Popular actress, standing in the middle of a big-city street, with the federally required slender body and Hollywood-required skinnier skintight suit, weapons, impeccable hair — standing still, and not even bothering to look at the huge fiery explosion blossoming behind her because she’s just that cool, gentlemen. You can’t go wrong, right? Wrong.
I say this because I haven’t seen this kind of nitpicking of any action-heroine character in any forthcoming film. In this case, it’s nitpicking by geeks who otherwise anticipate the May 4 Marvel superhero/crossover film, The Avengers.
The latest teaser, with an extended version on YouTube, arrived during the Super Bowl Big Game on Sunday. And many reactions, following similar criticisms of “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson) in the first Avengers trailer, included more of the same for this one.
Pan around the heroes… Norse god of thunder, Super Soldier, super-power armoured genius, the [author’s paraphrase] blinkin’ Incredible HULK, then…
girl with a small gun.
Widow looks stupid in every scene […]
shoving a mag in that pea shooter. She’s totally outclassed by all that power, even Hawkeye cuts a better figure with a bow.
Scar Jo Binks still looks like a lifeless piece of cardboard[.]
This confuses me, especially if some alarmist Christian authors and leaders are right about the Over-Feminization of Society. If radical feminists really won their battles to show that anything men can do women can do better, these reactions seem to make no sense. Marketers also seem to have misfired. After all, what other demographic but stereotypically virginal guy-nerds wants to see pretty women in skintight suits kick supervillains’ and alien-invaders’ collective butt just as fiercely as the male heroes?
A few possibilities could contradict my finding of contradiction:
- Based on groupthink, men are simply lying about not appreciating Black Widow.
- The same men who nitpick her centrality in The Avengers marketing also nitpick Hulk’s (likely not-final) CGI and Captain America’s costume.
- These folks are all internet trolls who feign(?) misogynism — same as who enjoy saying “get back in the kitchen, woman, haw, haw,” and other inane silliness.
- Black Widow is not central in the marketing of The Avengers mainly for the men. She’s instead directed to the female demographic. More women will come to the movie, goes this logic, if they see a female representative on the superhero team.
Only the fourth brings my rebuttal. That’s because, from what I’ve seen, women who go for these sorts of stories are perfectly fine with male-only heroes. Oh yes, I can’t wait to see Black Widow take down aliens with the best of them? Not. Somehow or other, it’s still Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and even The Hulk who are the true stars of the show.
You may disagree, especially if you’re female. I eagerly admit, my experience is limited, and men and women need one another’s gifts and thoughts to sort through these issues.
But if I’m right, why then throw a female character in with the popular heroes? Is it a bluff? An appeasement? May someday every movie marketer snap upright, look around a table, and exclaim, “Oh, I thought it was you who would be offended if we didn’t do this!”?
The source of this super-heroine marketing could be this assumption: We must put some sex appeal in there for the guys, and some girls in there for the girls. Let’s save some cash and do it all at once. Yet coupled with that is another expectation: that a successful story — speculative or otherwise — needs to show female characters as strong, strong exactly like the males, while also being just as feminine, in order to please everybody.
Many others write about how these characterizations can foster absurd expectations, in both men and women, of women’s abilities and appearances. I assume that is true, before moving to this: the self-contradictory nature of these characterization attempts.
Let me see if I can trace this logic.
- Previous stories that showed women in only subservient or “domestic” roles are inadequate. We must now show women as strong and equal to male characters.
- “Strong” and “equal” can only be defined in stories as “fighting.”
- Thus, the only way to show strength and equality is to show women fighting.
Two clarifications. First, by fighting I don’t mean only physical combat (though that is a subset of this). This can also include women fighting men, fighting for acceptance, and fighting for equality in a Traditionally Man’s World. Second, I don’t mean to imply that women in stories, or reality, should only be “domestic,” in the kitchen, having babies, etc. Many women of the Bible don’t do that. The Proverbs 31 Woman doesn’t do that. No New Testament passage insists this is the only job description of Biblical Womanhood.
Now consider this: If we define un-Biblical, flawed “feministic” strength only as physical action-heroine fighting, I believe most Christian fiction doesn’t do that. Showing only this form of female strength is more common in secular stories.
However, if we accept a broader definition of “fighting,” are some Christian novel plots based not on women’s roles as people, before God, but on human men’s approval?
I suppose here I speak of other fiction genres. My bias may be showing, but I haven’t seen this issue in Christian speculative novels. Rather, it’s cozy/historical/modern romances that present lady detectives, lady doctors, lady schoolteachers on the prairie, and likely even a lady sheriff Trying to Make It In a Man’s World while being challenged to a gunfight with Bad Bart while also falling in love with the handsome ranch hand.
This makes me wonder: why are these narrow definitions of women’s strength common mainly in other fiction genres? It also makes me ask: what other assumptions behind the women-shown-as-strong-in-only-one-way themes may be latent in our own minds?
Thus this series. It seems well-timed not only because of Valentine’s Day, but because:
- My last series concluded with a discussion in which I quoted Lord of the Rings actress Liv Tyler, who became overjoyed at being able to show a unique kind of strength in her character, the Elf-princess Arwen. “You don’t have to put a sword in her hands to make her strong,” Tyler said.
- Author/pastor John Piper, who is otherwise balanced on Biblical relationships, recently said “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” But women can play too, he said. (My quick response: problems result when Christians act like our only sex confusion is too much feminism. “Biblical” chauvinism is, and has been, a very dangerous overreaction to the equal-opposite lies of feminism.)
- Controversy continues over abortion, women, feminism, and “protection racket”-style methods of a certain business against the Susan B. Komen Foundation.
All this can affect our views of men, women, and sex in our stories — first as Christians, second as readers. Such issues affect others’ stories as well, and stories in turn affect cultural reactions to and representations of men and women’s roles and relationships. How do you see Scripture defining men’s and women’s equality and differences, for their Creator’s glory? How do your favorite speculative stories particularly show women’s strengths, apart from stereotypical action-hero abilities and stances?