Letter to the Editor: On Superheroes and Feminism

I'm always intrigued to read the opinion pieces in the Clocktower. I like seeing how others view the world and test my own beliefs to correct or reaffirm what I think about certain things. Sometimes, I agree. Sometimes, I don't. Let me make this immediately clear: women shouldn't be considered inferior, and superhero movies aren't helping a perception of women as minor or inferior. Now that I've clarified that, let me get into the meat of this letter.

In Sara Robert’s article, “Feminism in Marvel,” I found I wasn't sure how she wanted the issue remedied. Sure, having a more inclusive movie experience is a nice goal, but it really doesn't get into the nitty gritty of how to make these classic heroes more inclusive. Superheroes used to be heavily marketed towards the male audience, and it is clear that there is still that lingering influence in today’s movies.

The classic superheroes being revitalized in these new films should be expected to reflect their roots. It’s unreasonable to expect the origin stories of established heroes to be restructured to be more politically correct. Instead, it could be looked at as a bastardization of the original content if Mary Jane was written as a character of equal importance to the namesake of the series. Batman isn't about Robin, it’s about Batman.

I don’t think we’re in the position to complain about 'male dominance' in superhero movies. It’s an unreasonable stretch to expect Marvel or other studios to change existing IPs to fit the current social norm without sacrificing the source material.

Roberts said, "Marvel’s stories often focus on the male characters while the female characters are left in supporting roles," but I'd argue that if the statement were amended to reflect reality it would read more like "Marvel's stories often focus on the [main] characters while the [supporting] characters are left in supporting roles."

I would argue the solution to the apparent lack of female protagonists in superhero franchises is to create new franchises. Jessica Jones, for example, is a stronger female character and, coincidentally, also the main character.

Money speaks to studios better than banal arguments.

Instead of saying we need stronger female roles in existing universes, encourage studios to explore new ideas and to embrace stronger female protagonists.

Finally, to touch on some accusations of the current females in the superhero market. Black Widow's mediation role in Captain America: Civil War is said to "[weaken] her character's impact on the storyline." Ignoring the gaping issue with not being able to rule on her impact to a yet-to-be-released storyline, I'd argue that her character's ability to separate herself from the conflict and try to resolve it peacefully actually adds to her character's strength.

If, like Roberts insists, Black Widow were to take a more aggressive, side-choosing stance in the movie, wouldn't she then be playing into the "impression that for women to make a difference in the world they must become more masculine and violent," the mindset which she says could lead women to feel insecure about their femininity?

Yeah, Black Widow being the bigger 'man' and trying to reconcile both sides would put her as the more mature, more stable character, but that’s exactly my point. She would just be a man.

Sadly, I haven't stayed caught up enough with the Daredevil series to be introduced to Elektra, nor have I watched Jessica Jones. However, from my minimal knowledge and a quick Google search, Jessica Jones' background appears to have more depth than a variety of heroes, male or female.

It seems evident to me the issue isn't with a latent sexism in media or some hidden patriarchal agenda, but instead with an assumption that as ideals progress the media from the last couple decades will still be relevant.

Perhaps it is time to retire Thor and Iron Man and focus on a broader and more diverse set of heroes. As with all other businesses, innovate or die applies to superhero media as well, and Marvel will either produce new and more relevant heroes or face their defeat to another more open-minded studio which will. This isn't an issue of who’s right or wrong, it’s an issue of economics and changing social ideals, and it should be looked at as such.

James Clague