Friday, 31 July 2015

The Marvel Designated Woman or why is there just one girl in many Marvel movies

This was written in 1991:
"Contemporary shows are either essentially all-male, like "Garfield," or are organized on what I call the Smurfette principle: a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female (...). The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys" [You can read the whole article via The New York Times].

I found it this morning, while looking for inspiration on this article, which I decided to write after watching the new Fantastic 4 movie yesterday. I've been playing with the idea since a couple of weeks ago, when I watched Ant Man.

Spoilers for both movies ahead...

So, these two movies are based on Marvel comics (although F4 was made by 20th Century Fox and not Marvel Studios) and have something in common: not just was there only one girl in the starring team, she was basically the only woman doing something in the whole movie. Well, in Ant Man it wasn't as bad: there was a brief appearance by an aging Peggy Carter and a reference to the first Wasp, and Scott's ex-wife and little daughter both had names, but that was as far as their personalities went.
In F4, besides the Invisible Woman, a few nameless moms and a couple of background staff members typing stuff were it. And Sue Storm (a.k.a. Invisible Woman) didn't really have any defining traits beyond being a daughter of professor Franklin, a sister of the Human Torch, an inferred ex-girlfriend of the villain and a potential love interest for the smartest guy (Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic). Ah, she liked music and she was "able to see patterns". 

She didn't even get invited to drink with the guys when the machine she helped create during years finally worked, nor was she in the group when they drunkenly decided to send themselves to the other dimension (the fact that Mr. Fantastic's childhood friend was there and she wasn't just makes this worse). But when things went wrong, she was there, supporting the guys and trying to bring them back home.
She was already the Invisible Woman before the accident gave her the power.

But Sue is not the only one with the super power of pattern noticing, and this made me think about a character type that I'll call the Marvel Designated Woman.

The good news is that she's strong, smart and brave, the not-so-good-news is that she still fits perfectly with the quoted article at the top of this post.
I am referring to the movies, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the norm as well in the comics.
So, here are a few of the most popular Marvel Designated Women...

Pepper Potts: One of her most memorable lines says it all: "I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash." She's the CEO of Stark Industries, although she used to be his Personal Assistant and before that, an accountant at his company. She eventually develops feelings for Tony Stark, but their relationship is complicated (he doesn't put much time or effort into the relationship and still treats her like his PA most of the time... and he takes great pride on being a Playboy).

Peggy Carter: She's an extremely talented agent and part of elite scientific projects. She helped train Steve Rogers who then became Captain America. She eventually develops feelings for Rogers but their relationship is complicated (he was unfrozen after decades and she had moved on with her life and aged).

Black Widow: Named Natasha Romanoff, but renamed after the spider known for eating their males, she's a KGB trained martial artist/spy/killer that now fights with The Avengers. On one ocassion she reveals that she's sterile and calls herself a monster right after that. She eventually develops feelings for The Hulk, but their relationship is complicated (he doesn't seem very interested in happiness).

Gamora: After serving her adoptive father Thanos (who happened to kill her entire race and modified her to make her the ultimate weapon, so it made sense when she betrayed him), the "deadliest woman of the Galaxy", as she called herself, met Star-Lord while searching for the Orb. They antagonized in the begining, but eventually she accepts his leadership and shows potential for romance (she rebuffs his moves, but it's implied that she kind of likes him by the end).

Hope van Dyne: This super smart, martial artist and scientist is the daughter of Hank Pym (the creator of the Ant Man suit), the girlfriend of Darren Cross (Pym's protege gone bad) and the mentor of Scott, the charismatic but unqualified guy that got to wear the Ant Man suit and save the day instead of her (because daddy didn't want to risk her in combat, but some how it was ok with her sleeping with the sociopath bad guy all along). She went from resenting and disliking Scott, to eventually developing feelings for him and they kiss at the end. In the after credits she finally receives a Wasp Suit and she says "It's about damn time", but it was actually a little late.

So, if you are up for the job as a Marvel Designated Woman, here's what you'll need:
  • Be extremely good looking (to be fair, this is also expected in most of the guys, but I'd bet that if Groot or Rocket Racoon had female equivalents, they'd find a way to make them "sexy").
  • Be extremely smart.
  • Be an awesome figther, but have no actual super power.
  • Develop romantic feelings for one of the main guys.
  • Support the main guy/s at saving the day (but let him/them have the spotlight).
  • Be ok with having your action figure sold separately.
Yes, there are exceptions (like the X-Men with a more balanced team of heroes), and yes, they are all cool, strong characters, but still, all the guys have fun while the Marvel Designated Women drive them to save the universe.
And let's finish with music!

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