion dollar companies that even able to keep the most eccentric rich man in check :]
xRelentlessx - 8/22/2012, 12:57 PM
We've come a long way and it shows. Black Widow is the most well developed female character in the MCU and Selina Kyle in TDKR is the best written female character in DC Comics films imo. I don't know if "strong" is the right word though. Women can be strong without having to be superheroes. Well developed or three dimensional are better ways to describe them, but that's beside the point. Good analysis! :D
Oh, and as for Mary Jane, aside from the screaming and saving, she was three dimensional but not really a positive representation of women. Not saying everyone needs to be a role model, but I don't remember MJ being quite so needy in the comics....Gwen in TASM was a much better love interest.
HelaGood - 8/22/2012, 1:34 PM
i agree with everyone else... the article is good, but the inclusion of Catwoman in a MCU article doesn't make sense.

im wondering if thats why Ghost Rider films never work... no strong female character...
silverdog - 8/22/2012, 1:39 PM
The new gwen stacey did more in one movie than mary jane in three...
ManThing - 8/22/2012, 2:17 PM
It's not enough for me, babyyyy!

I totally want a Ms. Marvel movie! Or She-Hulk!

Sif was amazing, but her role was WAY too small. After Thor, she and Balder are like the greatest warriors in the land. They need to let her shine some.

And IMO opinion they should explore Thor and Sif's relationship some. After all, in Norse mythology, Sif is Thor's WIFE.

To hell with Jane Foster. Thor needs him a warrior woman!
MJPETTY7 - 8/22/2012, 2:26 PM
Electra was a great representation of her comics counterpart, especially in her solo movie, which I loved!

Also, Mystique wasn't just eye candy... Did you even see X-Men: First Class?
NorrinRaddical - 8/22/2012, 2:37 PM
great article topic, and great debate throughout.

while as a male i often roll my eyes way back at the way women are portrayed in comics, i'm not quite sure why you seem so terrified of sex or sexualization. I think almost all the feminists I know now aren't so at odds with their human nature (that includes sex), but are certainly aware of how they are portrayed, perceived, and currently legislated about.

Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, and Avenger's Black Widow are great examples. I'm also hoping Sif gets her big opportunities to shine, and I'm also one of the few people who are in the pro-Darcy/Dennings camp.

i have to say i try not to whince at Foster/Portman, but i find that actress brutally annoying on screen, and just tacking on bullet points like "oh, scientist" doesn't make up for a lack of strength or character on part of the writers.

MJ/Dunst doesn't bother me either; if anything, i give Raimi a lot of credit for humanizing Ditko's sex b-b-b-omb

by far the most EMBARRASSING one would have to be Lois Lane in Superman Returns. absolutely insulting.
NorrinRaddical - 8/22/2012, 2:39 PM
Elektra wasn't a stretch from the comics

and disagree about Mystique!

1) she's great symbolism, and used in every X-film to that point effectively
2) honestly, is ANYONE getting a "boner" over the spiny cuttlefish makeup? eye candy? male gaze? come on
TheSisko - 8/22/2012, 3:05 PM
what about Rogue or Kitty or Storm? Putting Halle Berry's diva tendencies aside I thought Storm was very much a feminist icon. Rogue had some feminist tendencies and her love interest stuff is kinda unavoidable with her character. Kitty I will admit was a weak character.

I think people are too hard on Mary Jane. She was not at the top of her class like Gwen, and came from an abusive and broken home. I think there is something feminist about her in her independence and how driven she is to be on Broadway and be successful. It is not her fault she was a damsel in distress. and her 'bitch' status in the third movie makes sense given how she never really was 100% behind Peter being spider-man, not in the movies and especially not in the comics.

I also like Elektra from the standpoint that she was someone on the level of Daredevil and without having to sacrifice the writing of the male leads to 'prove it'.

@juggernaut the Norse were polygamist so Sif probably does not mind Jane/Thor. However I personally would like to see her have her own solo film or become a space adventurer like in the comics.
Durf - 8/22/2012, 3:12 PM
I like it. nice work bro
Optimus83 - 8/22/2012, 4:01 PM
¡¡¡Good!!!. ...¡¡¡MAMASITAS RICAS!!!
lokibane2012 - 8/22/2012, 4:08 PM
People didn't hate Thor because it was feminist, they hated it because the Earth parts were lame. And I don't see all that many people that hate Jane. It's more that S.H.I.E.L.D. ate up too much screentime that could've gone to developing Thor and Jane's relationship, and properly showing why Thor became humble and nicer. And of course, Darcy.
jaycr - 8/22/2012, 4:09 PM
I disagree with the article, women in the MCU are accessories to the male protagonist. All of your examples are the main hero's girlfriend except for Black Widow who is just eye candy, c'mon, she has 2 action scenes in the movie and in one of them she had to run for her life from Hulk (rape attempt Mr Banner?). Maria Hill is also eye candy... just looking cute and serious next to Nick Jackson (I mean Fury). MJ was a disaster in Raimi's films, Electra was awful, Betty was Arwen wearing modern clothes (same face and expressions). So far the best women from the MCU are the ones in Xmen First Class, specially Jennifer Lawrence as a young Mystique
Mugwamp - 8/22/2012, 4:13 PM
I love the strong, female characters. But when did it become wrong to like scantily clad females too? I know that in modern society we're not supposed to like women, especially sexy ones but sheesh man, we're only human!
Harris1 - 8/22/2012, 5:41 PM
Disney wasn't on board for any of these films. They didn't have much input
mgeoff88 - 8/22/2012, 6:27 PM
Great article. It's refreshing to see with superhero movies, that female characters are going beyond being typical eye candy.

That's another reason The Avengers is a landmark film. Black Widow and Maria Hill were well done female characters. Which doesn't surprise me because Joss Whedon is fantastic at writing female characters.

They were smart, strong, and kicked ass right alongside the guys. That's what I want to see more of. I thought Pepper Potts was written well too, but her role was much smaller in The Avengers compared to the other female characters. And of course, some great solo female superhero films!
CoolantTech - 8/22/2012, 6:28 PM
I thoroughly diagreed with you on Ironman 2's Black Widow performance, she was a cookie cutter cardboard cut out of a one dimensional stick figure in that movie, and she was there ONLY for eye candy.

Thank God Joss gave her more layers in Avengers
Simonsonrules - 8/22/2012, 8:18 PM
"It has come to my attention..."

A rather self important way to begin an editorial or thought piece.

What other great revelations would you like to share with us, son?

Simonsonrules - 8/22/2012, 8:22 PM
Dude, is this your essay for your Comp. Lit. class? Were it not for your enthusiastic discovery of feminism and visual culture, I would fail you utterly. Did you really enjoy Laura Mulvey that much that you HAD to post this?
DanMcNice - 8/22/2012, 9:58 PM
More female characters that should be added to the MCU:

Ms. Marvel.
Spider woman.
Wasp.
Jessica Jones.
Sharon Carter (hopefully very soon).
She-hulk.

And from the dark side:

Enchantress.
Sin.
Madame Hydra.
Madame Masque.
Ichaos - 8/22/2012, 10:48 PM
Gwen seem forced. I mean really an intern from a highschool having run of the lab when the character never had any scientific background to begin with?
Ichaos - 8/22/2012, 11:29 PM
Dont forget about the original feminist character Wonder Woman. A half naked woman who ties up the bad men to force them to tell the truth
Equivocal - 8/22/2012, 11:31 PM
catwoman was OVERSEXUALIZED in EVERY scene !!!!!!!!!!!!


Ichaos - 8/22/2012, 11:31 PM
Black Widow in Ironman 2 was just good stunt work. She was kinda an undeveloped character. they added more depth to her in Avengers.
Ichaos - 8/22/2012, 11:32 PM
@Equivocal Thats true to her character. She uses sex(uality) as a weapon
MaskedMambaTrey5 - 8/23/2012, 12:40 AM
Where the heck is the leading lady of The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy? Mary Jane is on the list but not Gwen Stacy?
DipperF - 8/23/2012, 1:52 AM
Mystique is a strong character. She doesn't blindly place herself under Magneto because of some romantic infatuation, she believes in his cause. She is depicted as being able to defeat multiple male attackers and never does it even seem like they're being underplayed in order to advance her. She's useful throughout the x-men films. Spying on and kidnapping Senator Kelly in x1 (albeit alongside toad.) Spying on the president and Stryker's conversation and gathering intel from stryker's computer, then gaining access to the control panels of the weapon x facility in x2. She's also depicted as being a fair match for wolverine, Sure she looses, but what do you expect, she's the villain. Her submission to wolverine stems not from some disillusionment about her being automatically dependent on a superior male, but she's depicted as a person who's very well given into her base animalistic instincts, seeing herself as post human and thus feels no barrier to acting upon her sexual attraction towards a suitable member of her race. In X-MEN first class, She is young and still rather immature, but she has her own ideals even calling Xavier out on his bullshit when it conflicts with her worldview. She puts out to magneto sometime during the film, but again, this is a young girl who's very conflicted and seems to have lost very much of her self worth throughout the years who is yearning for affirmation of her beauty, of her self. The Kiss between them is rather simple, almost of a Platonic nature. Uncustomary in most western civilization, but like the "lesbian" kiss scene in hanna it's simply an expression of sympathy, of friendship, and a proclamation of Magneto's appreciation for her. There's no indication of him coercing her into sex and based on the continuity of both the films (I Presume) and the comics, there's never a time they pursue a relationship with each other. Her nudity, while it may be gratifying to most heterosexual male viewers, still works as an extension of the character established. Bryan Singer is a gay man anyways, I really doubt he'd have inserted a /female/ character on the sole basis of "That'll be hot." He's not michael bay after all.
pepe - 8/23/2012, 2:32 AM
The women in CBM´s like... damn I suddenly got hungry for bacon!!!
DanteSparda - 8/23/2012, 9:31 AM
Catwoman is from DC not Marvel, this article was so-so, you should have also included Mystic and Moira MacTaggert from X-Men: First Class and Gwen Stacy from The Amazing Spider-man, those 3 characters have some of the best female roles of any super hero movie and would have helped you further establish your point, also double read your articles before posting them.
jessepostal - 8/23/2012, 9:35 AM
A lot of these women are main characters for ticket sales, think about it, most of these movies are marketed and made for men/boys, women in the general audience don't care for these movies. But throw an empowering woman in the big picture you have an instant fan. Women love watching other women stand up to anything, or have there own opinion, this is a reason why opera made it as big as she did. Throw the power of your average woman doing something every woman wants to do in a movie and you've got female ticket sales, females are the majority in the sexes, guys go anywhere women go, this is how the world goes around.
xstryker - 8/23/2012, 12:07 PM
I have to hand it to DC... for Helen Mirren in RED! She kicked major friggen ass!
xstryker - 8/23/2012, 12:19 PM
Women in the general audience didn't care for The Avengers? Are you for real? 40% of the audience was female. Most of the women I know saw it & loved it (caveat, I live in a blue state, maybe Texas women are different, I wouldn't know). Women spent about $600 million on this movie, and you can't get an A+ cinemascore if 40% of the audience didn't like it.
jessepostal - 8/23/2012, 12:49 PM
I think you read what i said wrong,i didn't say the avengers, i said for these types of movies, cbms,action,science fiction.The avengers is its own monster. These types of movies are getting girls at a younger age interested,but look how long it took. Women in the general audience, would take a love story over a superhero flick any day of the week

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