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To Marvel, with Love: An Open Letter About your Super-Powered Women

Written by Ariana Zink

Dear Kevin Feige, Stan Lee, Or Anyone Really of Whom It May Concern,

Typically the intro of a letter is reserved for some major ass kissing; just showering you in compliment after compliment before I ultimately tell you what you’re doing wrong with your life. I also haven’t written a letter since my first grade pen pal. It’s truly a dying art. Admittedly, Marvel Studios is sitting pretty. There are so many film projects lined up, they’re coming out in phases. You are not the moon Marvel, but that’s an entirely different issue. You have a devoted fan-base that could/would start a brawl over a less than two-minute sneak peak at the end of said film projects. You have a monopoly on witty one-liners. And it is all because behind the studio is its inspiration and source of power: an army of robust and dynamic superheroes at its disposal.

Oh sorry, I meant to say male superheroes. I need to proofread more carefully.

This is not groundbreaking news. Everyone and their mother knows Marvel has a problem with portraying women in their films. Stan Lee, you and Jack Kirby didn’t draw your heroines with exaggerated hips and embellished busts just to look at them… Well, they certainly kicked ass too. Where are these crime fighters or crime instigators lurking? At base camp, patiently awaiting marching orders from the MCU? Or are they all trapped in Ultron’s coat closet?

With the latest Marvel installment Captain America: Civil War dropped on our doorstep, the gender divide at Marvel is more obvious than ever. Take, for instance, the death of Peggy Carter, Captain America’s longtime love. She had an entire television show devoted to her kicking 1940’s ass in Agent Carter. And how does her story end? By having her die off screen while simultaneously killing her show, saving Marvel millions of dollars in finding another rock to kill two pesky birds. You didn’t even have the courtesy to let her die on her own show. Peggy Carter, this powerful female figure, is reduced in Civil War to be nothing more than a small roadblock for Cap, our big, strong hero. Let’s also not forget how long lost niece Sharon Carter is shoehorned into the film, existing for the sole purpose of confusing Cap’s romantic entanglements. Way to keep it in the family, Cap.

Woman are frequently forced to play the love-interest in a Marvel franchise film. I’m not talking Pepper Potts or Natalie Portman. Tony Stark isn’t defined by his romantic relationship with Pepper. Super-powered heroines such as Scarlet Witch and Black Widow are characterized by their romantic subplots rather than, oh, I don’t know, their efforts to save to world. Scarlet Witch spends her days in Civil War flirting with Vision, who is somehow charmed by her terrible Russian accent. Need I not remind anyone of the hot mess that was the Black Widow/Hulk love connection of Avengers: Age of Ultron. One of my hopes for a future Marvel scene would be when Black Widow and Hulk are reunited onscreen, then an awkward beat bounces between them, and one of them finally says, “This was a terrible mistake.” Marvel, you can send my check in the mail. I’m not opposed to female superheroes having boyfriends. Or casual lovers, anything of that sort. Most of them are human; they deserve some sensual intimacy in their hectic lives. However, whatever romantic interludes they choose to pursue should not take center stage in their story arc. They are not in a Garry Marshall directed ensemble piece about an American holiday.

Another patronizing aspect of a Marvel film is how they always cast its female characters into the damsel-in-distress role. Somehow, someway, they cram it in there. I wonder if there’s specifically someone in rewrites who combs the script and adds a left-field damsel scene. If there is, he’s doing his job well. And he should be fired. Or maybe she should be fired; that would be an interesting plot twist. Peter Quill has to convince Drax not to kill Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s not capable of saving herself. Black Widow is held captive by Ultron in Age of Ultron, and of course she can’t break herself out. We’ve got to send in random love-interest Hulk to save the day. In the same film, Scarlet Witch is falling with the rest of Sokovia. Who should pop out of nowhere to save her but the Vision. She’s too deep in grief for her powers to work, apparently. Especially since in a trailer for Civil War, she can fly. Or at least has some short range gliding abilities.

Thus far, female heroes in the MCU have not been shown justice on the big screen. Take your longest recurring female hero, Black Widow, with her humble beginnings in Iron Man 2. She in no way resembles her comic counterpart. Natalia Romanova is a cool, calculated Russian spy and assassin. The Natasha Romanoff we met in Iron Man 2 is the Black Widow we’re still stuck with: introduced by means of Tony Stark browsing through pictures of her in lingerie and pinning down Happy Hogan in a boxing ring. Sexy and tough. That’s it. I can appreciate Joss Whedon‘s effort to give her character more depth (you know, several movies later), but not when it’s used to force a romantic subplot. I could write a whole article on Black Widow’s portrayal in Age of Ultron, but someone already wrote about her character’s figurative and literal neutering on this site.

Even her choice of weapons further personifies the stark differences between the comic book version and movie portrayal of Black Widow. The comic Widow’s most notable weapons are her guns and the Black Widow’s Bite she bears on her wrists. In Civil War, she has a nightstick. Is she a security guard on the side now? She most definitely doesn’t get paid as much as the male Avengers, so money is probably tight. Not as tight as her costume, but still pretty damn tight.

Possibly the damnedest evidence of the Marvel’s ill treatment of comic book women is with the Wasp, or lack of, in Ant-Man. An entire subplot of this film is Hope van Dyne, more than capable of becoming a superhero, getting repeatedly shot down by Hank Pym to become the next Wasp. Only in a post-credit scene does Daddy finally relent and give Hope permission to don the suit. I understand his reasoning is because of her mother being the Wasp and getting transported to an alternate dimension, blah blah blah. I call bullshit to the stand. While he may have his valid points, what is Hope’s motivation for listening to him? They don’t have a good relationship to begin with, so now all of a sudden she cares what he thinks. For God’s sake, she is the one who teaches Scott Lang how to be Ant-Man. Somewhat. Wasp is a hero caught in the cross-fire of Marvel’s ineptitude for women.

Marvel, I care about you. Really. I care more about you properly bringing characters to life on film than your feelings, though. Take some time, go back in the Marvel vault, take a dip in Thor’s Jacuzzi, go to a Captain America flashback party or take a weekend at Hawkeye’s farm and chop some firewood. Whatever you need to do. Examine how your female superheroes have been showcased thus far in the MCU. Something has to change, preferably yesterday, but I’ll take tomorrow. It’s great Captain Marvel will be getting her own movie. But I don’t want to wait until 2018 to know if Marvel will finally figure what to do with a woman superhero. Those woman above want answers!

With Love,

A. Zink

What do you think of the state of female superheroes at Marvel Studios? Do you know who I can address my letter to? Comment below or on Twitter with your thoughts.

About the author

Ariana Zink