Marvel Comics Push Forward Strong Female Characters

Here at Hot For Writing the issue of female characters in super hero movies has been discussed before. From looking at super hero makeovers to ruminating as to when Wonder Woman will be given her own space on the big screen, women within the super heroes canon has been a hot topic of late.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.DObviously these moments of individual attention are important in redressing the balance in comic book culture, but the general presence of women within this male-dominated world is actually an altogether different and equally vital issue. Moving away from the historic DC Comics universe of Wonder Woman to examine Marvel’s more recent comic book creations, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised…

Recently the sequel to Thor has been given general release at cinemas in the UK. This was an exciting development for a number of reasons but most notably, for armour. The armour worn by the character Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) in dangerous combat situations in this film (and indeed in Thor) is much more suited to it’s purpose than the armour the same character has worn over the years in the pages of Marvel’s comic books. And quite right too – the point of armour is to protect your body, not to make you super sexy.

The ridiculous traditional nature of female armour in comic books becomes ever more apparent when you see an actual woman – as opposed to a drawing – dressed up in this ludicrous fashion (Comic Con, anyone?), so it is extremely refreshing (if a little troubling) to see functional battle attire – as opposed to skin-tight PVC or corsetry – on a female character in a high-grossing super hero movie.

Elsewhere, Marvel has also rocked the feminist movie boat with The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, as we are supposed to have called it here in the UK). This is a film which fails to pass the Bechdel test, in which two named female characters have a conversation about something other than a man, and yet it manages to represent women in a largely positive light. Indeed, in the Huffington Post Scott Mendelson suggested that the movie may well have been 2012′s:

‘Most progressively feminist blockbuster.’

Mendelson’s argument is that the most relevant parts of the action in the film can each be traced back to the behaviour of female character the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). In addition, Mendelson and others commenting on the failure of The Avengers to pass the Bechdel test have noted the fact that the background S.H.I.E.L.D agents within the film have a well-balanced gender split.

On the small screen Marvel have also been doing good things – they have been tentatively successful from a feminist stance with the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a spin-off series created by Joss Whedon, the writer-director of The Avengers as well as the classic series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in featured an incredibly strong female hero as the main protagonist. Whilst Agents… feature men in the positions of ultiamte power, the core cast has an unusual 50:50 gender split and what’s more all of the women involved in the central action of the series are remarkable, excelling in fields still dominated by men. Skye is an accomplished hacker. Simmons a biochemist and Melilnda May a field agent so successful she is known only as The Cavalry to younger colleagues.

Whilst the respresentation of individual heroes is desperately needed in what is so often called nerd culture, the normalisation of inspirational women in the super hero and comic book narrative in general is absolutely vital too. One women doing a top job does not mean gender equality, just as a single female Prime Minister did not pave the way for future female politicians, but women being able to achieve their true potential – like these latest ladies of Marvel – may well be just the representative push that today’s young women need.

Photograph via Zennie Abraham.

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