By Hannah Smith, May, 3, 2022
Growing up, every Friday night my dad would take me and my siblings to Blockbuster, and we would grab the next Marvel movie until we finally got to see “The Avengers” together in theaters. Since then, I’ve seen every Marvel movie and TV show, collected action figures, worn t-shirts, geeked out visiting Avengers Campus at California Adventure and recently started reading more comics to keep up with the new plot lines. In every sense of the word, I am a Marvel nerd, but I still hesitate to tell people in person.
As a Marvel fan who is a woman, I always hesitate to tell male fans that I watch Marvel movies. I am often met with, “Oh you must watch because Chris Evans is hot right?” or, “You watch Marvel? Name all of the infinity stones.” I hesitate to share my thoughts because women are often tested on our knowledge of a fandom, and if we make one mistake, suddenly we are no longer a “true” fan. Being constantly quizzed and questioned is not the only difficulty female fans face; sexism within the storylines of the movies and the behavior of male fans makes the Marvel fandom intimidating to enter and exhausting to stay in.
Online, male Marvel fans are no stranger to scrutinizing female characters and actresses. The most recent example came with the release of the teaser trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The end of the trailer features the first close-up look at Natalie Portman’s return to the Thor franchise as Mighty Thor. Her last appearance was in “Thor: The Dark World” in 2013. Portman is not playing Lady Thor as many guessed, but instead she is Mighty Thor, a character that was introduced in 2014 in the comics where the character Jane Foster takes up the mantle of Thor after the original Thor is deemed unworthy. Despite both the author of the Mighty Thor comics and the director of “Thor: Love and Thunder” advocating that this is Mighty Thor, male fans continue to diminish Portman’s character by calling her She Thor, Girl Thor and other gendered versions of the name Thor.
Besides the disrespect of the character’s name, male fans have already begun to question the worthiness of the character. In the trailer, Portman is seen wielding Thor’s old hammer, and male fans on Twitter trolled, “who wanted her back?” or, “I guess anyone is worthy now.” This double standard comes from the fact that Portman’s character is a woman given there were no complaints when Captain America was able to wield Mjolnir in “Avengers: Endgame.” In the comics, there are plenty of characters that can wield Thor’s hammer without diminishing the worthiness of the person or the power of the hammer.
This is not the first time the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had trouble with fans hating on new female characters. With the release of “Captain Marvel,” many found issue with the way Captain Marvel acted. Her confidence and “take no shit” attitude were seen as cold or bitchy while Iron Man is praised for having the same personality type. The traits that so many male fans enjoy from male characters become annoying or stuck–up in female characters. If a female character is strong in her own way or acknowledges her female traits while being strong, men interpret it as, “cringe” or, “forcing diversity.” Either way, female characters can’t seem to win with male audiences.
It has also been difficult being a female Marvel fan because of how many of the female characters were portrayed in the earlier days of Marvel. Black Widow was one character in particular that has been represented poorly in the early days of the MCU. In the first Avengers movie, she is seen in revealing and impractical outfits, and in the second Avengers movie, it is revealed that she thinks of herself as a “monster” simply because she can’t have children. Part of this representation is due to director Joss Whedon, but it didn’t help that as Black Widow became more well-rounded and eventually headlined her own movie, male fans began to complain that Marvel was being too “woke.” The male fans only accepted a female member of the Avengers when she was there for their gaze, but as soon as she gained a personality and background, they began to attack.
Female fans of Marvel are not the only ones that have struggled to find a place in the fan community or felt the fury of fanboys complaining of a too “woke” MCU. Fans of color also have to deal with complaints from white male fans about new works that dare to show more diversity. With the release of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” many fans took issue with the political themes of the show and that a Black man was taking on the mantle of Captain America.
Never mind that this was a comic accurate mantle change or that Marvel movies have been and always will be political. I mean, the character is named Captain America; of course systemic issues in America would be addressed in the show. Having stories that represent minority groups are only the beginning because if those stories come attached to an unwelcoming fandom, engaging with those stories becomes a chore. For a deeper dive into comics and politics, read Joshua Hernandez’s opinion piece on the topic.
As more and more Marvel projects release, the representation for women and people of color is increasing, but with the increase in representation comes more comments from homogenous fans. Fandoms should be places where all fans can talk about the movies and books they love and not feel like they are unwanted or have to pass a series of tests to enter. It’s time for male Marvel fans to realize that women and people of color exist in the real world and deserve to have a space in our fictional ones. You can’t prevent us from existing in the real world, so stop gatekeeping us from existing in the fandom world.
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