Why Do Women Heroes Have to Be Extra Super?
It seems like the onslaught of summer blockbuster super hero flicks always brings a new female hero into the spotlight. This summer's likely will be Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, who plays opposite Chris Pratt's Peter Quill. If you've seen the trailers, you'll see an ass-kicking green alien pinning bad guys in thigh holds and an everyman turned hero dude cracking jokes. Is anyone surprised by that setup?
Courtesy of Marvel Studios. See Gamora over there tucked back in the corner? Well, she's killer.
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While Entertainment Tonight recently was reamed by different nerd-loving blogs like io9 when they made a pretty dumbed-down comparison of Guardians to The Avengers, they actually might have gotten something right in their diagnosis: Quill is to Captain America what Gamora is to Black Widow.
That's because the women (or, more likely, the lone woman) in these super groups are often the same type: highly educated, multi-lingual, tech genius martial arts masters who are deadly assassins and also drop dead gorgeous. The men, on the other hand, are expected to be rich so they can buy or make expensive gadgets (i.e. Iron Man), proficient at one thing (i.e. being a GMO buff dude like El Capitan), and funny (i.e. anyone but the female character). Everyone likes a good one-liner.
Basically, women have to be smarter, stronger, and faster than their male cohorts in superhero movies. But they don't get to be the stars. Women have to be sexy, but, if you cosplay exactly as the character is drawn, you'll incur a special brand of nerd rage slut shaming. In the end, whatever the leading dude in the group lacks, whether it's Russian fluency or tech savvy, the woman makes up for it and gets a brief pat on the back and a moment in the spotlight in reward.
It's not exactly offensive that this demonstrates to women that they should strive to be both Jills and masters of all trades, since self-improvement really isn't a bad thing and the standards are as unrealistic as the plots themselves. Honestly, it would be worse to be expected to be simply funny and rich.
However, it is obnoxious to see these queens of badassery relegated to minor roles. Who gets the credit? Iron Man. Who deserves it? Maybe not entirely someone like Black Widow or Gamora, but it is a team. Those teams always have leaders who take all of the credit and those leaders always end up being one of the men in the group.
Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but the vast majority of women in comics are portrayed as lesser, though they are typically more highly skilled. Hit Girl is amazing and trained her whole life to kick ass, but Kick Ass, who does some sit-ups for a quick montage, is the hero. Even Jennifer Lawrence's star power couldn't overcome Hugh Jackman's wolverine-like hold on the X-Men franchise. It is the X-Men after all.
When you turn your gaze away from the Avengers or the X-Men and onto the Justice League, you'll see Batman (rich), The Flash (good at one thing), and Aquaman (funny?). Then there's poor Wonder Woman. Somehow the amazin' Amazonian still has yet to get her own movie. Worse yet, she's a side note in the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman movie. Regardless of our opinion that Laverne Cox likely would make for a better Princess Diana of Themyscira than Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman is worthy of group title status next to the Dark Knight and Kal-El (if not a movie that's all her own).
In the end, those archetypes aren't going anywhere, but you can choose to throw your money at series that promote leading ladies. Try checking out Alan Moore's Promethea if you're looking for a whole group of women in comics just being rad on their own. No boys allowed. Maybe, just maybe, someday we'll get a Promethea movie or at least see some more leadership roles for lady heroes in already existing movie franchises.