The Marvel Cinematic Universe vs. the Female Character

tumblr_mqv1lnkgBR1qzvka7o1_500tumblr_mqv1lnkgBR1qzvka7o2_500Marvel: what are you doing? What, what, what are you doing?

I usually don’t pay attention to movie posters, but when these two posters kept popping up on my Tumblr dash I decided that I needed to address the issues I saw here. The blatant and utter sexism of these posters just makes me what to throw things and scream.

So why are these posters so sexist and insulting to me? I mean there are women right up front for the world to see, right? The problem here is how the women are portrayed and positioned in these posters. The woman desperately clinging to the male hero is classic sexist positioning for movie posters and it reduces women down to an object for men. What these posters are doing is exemplifying a male power fantasy where men are always the hero and women are the frail, wilting flowers that the men need to rescue. These posters aren’t just trying to get you to see a movie; they’re also saying something about how we view gender dynamics. It’s not just that Thor and Iron Man are strong manly men that women desire. The strong active male hero and the weak passive female character are held up here as an ideal. The autonomy of the female characters is also completely taken away. Jane Foster and Pepper Potts are shown not to be equals with their perspective male partners but rather are accessories for them, something to be draped over the male hero to show how powerful they are.

Let’s be honest: Marvel, in their movies at least, hasn’t been all that progressive with their female representation. Oh yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had its moments. Certainly Black Widow in The Avengers is a beautiful and awesome representation of a female superhero, but she is still hyper-sexualized in Iron Man 2, and any chance of a movie for this fan-favorite female character seems to be gone by this point. Pepper Potts is certainly well developed, and the Lady Sif is awesome despite having much less of a role than I would have liked her to have in the Thor movie. Peggy Carter is an excellent female character that we will likely never see again except in a few flashbacks.

But with the exception of Sif and Black Widow, all those characters are girlfriends to our superheroes. Being or having a love interest isn’t necessarily a problem, but it usually means that our female characters are relegated to the background or are treated as a plot device for our male heroes’ manpain. So, really, should I be surprised that the recent Marvel movie posters feature female characters desperately clinging to their sole reason for existing?

We can barely get female characters in these movies as girlfriends, and hell, even when they are romantically connected to a male hero, if they are anything other than the damseled girlfriend, they aren’t included. Marvel’s most recent offender in this case is the Ant-Man movie, set to release in 2015. The synopsis claims that the movie will focus on Hank Pym, who was one of the original Avengers. But—wait—he wasn’t alone. Hank’s wife, Janet van Dyne, aka The Wasp, was always with Hank Pym, and another of the founding members of the Avengers. Here is a female character who is not just “a girlfriend” but a wife, and she is also a superhero who is just as significant and capable as her husband. Yet not only is Wasp not included as a title character, but there is no evidence she will get her own movie or even be included in this one.

Between these movie posters, the refusal to incorporate the Wasp into the MCU, and the lack of a Black Widow movie, the message from Marvel seems to be clear: Women, even well-developed ones, are welcome in the MCU, but only as secondary characters to our male superheroes.

8 thoughts on “The Marvel Cinematic Universe vs. the Female Character

  1. I’m not sure why everyone argues that Black Widow was a strong character in Avengers. I mean, she had moments, but she was also wearing black leather, was really strongly motivated by an almost romantic or even straight out romantic interest in Hawkeye, and …did she even pass the Bechdel test?

  2. Black Widow was not even a SUPER hero. She had no unnatural powers. Besides martial arts, all she did was hide behind overturned cars shooting her pea-shooter of a gun while the macho men did all the havoc with their bare hands, magic hammers, etc.

    I love this article. In a society that bashes Barbie, pink princesses, and Lego Friends for simply EXISTING, very few stop to ask themselves: “are masculine superheros really healthy to watch and admire?” It’s the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about. Please write more articles like this one.

    • You must have missed the part when the Cap catapults her (on her behest) on a flying whatever, which she then uses to reach the portal in order to figure out how to close it…which she eventually does. Along with Iron Man, she is the most important fighter in the movie. The others just smash stuff. They are the ones who get it done and do the actual defeating.

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  4. [“Black Widow was not even a SUPER hero. She had no unnatural powers. Besides martial arts, all she did was hide behind overturned cars shooting her pea-shooter of a gun while the macho men did all the havoc with their bare hands, magic hammers, etc.”]

    Are you fucking kidding me? And I’m a woman.

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