Up, Up and Away

My Feminist Hackles, That Is.

I have had it with superhero movies.

I know I’ve floated this theme before, so forgive me if I repeat myself, but how does Hollywood keep getting away with portraying females in action films in such an unflattering light? I don’t mean unattractive, because yeah, that woman standing around screaming while the men go kick some alien / evil being / mutant ass? She’s hot. But why in hell can’t she shut up, pick up a two-by-four, and make with the shit-kicking? The current bubble in my bloodstream on the topic: Spiderman II.

I have never seen either one of the Spiderman movies in its entirety, but what I have seen while passing through my living room leads me to believe that the plot is somehow centered on Kirsten Dunst’s inability to remove her clothes before showering. I have witnessed no less than two twenty-minute scenes where Ms. Dunst, clad in a thin cotton outfit, is soaked from head to toe in what I can confidently affirm to be cold water, sans adequate shelf support (which, fine; I’m not happy, but I’m hardly shocked). The latter of the two movies, in its endless ‘showdown’ sequence, features the Spidey, Doc-Oc and Her Dampness locked in battle—or rather, those possessed of sensible body weights are locked in battle; the other is whipped through both air and water, gravity her only ostensible opponent (perhaps also Hair and Makeup). Her main purpose in this scene, rather than to aid the guy trying to save her wee hiney kick some Doc-Oc ass, is to stand around, shrieking to beat the band, and being wetly ineffectual. In heels. She does get her one obligatory ‘sidekick’ hit in, though, before Doc-Oc backslaps her milky-whiteness back against the hostage wall [read: kitchen]. Again, nothing I haven’t seen before.

Post-fray, the hero and… MJ... have a little chat, the thrust of which is that Spiders and Cram-ity Jane would never work out, in his opinion. “You and I can never be.” [Together. Can never be together. I know it’s sad that she’s such a toothless whelp that you guys can’t date, but there’s no need to dangle your verb forms about it. I heart you, Tobey Maguire, so don’t make me come over there.] Basically, they are doomed because he can’t triumph over evil while she’s walking around with ‘BAIT’ stamped on her forehead, her only superpowers—being shrill, large-breasted and generally annoying—are ill-suited to shielding her from potential danger. True to form, and basically affirming his argument, she cries meekly (but prettily) and returns to her fiancé.

Now, I understand where he’s coming from: he’s a superhero, and pretty much infallible with them superpowers, up until the point where he has human flaws. Every mortal he loves becomes a liability, as they could be used against him by the villain du jour. True. But, dude? That’s true of everybody. And I know it’s particularly harsh because his G-rents got iced in the last movie but… they were old. They were hardly in a position to defend themselves. And in a bildungs-roman, the Mentors must die so the Heroes can mature and face the Ultimate Evil, so really it was necessary to the narrative that they kicked off. There is nothing complementary to the narrative about Mary Jane’s having the self-defense capacity of a newborn kitten, other than to have Spider-Man save her soggy ass over and over again. It’s not only degrading to her, but a little tedious—especially since, with those calories he could save putting MJ behind a beam so she doesn’t get her pretty face torn off, the Boss might not even have got a hit in. So I understand his frustration and, in light of her general character, his conclusion.


If I were told that I couldn’t date a superhero because the bad guys would see me as a prime hostage opportunity, I don’t think I’d cry about it. I think, rather, I would hit JoAnn’s for some neon-green lycra, fashion an aerodynamic helmet of some sort and take some judo or kickboxing classes until I was, by all standards, a lethal adversary to any potential enemy. Then I would brainstorm a few cutesy-yet- killer names, like Aphidia or Krikket or Praying Mantress, tailor my togs accordingly, and spend nights fighting street crime while waiting for DC and Marvel to start the bidding wars. Just because you don’t have supernatural powers doesn’t mean you can’t be a considerable threat, much less unable to defend yourself.

By sobbing at the injustice of it all rather than picking up a freaking spear, Mary Jane is selling herself too short; she’s got plenty to work with. A woman made almost entirely of right angles should have no trouble impaling a few minions on her way to help Spiders out of a tight spot with the Big Boss (not that that would be her main function, mind you, but any punch is a plus in a fight), and her disarming looks would be considerably useful, when taken literally. Consider too that Spiderman is one of the wussiest superheroes of all time—he’s a spider. He shoots webs. If that’s not the bottom of the superpower barrel, then I don’t know what is (OK, I exaggerate; but it’s only marginally better than the Lasso of Truth). The latest incarnation really did a lot with a little, and one of the major difference between Maguire’s Spidey and the classic flavor? They made him ripped. He has formidable muscle tone. And he needs it, not least of which to fight people who have read the old comics and rightly assume he’s a total dork who regularly uses the word “tingling.” Can’t we get just a little love for the lady? There’s no reason for a superhero’s love interest to get slapped around other than to show the audience that the bad guy is ‘really bad’, which, having seen movies before, we already got from frame one.

Also, as much as I love to see a movie where the woman brings crazy-mad intelligence to the team, I don’t believe that necessarily delegates her to lookout post when the combat comes down. Ditto for feminine super-skill sets like healing, mind-reading, or talking to animals; all valuable in their turn, but of very little use when the poison hits the water supply. In movies of this ilk, the heroes must go through both ‘plan’ mode and ‘action’ mode, and it’s ridiculous that we have to divide into girls’ and boys’ teams—the women to do the lab work and deep thinking, and the men on pummel and destroy detail. I doubt this would happen in real life; given her druthers, any level-headed sister I know would not truck with the ‘stay here and answer the phone, Uhura’ bullshit—she would be all up in the fray like Shiva on a bender.

I hold out very little hope for the new Superman for this very reason… especially in light of the casting choice of Lois Lane. Ms. Lane was a hardened, chain-smoking cynic, and a solid career woman (hi, Margot Kidder!). Miss Bosworth, I have my eye on you. You can be a hero, or you can be Sailor Moon. I really hope it’s the former.


Karen Strang said…
Excellent post, describing only a tiny part of the problem.

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