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Misogynistic Standards placed on superheroes

Inara Hossain

Cinema is a reflection of its own society” Shohreh Aghdashloo

It can be said that cinema is just a mirror reflection of our society with regards to our fundamental values and attitudes towards each other. Many filmmakers craft their stories to communicate a larger meaning in relation to societal issues.

However, the way an audience reacts to cinema is also a reflection of society. We’ve seen it time and time again, movies being devalued because the greater public decides it isn’t worth watching. Sometimes movies may be perceived badly by the public due to their poor production value, or their dull and clunky dialogue. Usually, people don’t think much when a film is rated badly, however, when that film comes from a popular production company that is known for its cinematic appeal, this does grab the public attention.

Marvel is one of the highest-grossing media franchises in the world, with its estimated total revenue being $38 billion USD. Through their seamless CGI and their captivating storytelling, Marvel has created a large fan base throughout the years. It is good to note that even before Iron Man’s release in 2008, Marvel has been releasing comics since 1939, so they did have an existing fan base.

Nowadays, Marvel films all share high expectations as fans have begun to expect a high level of production quality and a well-put narrative from all Marvel productions. More often than not, Marvel has produced box office smashing films that have enticed audiences everywhere. With a total of 10 movies in the box office top 50-lifetime grossing movies, and 2 in the top 5, Marvel has created a reputation for itself.

With this reputation comes the drawbacks of a toxic fanbase. Marvel isn’t unique in having a portion of its fanbase being incredibly toxic. Superhero fanbases are known to have a demographic that includes people who pride themselves on their toxic masculinity and seem to make misogyny their entire personality, mixed in with a sprinkle of xenophobia.

Audiences continue to victimise strong women for their confidence and power while praising men for those exact same things. When a man is confident in his abilities he is seen as a strong figure. When a woman is confident in her abilities she is seen as full of herself and narcissistic.

Captain Marvel is a prime example of when the narcissistic minority prompts a crowd mentality that impacts the majority's view. To dislike this movie on your own volition is fair, however, buried under this valid criticism is where the misogyny lies.

These comments were taken from Rotten Tomatoes (try to ignore the vast amount grammar and spelling mistakes)

Along with these comments, there are a large number of comments that compare Captain Marvel to other Marvel heroes like Black Widow and the DC hero Wonder Woman. To dislike a film is fine, but is it necessary to compare a film with a female protagonist against another? Instead of arguing about who did it best, is it not more critical to demand more films with female leads?

These comments were taken from Rotten Tomatoes (the grammar and spelling mistakes seem to have gotten worse):

While films are usually criticised prior to their release by professional critics, the audience also plays a vital role in how the film is rated, which then helps detemine its overall success. The contrast between the audience and critic reviews is something to take note of when discussing how female superheroes face more criticism from the public.

The Incredible Hulk was released in 2008 and isn’t as commonly known as other Marvel movies. On Rotten Tomatoes, verified critics reviewed this movie at 67%, however, the audience scored this film at 70%. Similarly with Thor: The Dark World, verified rotten tomatoes critics scored this at 66%, to which audiences scored it at 75%. With these two films, with male protagonists, you see how the audience scored the films higher in contrast to the lower critic scores.

When you look at the scores for Captain Marvel on Rotten Tomatoes, you see how this is the opposite. The official critic review is 79%, which is higher than the previous films mentioned, and the audience review is a pitiful 45%.

The biggest criticism many viewers have is their dislike of the invincibility of Captain Marvel. While this may be seen as a fair criticism, this criticism should be implemented on all invincible superheroes. If Captain Marvel is disliked for her invulnerability, why isn’t Thor? How come when Thor flawlessly blasts through an army of bad guys it is seen as ‘badass’, but when Captain Marvel does it is seen as unrealistic?

Sometimes the biases we implement on these fictional characters are almost invisible to us. We blatantly share share our criticism without considering them. As consumers, it is fair to share our thoughts on projects, but it is essential we consider the harm our words cause.

Following her debut as Captain Marvel, there was a spark of negative backlash faced by Brie Larson. You are entitled to your own opinions on people, but when it comes to Hollywood and media as a whole, you need to separate the art from the actor. Just because you dislike a character portrayal in a film doesn’t mean you automatically need to dislike the actor, after all the actor is not the character, they’re just doing their jobs.

Many comments also follow the previous trend of comparing Brie Larson and her character to other actresses and their characters. To compliment a woman is great, but it shouldn’t have to come at the expense of another.

These comments were taken from Rotten Tomatoes (these grammar and spelling mistakes must be an English teacher’s worst nightmare):

Female superheroes are continuously put under more scrutiny by audiences. Whenever a female superhero diverts from the male gaze they are seen as rude and full of themselves, and this same criticism is faced by their actresses as well. Actresses are hunted and torn apart like prey and when they take a stand, and they are deemed as ungrateful. I’m not saying that male actors don’t face similar scrutiny, as they do, however, their scrutiny is an entirely different problem. Female superheroes are expected to be powerful, but not more powerful than their male companions. Emotional, but not whiny and weak. Useful, but to never stand out from the crowd. Female superheroes are restricted to being pretty statues to look at, but never notice or value.

Through Joss Whedon's depictions of Black Widow, her main purpose was to wear a never fully zipped up and skin-tight suit while performing high kicks to support her male teammates. It took a total of 11 years for Black Widow to finally get a proper suit and to do something more than fight from the sidelines as her male companions rose to the occasion.

It shouldn’t take 11 years of character development for a female superhero to be deemed worthy of a storyline of their own. Apart from Captain Marvel, in Marvel, female superheroes have not been introduced in their own solo movies. Black Widow was introduced in Iron Man 2, Wanda in Age of Ultron, and Wasp in Ant Man. Why is it normalised for male superheroes to have their own solo movies but for women to wait in the shadows for their turn? Even now, out of 34 Marvel projects, only three have a main female protagonist, those being Captain Marvel, Black Widow and Wanda Vision.

If cinema is a reflection of its own society, I wonder what the treatment of female superheroes depicts about our society…

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Tom Stur
Tom Stur
Oct 11, 2022

I fail to understand the relationship between misogyny and female lead films. You take the example of Captain Marvel and suggest that criticism of it is necessarily misogyny, citing examples of comments expressing their dissatisfaction with the film. It is possible that the film is just bad rather than there being a large toxic woman hating mob eager to hurt the poor film actress earning millions of dollars.


Avery Benbow
Avery Benbow
Jun 01, 2022

Amazing article! It really made me think about the standards placed on women in movies, especially since I loved the Captain Marvel movie, and the backlash it got really surprised me.

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