Superheroes: Female Representation and Masculinity

Screenshot of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in ‘Avengers: Endgame’. Copyright goes to Marvel Entertainment and Disney.

Hi! It’s Annie!

The topic of female characters in superhero films has always been a rough one; but one of the most difficult topics to cover is the expected masculinity in women in major action roles. For years it’s seemed like in order for a woman to kick ass she also has to act more manly. How many times have we seen the badass character in a movie be overly tomboyish? A female character being tomboyish is in no way inherently wrong, but it becomes an issue if writers begin to restrict femininity in roles because they don’t think it’s strong. Because femininity is not and never has been weak. The severe lack of characters that have femininity as a trait in these movies shows that we still have much more work to do when it comes to depicting women in the media. Women can kick ass and be girly too and it’s something that we hardly ever see. So, I’m going to address some more recent female characters in action films that have been accused of being stripped of their femininity in order to seem more powerful. Let’s go!

Captain Marvel:

You could probably already tell by the photo above that she was going to be on here. More than any character I’ve ever seen, she has been accused the most of being written like a man. And, no, it’s not because of her new short hair or her deeper voice. A type of male character that is generally pretty popular in action films is the “strong but silent” type. They’re tough and “manly” and they generally never show emotions. This in itself is not a healthy depiction of anyone; man, woman, or nonbinary. Where Captain Marvel comes in here, is that is exactly the way she is accused of being depicted. She doesn’t really show any emotion and her main character trait is to be strong. By the end of the movie it feels a bit difficult to discern what exactly her personality is. Captain Marvel was written with a male trope in mind. And this is where we have our issue. Captain Marvel is not supposed to be a male superhero, she’s supposed to be a badass female one. She shouldn’t be written with any tropes in mind, male or female. Masculinity and femininity are just constructs and they always have been, but by trying to restrict one and make the character palatable to male audiences by using the other, Captain Marvel ended up being a blank slate of nothingness. We are told that she faces much of the sexism that women face in real life, but we never see her face much of what women face every day. Some of the scenes where she does were ultimately cut from the film. She is never criticized for being too feminine or not feminine enough as many women are. She is never questioned when she is “being too emotional”, despite the fact that when men in movies (and in real life) get angry they are seen as strong and when women get angry they are seen as hysterical. Captain Marvel never gets too angry or too emotional, she is never even a full character. The writers tiptoe around any criticism of her femininity by making it nonexistent. So what exactly is there to relate to here? Another male trope that shouldn’t even be used for male characters stuffed into a female character? Captain Marvel absolutely reeks of a female character being watered down and shoved into a recognizable box in order to make her more palatable to male audiences. We are not looking for female superheroes that are like male superheroes.

Claire “Jurassic World”:

Claire in Jurassic World was simply accused of being too masculine because of her job position and her seeming lack of caring towards her nephews. But neither of these things are in any way masculine. A woman being the equivalent to the CEO of a company is not a masculine thing; women are intelligent and should also have those jobs. Women are also allowed to not like kids or not have a instinct for taking care of children. Where Claire succeeds here is that she’s allowed to have feminine characteristics without being labeled as weak, and she’s also not stuffed with masculine stereotypes in order to be seen as strong. Growing up as a woman you are constantly asked by everyone whether you are girly or tomboyish; but no one is exactly one or the other. Claire realistically displays both masculine and feminine traits. Claire does not mind getting her hands dirty when it counts but she’s also not going to stand there and not show any emotion. Claire gets angry several times throughout the film and in no way are we told that she’s any lesser for it by the narrative. I do have to admit here that seeing her run in heels away from a dinosaur is a bit ridiculous, but in the end it doesn’t have much to do with her overall character. She is smarter than everyone else in the room and she is not shoved full of gendered tropes. And that’s partly to do with Bryce Dallas Howard. She was actually the one that forced the writers of ‘The Mandalorian’ to let Cara Dune be an actual woman rather than a stereotype (and hopefully any future female characters will benefit from that now that Cara Dune has been rightly taken off the show). Claire succeeds because she’s strong without being demure or sexless.

Again, talking about masculinity and femininity in movies is tough because they are both constructs that are being redefined every day as society continues to move forward. But, as I said, everyone is a mash of both. Men have been stripped of any and all feminine traits for decades now, and now that women are being given the spotlight we are seeing the same thing with them. Feminine traits are not something that should be stripped off of any character. They are not inherently weak traits. Being feminine is just as strong as being masculine and we need our media to reflect this. Saying that a woman is strong now because you’ve made her a giant masculine stereotype is absolutely ridiculous. And in most cases, stripping a character (of any gender identity) of femininity leaves them without a well-rounded personality. Showing emotion is, for some odd reason, seen as a feminine trait and any character that doesn’t show emotion is not relatable. It’s plain and simple.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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