The women portrayed in Marvel’s movie narratives are stereotypes idealizing the hegemony—continuing dominance of one group over another—of male supremacy. Marvel’s narratives subjectify women, making them inferior to men.
Stereotypically, superheroes are men, with few instances of extraordinary women existing in the superhero universe. Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Wolverine, Deadpool and Daredevil are all strong, dynamic and well-known male characters. In contrast, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and perhaps Storm may be some of the most well-known female superheroes.
This trend is related to the fact that comic books started becoming popular in a time period when women stayed in the home while males were the breadwinners.
In recent years, more and more women are watching superhero movies on a regular basis. Something once devoted to a male audience has changed to accommodate a female audience as well. But has the trend of male dominance really changed in Marvel’s superhero narratives?
Many women in Marvel are simply damsels in distress. Few female characters are able to handle things on their own. Betty Ross from “The Incredible Hulk,” Mary Jane Watson from the Spider-Man franchise and Jane Foster from “Thor” depend on their superhero boyfriends for protection. These women are placed in supporting roles, a common trend in the superhero universe.
For instance, Gamora is the sole female protagonist from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” She is often overlooked because she us overshadowed by four male leads. Hope Van Dyne is another example of this female oppression. She is the spotlighted female in “Ant-Man,” her role minimized in the face of Scott Lang and Hank Pym’s parts.
Marvel’s stories often focus on the male characters while the female characters are left in supporting roles.
Nevertheless, some of Marvel’s leading ladies are quite capable and ruthless. Black Widow will do her job by any means, no matter how drastic. She lacks empathy and compassion for her targets. Yet, despite the fact she is an amazingly strong female character, she has not been fully realized. Her role in the movies is to add sexual tension between the leading males. Based on the trailers for the upcoming film “Captain America: Civil War,” Black Widow does not choose a side. Instead of taking a stand for what she believes, she becomes a mediator and weakens her character’s impact on the storyline.
Another example of a strong female character whose potential isn’t fully realized is Elektra, a former love interest of Matt Murdock’s from “Daredevil.” In the new Netflix adaptation of the story, she plays the role of a dark temptress, attempting to lead Murdock into violence.
She is a strong character, but is used simply to add to a new facet to the story rather than having her own potential realized.
Marvel’s latest work involves creating stronger female characters to keep up with a changing audience. Jessica Jones is an independent female character and the star of her own Netflix series “Jessica Jones.” Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spider-Man” is more capable than previous love interests. However, these female characters are darker and typically unforgiving, sometimes even ruthless.
This can give the impression that for women to make a difference in the world they must become more masculine, and violent in their mentality. This could lead to women feeling insecure about their femininity.
In 2019, a new strong female lead will enter Marvel’s cinematic world in her own film “Captain Marvel.” This movie has the potential to break the female stereotypes Marvel has created with its previous movies.
When these leading ladies are not the main feature, they are often minimized and sexualized to create further dynamics for the leading men. The questions remaining is, will Marvel ever have true leading females, and will its newest contributions be enough to combat the negative stereotypes present in Marvel movies and appeal to their changing audience?
Sara Roberts is a junior Business Administration and English major.