Sexism in the modern comic film?

Lorus

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This is possibly in the wrong section and I apologise if so. A few weeks back, critics A O Scott and Manohla Dargis discussed the modern comic book film and the following quote from Dargis caught my eye.

They’re certainly avatars of reaction in how they justify and perpetuate the industry’s entrenched sexism. You just have to scan the spandex bulges in “The Avengers” to see that superhero movies remain a big boys’ club, with few women and girls allowed. Yes, there are female superheroes on screen, like Jean Grey from the “X-Men” series, but they tend not to drive the stories, while female superheroes with their own movies never dominate the box office. Most women in superhero movies exist to smile indulgently at the super-hunk, to be rescued and to flaunt their assets, like Scarlett Johansson’s character in “The Avengers,” whose biggest superpower, to judge by the on- and off-screen attention lavished on it, was her super-rump.


This got me thinking about sexism and the three big comic films this year and whether I felt that Dargis’ criticisms hold water. Is sexism a problem that needs to be addressed? My take is as follows:

Her first point is one of numbers, the ratio of male to female characters is not balanced. All of the Avengers, TASM and TDKR have one primary and one minor female character compared to significantly more males. As far as I’m concerned, sexism is not a numbers issue and providing the women are good characters, that there are fewer of them should not be important.

The next issue is of agency and relevance to the plot. Of the three films, TASM is the one that is most guilty of denying its women this. Although Gwen does make the first move on Peter, her character is completely defined by her, somewhat poorly defined, attraction to him. Removing that characteristic, she has no personality and her role in scenes is mostly reactionary. This is to say that she is so thinly written that she lacks individual motivation and is defined by Peter.

Black Widow and Catwoman fare much better in this department, they not only move their plots along but they also demonstrate individual characteristics and flaws which contribute to the narrative. It’s true that they are both saved by men at some point, but they also return the favour and prove emotionally strong as well as physically.

The trickiest issue to deal with is objectification. Gwen is pretty much free from this, barring some questionably appropriate clothing for work in a high tech lab. But the other two are subject to the male gaze to some degree. As well as the form fitting costumes, both films take the chance to have their women don flattering dresses. That said, no woman is ever reduced merely to physical attributes and the opportunity exists to objectify men.

So my overall conclusion is that if any of the year’s primary female characters are portrayed in a way that can be considered sexist, it’s actually the demure and chaste Gwen Stacy rather than the spandex clad superheroes that Dargis so demeans.

TLDR; I think this year shows comic films are far from sexist for the most part and Black Widow and Catwoman are fine examples of what these films can offer in terms of strong female characters. The problems with Gwen Stacy's character can be just as easily attributed to bad writing than sexism. What do you think? Do men feel differently about this than women, I’m a guy for full disclosure. Is sexism a problem, is it worth discussing?
 
I think sexism in Hollywood films in general needs addressing. I know the "Bechdel test" is just for fun, but it is a useful gauge to see how restrictive female roles are in American mainstream films.

Part of the reason female hero movies aren't popular is because they're bad, on an objective level.
 
The Avengers shouldn't be used as an example for sexism, not only is Joss Whedon a feminist but even with Black Widow not being one of the big main four she got some of the most screen time and kicked ass. If the film wasn't made by Joss Whedon you can bet that she wouldn't have been as important or interesting.

The simple fact is that the original Team, and the Ultimates version of the team, which seemed to have been the main inspiration only had one female member on the team, they didn't include the wasp because they're waiting for Ant-Man
 
I think sexism in Hollywood films in general needs addressing. I know the "Bechdel test" is just for fun, but it is a useful gauge to see how restrictive female roles are in American mainstream films.

Part of the reason female hero movies aren't popular is because they're bad, on an objective level.

It's worth noting that all the comic films this year fail the Bechdel test, I believe. However, the obvious problem there is that the Bechdel test is concerned with numbers above all else and thus it's priorities are arguably in the wrong place. I agree with you that pretty much all female action hero films are pretty awful, there's a great article where Whedon, Johansson and Jackson talked about it, I might dig it up.

The Avengers shouldn't be used as an example for sexism, not only is Joss Whedon a feminist but even with Black Widow not being one of the big main four she got some of the most screen time and kicked ass. If the film wasn't made by Joss Whedon you can bet that she wouldn't have been as important or interesting.

I absolutely agree on this point. In my opinion, Widow is the best of the years female protagonists, I think she's the most fascinating character next to Banner.
 
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The female characters has to be T and A in tight leather/rubber.
 
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The Avengers shouldn't be used as an example for sexism, not only is Joss Whedon a feminist but even with Black Widow not being one of the big main four she got some of the most screen time and kicked ass. If the film wasn't made by Joss Whedon you can bet that she wouldn't have been as important or interesting.

Not directed at you.

I feel like every year we get this "Oh, man! Pepper(IM1),Peggy(Cap),Widow!" is the best female comic character. That's what they should all be like!"

I sometimes feel like comic fans don't know what a well-written character actually looks like. I mean it's an action movie so of course we aren't going to get Schindler's list, but by action movie standards she just played the a vaguely "damaged" female charcter. What "it" was that damaged them is not important so it doesn't actually draw any importance to the film.


It's easy for mainstream movies to have more than one character have an emotional arc independent of each other, but it seems like comic movies still haven't figured out how to let characters breathe apart from each other.
 
Not directed at you.

I feel like every year we get this "Oh, man! Pepper(IM1),Peggy(Cap),Widow!" is the best female comic character. That's what they should all be like!"

This hyperbole exists certainly, which may well be a bad thing but I think it's because things are looked at in a binary fashion of great character/terrible character and if they're not awful then they become good. That sometimes translates out to 'I like this actress/I'm not fond of this actress', which I think happened somewhat with Peggy.

I sometimes feel like comic fans don't know what a well-written character actually looks like. I mean it's an action movie so of course we aren't going to get Schindler's list, but by action movie standards she just played the a vaguely "damaged" female charcter. What "it" was that damaged them is not important so it doesn't actually draw any importance to the film.


It's easy for mainstream movies to have more than one character have an emotional arc independent of each other, but it seems like comic movies still haven't figured out how to let characters breathe apart from each other.

I'm interested in how you would define a well written character. Do you think most women in these films are badly written, or are you drawing a line between say 'competently written' and 'phenomenally written'? If that's the case then I'd argue that none of the comic films feature particularly incredible characters, male or female, but they're perfectly fine for the purposes of the film.
 
Not directed at you.

I feel like every year we get this "Oh, man! Pepper(IM1),Peggy(Cap),Widow!" is the best female comic character. That's what they should all be like!"

I sometimes feel like comic fans don't know what a well-written character actually looks like. I mean it's an action movie so of course we aren't going to get Schindler's list, but by action movie standards she just played the a vaguely "damaged" female charcter. What "it" was that damaged them is not important so it doesn't actually draw any importance to the film.


It's easy for mainstream movies to have more than one character have an emotional arc independent of each other, but it seems like comic movies still haven't figured out how to let characters breathe apart from each other.

Black Widow's "damage" was clearly defined and an important part of her role in the movie. Hawkeye saved her previously and she was working to save Hawkeye, not so much to return the favor, but because they're team mates. She's definitely a strong character. Also The Avengers wasn't really a movie that was about letting character breathe apart from each other, it's a movie about bringing the characters together. I think they all did breathe apart of each other in the beginning, but came together at the end.

Another great example of a strong female character, while not a comic movie, but did play like one, was Katniss from The Hunger Games, even better she wasn't in a skin tight outfit, since that's bad. Even though the guys weren't exactly in loose clothing that hide their good looks either.
 
Gwen Stacy totally had her own personality other than being attracted to Peter. :huh:
 
Comics has rife body image issues...basically all the guys everywhere have perfect everything....very few exceptions.

Its guys too though so not really sexist.
 
Black Widow's "damage" was clearly defined and an important part of her role in the movie. Hawkeye saved her previously and she was working to save Hawkeye, not so much to return the favor, but because they're team mates. She's definitely a strong character. Also The Avengers wasn't really a movie that was about letting character breathe apart from each other, it's a movie about bringing the characters together. I think they all did breathe apart of each other in the beginning, but came together at the end.

Vaguely defined assassinations and murders that we don't really know how much they affected her. It was all an act to trick Loki.

Of course all the others all solo movies so it was easy to simply tie their backstories, Cap's heroism fail and Thor's hope for his brother all come from larger arcs. So in the movie where you could finally let someone else have an arc, Widow's is just window dressing.

We don't know any more about her about her act the start cause again, we have no idea how much she's actually affected by her misdeeds. We just know she's loyal to Hawkeye.

Another great example of a strong female character, while not a comic movie, but did play like one, was Katniss from The Hunger Games, even better she wasn't in a skin tight outfit, since that's bad. Even though the guys weren't exactly in loose clothing that hide their good looks either.

I feel like skintight is okay. It's the defacto look for superheroes. It's sort of what differentiates them from the Die Hards or Prince of Persia.

But there are more subtle ways in which we tend to make female characters simply eye candy. Like the FF movies where they decide to make Sue into a businesswoman/scientist that does nothing more than wear glasses and have a clipboard.
 
This hyperbole exists certainly, which may well be a bad thing but I think it's because things are looked at in a binary fashion of great character/terrible character and if they're not awful then they become good. That sometimes translates out to 'I like this actress/I'm not fond of this actress', which I think happened somewhat with Peggy.
That's a great analysis.


I'm interested in how you would define a well written character. Do you think most women in these films are badly written, or are you drawing a line between say 'competently written' and 'phenomenally written'? If that's the case then I'd argue that none of the comic films feature particularly incredible characters, male or female, but they're perfectly fine for the purposes of the film.

I think. Sometimes one or several pronounced character traits(kind, angry) gets confused with well-rounded character.

I feel like it's a problem of adapting a sprawling source material. Yes, Lois is more than a checklist of reporter,feisty, girlfriend, call him Smallville. But over a five year period, you many only get a handful of issues that actually define Lois' relationship with General Lane.

So even in a movie like MOS, about fathers and aspirations for their children, are we going to get an independent storyline about Lois and her father that is about the movie's theme, and not just a throwaway story to help Clark realize his relationship with Jor-el/Johnathan? Maybe. But I feel like it would be a third priority after hero and villain characteriztions. That the writers will hit that checklist and be happy calling feisty a well-defined characterization.
 
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The Avengers shouldn't be used as an example for sexism, not only is Joss Whedon a feminist but even with Black Widow not being one of the big main four she got some of the most screen time and kicked ass. If the film wasn't made by Joss Whedon you can bet that she wouldn't have been as important or interesting.

The simple fact is that the original Team, and the Ultimates version of the team, which seemed to have been the main inspiration only had one female member on the team, they didn't include the wasp because they're waiting for Ant-Man

....Excuse me? :dry:

What, exactly, do you know about the Avengers or Ultimates, or think you know about them....?

Both the 616 and Ultimate versions of the team had LOTS of estrogen aboard. In 616, there was Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Tigra, She-Hulk, Mantis, Photon, Moondragon, Firebird, Crystal, Sersi, Spider-Woman, Firestar, Echo, Jocasta, Stature, Valkyrie and Jessica Jones. Ultimates featured Black Widow, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Power Princess, Valkyrie, Spider-Woman, and Shanna the She-Devil.

Where on earth did you get the idea that either team had only ONE female member....? :huh::huh::huh:
 
But how many of them were characterized beyond eye candy and their relationship with other guys on the team, is what I think they're saying.
 
I'm hoping that the era of women just being damsels in distress and love interests is over now that Black Widow and Catwoman have been so successful.

The Avengers really should have had more than one female superhero, that's just painfully obvious but as always, I have hope for the future!

As for the above link, it's not fair to say why female superheroes bomb when there's only been two movies with them which were dreadful and made half a decade ago!
 
While I was in Toys R Us yesterday and a little girl pointed and said, "Look mommy Black Widow!"
 
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....Excuse me? :dry:

What, exactly, do you know about the Avengers or Ultimates, or think you know about them....?

Both the 616 and Ultimate versions of the team had LOTS of estrogen aboard. In 616, there was Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Tigra, She-Hulk, Mantis, Photon, Moondragon, Firebird, Crystal, Sersi, Spider-Woman, Firestar, Echo, Jocasta, Stature, Valkyrie and Jessica Jones. Ultimates featured Black Widow, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Power Princess, Valkyrie, Spider-Woman, and Shanna the She-Devil.

Where on earth did you get the idea that either team had only ONE female member....? :huh::huh::huh:
I was refering to the team on the begining of their history :cmad:
All the other female characters are pending on a movie with them released before their Avengers appearance or for the team to be older for them to be featured.

When Avengers started it had Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and Wasp. The Ultimates started with the same members, and hulk was later replaced by Captain America in both cases. In Avengers later members added were Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hercules, Black Widow and Powerman. In The Ultimates 1 Black Widow and Hawkeye were added, and in the end Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch joined too, however it's understandable that they weren't introduced in the movie as while it was anounced that they and Fox share the rights for these characters it may be difficult to introduce them in a world without mutants.

As i said, the other 2 female characters that were part of the Avengers from their early years during the 60s were pending a proper introduction in the solo films or in another way, you should have read the part where i said original team. :o But if i didn't make myself clear enough then i hope i did it now
 
I was refering to the team on the begining of their history :cmad:
All the other female characters are pending on a movie with them released before their Avengers appearance or for the team to be older for them to be featured.

When Avengers started it had Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and Wasp. The Ultimates started with the same members, and hulk was later replaced by Captain America in both cases. In Avengers later members added were Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hercules, Black Widow and Powerman. In The Ultimates 1 Black Widow and Hawkeye were added, and in the end Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch joined too, however it's understandable that they weren't introduced in the movie as while it was anounced that they and Fox share the rights for these characters it may be difficult to introduce them in a world without mutants.

As i said, the other 2 female characters that were part of the Avengers from their early years during the 60s were pending a proper introduction in the solo films or in another way, you should have read the part where i said original team. :o But if i didn't make myself clear enough then i hope i did it now

Which renders whatever argument you were trying to make moot.
MCU Avengers is NOT based on the original team, from either 616 or Ultimates. Even though I'd *like* for the roster to evolve the same way it canonically did, they've already thrown that canon out the window. At this point, it's entirely possible that the second film incarnation of the Avengers could add War Machine, Falcon, Dr. Strange, and Scott Lang Ant-Man; and even though all of these are actual comic-book Avengers, they sure as hell would be "jumping in line" in front of a TON of canonical Earth's Mightiest.

Canon don't count. Not in the MCU. The MCU has its own canon, which exists somewhere between (and beyond) 616 and Ultimates.
 
Yes it does, but it tried to start with the original team or as similar as they could, or they wouldn't have gone through all this trouble introducing all the characters, Ant-Man didn't happen because Edgar Wright's taking his time with the movie. From now they can go anywhere and introduce Ms.Marvel and other characters to the team, but my argument still stands that like The Ultimates did, they tried to use the original team as the founding members of the Avengers, The Ultimates was a big influence on the roster of the team, the only members not there were Ant-Man and Wasp, which like i previously mentioned was because Edgar Wright is taking his oun time with the film.
 
The Black Widow and Hathaway's Catwoman are not really the 'superheroines' I'd like to choose as the best on film. They're both femme fatales and don't have any special powers like She-Ra or Jean Grey. I'll wait to see what else comes along. Judge Anderson in Dredd is psychic, but she's still a Judge in a messed up future.

BTW: 'super rump'? I don't remember seeing any 'super rump' in all that. The critic must have been deliberately looking for it!
 
By that logic Batman isn't really a SUPERhero.
 
Yes it does, but it tried to start with the original team or as similar as they could, or they wouldn't have gone through all this trouble introducing all the characters, Ant-Man didn't happen because Edgar Wright's taking his time with the movie. From now they can go anywhere and introduce Ms.Marvel and other characters to the team, but my argument still stands that like The Ultimates did, they tried to use the original team as the founding members of the Avengers, The Ultimates was a big influence on the roster of the team, the only members not there were Ant-Man and Wasp, which like i previously mentioned was because Edgar Wright is taking his oun time with the film.

Joss Whedon admitted that Wasp (not Ant-Man) was originally in the first draft for Avengers, but he left her out because he couldn't really find a place to fit her in, and Black Widow took her place.

Whedon will be the first to admit it almost didn’t work. There was a version of the script, back when Johansson wasn’t involved, that featured a female superhero named the Wasp. Whedon had to scrap that script, and was making changes to his final version even as the effects people were starting work on the 40-minute battle that closes the movie. “Trying to figure out the way you want to introduce all those characters, that was stuff we were still tweaking in the edit,” says Whedon.

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertai...inally-article-1.1067280?pgno=2#ixzz21jPSkxIL
 
I suppose my basic answer is that there isn't sexism. I don't think so. Black Widow was phenomenally written and acted in The Avengers, and Catwoman was treated with an enormous amount of restraint. Marvel's films have been front-and-center lately, and really don't showcase the kind of female archetypes (or stereotypes) that are so common in the comics. Are there any non hardbodied, sexed up women in comics? Looking at even something like Underworld, with the character of Selene, she's sexy, but not presented in a sexist manner.

Now turn that examination to ourselves. How many manips were there of Anne with the cleavage from the comics, or did guys make asses of themselves in her thread by drooling over her (they still are)? Look at the avatars (mine included). The sexism is disappearing in the movies, but it's the demographic that creates it, and then wants to discuss it. I don't hear girls or critics or general audience ever notice it enough to bring it up when they see these movies.
 

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