My latest feature for We Got This Covered:
How The Marvel Cinematic Universe Erases Women
This feature works through every Marvel Cinematic Universe film released so far – from 2008’s Iron Man to 2015’s Ant Man – and discusses the various ways in which each of them erases women (particularly women of colour), and centres men (usually white ones). The result: the highest grossing film franchise of all time, built on misogyny.
Those that benefit from having men at the centre of all things (hint: it’s not women), tend to spout standard responses such as, “It’s not the right time,” or, “It’s a complicated issue.” On the contrary, it’s really very simple, and all boils down to whether or not players are willing to make room on the field. When a studio and its flagship film franchise operates at the level of Marvel, there are two options available. Either it can prop up the status quo, or it can present a new, more realistically representative way of looking at the world. In other words, it can support white-centric patriarchy, or it can challenge it at every turn. Enjoyable though the films may be, with each one of its MCU releases to date, Marvel has chosen the former option, every time. While the reasons for that are unlikely to be any more complex than the unconscious bias of privileged men, the result remains the same – women are erased.
I agree wholeheartedly with your argument. However, the cause is unlikely to be misogyny of intent. The cultural library they use in their movies are the old standard comic books. They are well-known and sell tickets. The comic books in question were recruitment propaganda, and focused on potential soldiers. (males) What we need are new comic books. (Note to women: write your own stories, if the stories sell well, they will make them into movies. Note to other women: BUY the comic books you want to see on screen. They are interested in MONEY, you have to make feminism worth their while.) Alternately, you could stay home and read books – robbing them of the financial incentive to continue as they are.
I believe in your cause. I’d like to see you actually “get” there,
Thanks, Brian – but we’ll have to respectfully agree to disagree on a number of points there.
Firstly, the feature states several times that the cause is not misogyny of intent, but rather unconscious bias.
Secondly, the comic book source material is not all recruitment propaganda aimed at soldiers. That is the case for Captain America, but characters such as Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, the Hulk and Hawkeye all came along much later, and in response to a wider variety of social and political developments.
Thirdly, as detailed, there are many excellent female characters available in the source material – not least The Wasp, who co-founded The Avengers – but these are routinely erased or altered to centre their male counterparts.
Fourth, the sales of individual comic titles have little to do with their selection for inclusion in the MCU – as any brief perusal of monthly comic book sales rankings will demonstrate. Rather, it would seem to be the end goal of a male-centric Avengers team that dictates which characters are developed into their own franchise, because Avengers comics are always far more successful than the individual titles of team members.
Fifth, there are plenty of female artists and filmmakers trying to make their own stories, but unfortunately, the gatekeepers are overwhelmingly white men – which is why all of the films in the MCU so far have been written by, and directed by, men. There are also lots of brilliant women working in the comic book industry, but it is not the comic book writers that decide which characters are transferred to the big screen. Who decides that? Hollywood producers, such as the architects of the MCU, who are mostly men.
Sixth, I like comic book movies, and I’m a fan of plenty of male comic book characters – therefore, I will buy tickets to see male-led movies that I’m interested in. These things are not mutually exclusive. Spending money watching male-led movies doesn’t de-legitimise the call for greater representation of women onscreen either. It’s a call for equality, not matriarchy.
And a seventh, final point – film releases in recent years have clearly demonstrated that diversity onscreen increases profit, rather than decreases it (see the Fast and Furious franchise, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for example). Likewise, the heightened anticipation for the DC cinematic universe (featuring Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg, as well as female writers and directors) shows the need is there. It is the unconscious bias of white male privilege that continually suggests otherwise.