Catherine Otero - Teen Aspect - June 6th, 2022
As a female movie-lover and a long-time fan of the Marvel franchise, it is incredibly exciting to see Marvel Studios announce more and more female-led films and TV shows. Marvel fans were recently bestowed with Black Widow, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, etc. – All films with a female protagonist. Moreover, in the latest trailer of the upcoming film Thor: Love and Thunder, we see Jane Foster (Thor’s love interest played by Natalie Portman) make a thrilling change from her reputation as the vulnerable love interest watching Thor fight from the sidelines to actually being a part of the fight. This increase in female representation throughout the Marvel franchise is worthy of recognition – In a time where society is, seemingly, going backward it is refreshing to see studios, like Marvel, push against the current.
However, this does not mean that the Marvel franchise has always been this way.
Marvel Studios has had a long history of sexualization and banking on their infamous “Cinderella Complex” when it comes to their female characters. To emphasize on the “Cinderella Complex” that was mentioned previously, the concept pertains to films that assume that women depend on men in the pursuit of a happy, fulfilling life. In the early stages of the film franchise starting with Marvel’s first film, Iron Man, viewers were given multiple instances in which the “Cinderella Complex” is heavily pushed. Going back to Iron Man, along with the introduction of the first of many superheroes, the film also introduced its fans to Tony Stark’s love interest – Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). Throughout the entirety of Potts’ arc, her identity revolved around her being of service to Tony Stark. In the viewer’s eyes, her role as “secretary” is synonymous with “caretaker.” She is often submissive to Tony's wishes despite his poor treatment of her and by Iron Man 2, she developed an intimate relationship with Tony—the sole reason he promoted her to CEO of Stark Industries. Although making the decision to put Potts in a position of power seems like a step forward for her character, in terms of her being able to make her own decisions with the company, her influence only seemed to lessen as the trilogy progressed. Pepper is constantly turning to Tony for approval. In The Avengers, her name is not listed on any of the company’s leases, but Tony’s name is. In Iron Man 3, she is approached by Aldrich Killian about a project for Stark Industries, but she rejects his proposal because Tony would not approve even though her decisions should not require his consent. So, although viewers are granted scenes of Potts without Tony Stark by her side, her dialogue, evidently, revolves around him. As for the sexualization aspect of the Marvel franchise, a prime example of this would be the character of Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson). Johansson’s character, initially, would be dressed in revealing and tight suits to make up for her lack of powers, as her “powers of seduction” were all her character needed to attain what she wanted from antagonists. However, her character has come a long way from her original purpose solely being limited to “enchantress.” Just recently, a film depicting Black Widow’s childhood and growth as a character to become more independent has given her character far more depth and prominence in the franchise. Johansson, herself, cannot help but think of the drawbacks of how her character was originally painted when reflecting on her time with Marvel: “She’s happy that her superhero alter ego Black Widow is no longer “sexualized” and treated “like a possession” like it used to when she made her first appearance as Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2.”
Going back to the present day, the conversation surrounding the rise of a “She-Hulk” is thrilling for many female superhero fans, however, it can be argued that the concept of a “She-Hulk” is simply an extension of the original Hulk, Bruce Banner. The entire plotline of the new She-Hulk series pertains to Bruce Banner’s female cousin seeking his guidance on how to control her powers. It becomes discouraging when films do not provide original plots for female characters and simply base their arcs around a prominent man in their life. It is evident based on what fans have seen of the show, thus far, that this “She-Hulk” is not capable of controlling her powers on her own without her infamous cousin.
Yet, it is important to acknowledge the great advances that Marvel has made with their influx of female-led films and shows because it allows little girls to grow up in a society where the idea of a woman being a superhero, too, is normalized. The Marvel franchise has had the same growth as our collective society has had, we came from diminishing the role of women to focusing on the important roles women can play in our day-to-day lives whether that be on or off-screen.
1. Xu, H., Zhang, Z., Wu, L., & Wang, C.-J. (2019, November 22). The Cinderella Complex: Word embeddings reveal gender stereotypes in movies and books. PloS one. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6874350/#:~:text=We%20call%20this%20narrative%20structure,synopses%2C%20and%201%2C109%20movie%20scripts.
2. Olufidipe, F., & Echezabal, Y. (2022, June 1). Superheroines and sexism: Female representation in the marvel cinematic universe. Journal of Student Research. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.jsr.org/hs/index.php/path/article/view/1430
3. Olufidipe, F., & Echezabal, Y. (2022, June 1). Superheroines and sexism: Female representation in the marvel cinematic universe. Journal of Student Research. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.jsr.org/hs/index.php/path/article/view/1430
4. Hirwani, P. (2021, June 17). Scarlett Johansson speaks out over 'sexualised' Black widow. The Independent. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/black-widow-sexualised-scarlett-johansson-b1867523.html