It is extremely difficult to think of the modern world being without entertainment of any kind. People have developed the cult of music, literature and visual art. One of the greatest entertainment pieces are drawn comic books, which gave rise to an entire industry.
Although most of the comic books represent both female and male superheroes, in Marvel’s Avengers, the women are shown as sexual objects and minor characters while men are depicted as intelligent and powerful heroes.
Since the inception of the comic book industry there have been a lot of controversies surrounding female figures, especially, their physical appearance, gender roles and stereotypes. A strong hero, leader and a desirable woman at the same time– this is how females were described throughout their history of successes and failures in the comic series. Female superheroes are representatives of the femininity and therefore fan engagement is very important, although only one hero – the Wonder Woman, was featured in the top 100 sold comics (Covich). To my biggest regret, they have become sexualized objects created by men for the male audience. Males, on the other hand, are illustrated as gods, machos, super strong and dangerous figures.
I strongly hold the view that the best representation form of art is the cinematic imagery. Only because of such a form we are able to see and hear the fantasy on the big screen. As it was noted, one of the best movie franchises of the modern world is the “Avengers”, created by Marvel. The series focus the attention on strong masculine heroes and leave relatively small space for the female ones and their glory; on the contrary, the latter ones are depicted as object of male gaze. Female representations maintain dominant patriarchal ideology through sexism. Logically, women are passive characters in most comic books. At the same time, it would be wrong to say it is their only position. By the same token, female in Avengers – Natasha Romanoff, is portrayed as sexually liberated, empowered, independent which leads to conclusion that women enjoy to represent themselves as sex objects. By depicting women as inferior characters and physically weaker heroes, they stress the male masculinity and construct their femininity to oppose men. Overall, in all comic books or movies, in most cases something happens to women. If compared to male characters, women remain the same throughout the whole movie, even though they are usually active. Their stories are designed to accentuate the male superheroes’ arcs. Mostly, girls function to serve as love interest, objects that inspire love or fear and constitute source of support to men. They are the tender heroines, weak and in need of protection from possible harm.
Natasha Romanoff, known as the Black Widow, is more of an active female hero. She is a driven military woman who takes on a pro-active role. Despite her empowering features of character, she is a background character. Natasha is regulated by military commanders, serves to help her superhero mates, provide support to them, and is, essentially, portrayed as a “back-up”. Black Widow uses her hyper sexuality as a useful espionage tactic. There are hypotheses that highlight the difference between the female and male superheroes. While one considers female voice as representation of the appearance and not strength, the others think there is no difference at all (Davis).
Another import aspect which has to be highlighted is the costume. Whilst male superheroes’ costumes bring attention to the powers, strengths, masculinity, the female ones emphasize bodies for objectification. Natasha wears tight costume that shows her cleavage and does not represent her skills. Moreover, when Black Widow walks on the streets, her outfit is also tight fitted (DeMarchi).
Disappointingly, Natasha Romanoff in Marvel’s “Avengers” lacks institutional and political focus. It is not that women face gender discrimination, but in the series she is simply desired as a game for the male characters.
Dunne notes that, apart from the modern day Avengers heroes, the 1960s female characters are mostly wives, mothers and secretaries. It is worth to mention that period was the richest regarding creation of female characters in comic books. Likewise, Black Widow, the first female superhero – the Wonder Woman, has her alter ego as well – Diana Prince, who was a military nurse, a unique character that was modeled as feminist. When the cartoonist died she was placed as one of the Justice Society of America characters. It is the moment when super heroine’s role was underestimated as a strong fighter because her main duties were secretarial: she took phone calls and dispatched help. She went through many transformations and learned martial arts later on. The Wonder Woman is the most popular and favorite heroine of all times. Same as Natasha Romanoff, she has faced the change of physical image, professional role and the story line.
Another vivid example of a strong, independent character is the Catwoman. She was portrayed as many characters: a villain, hero and Batman’s love interest. Selina Kyle – the alter ego, is very sexy and seductive jewel thief, and some critics refer to her figure as the one which creates tension between the Batgirl and the Batman. It once again proves that some female characters are needed to emphasize male’s masculinity, strength and dominance (Dunne).
Sawyer (2014) in his research stressed the great importance of post-feminism in any type of art. In such case, post-feminism purports to be a powerful instrument for super heroines, but unfortunately it constitutes them as lacking in agency. What is reinforced via post-feminism in comic books is that women are the display of sexuality and deeply feminized superpower. Post-feminism demands super heroines to display specific performance and take feminism to success. It plays a great role in our lives and characters like Natasha Romanoff are of great importance because she is a representation of the popular culture. Post-feminism shows strong women who are incredibly powerful and capable of many things, flawless and sexually attractive. Before judging how women are depicted: strong or weak, we have to analyze how they are presented in pop culture as it has a great impact on society (Sawyer). Natasha is not afraid to show herself in her appealing outfit as she is fearless and confident. The heroine describes the way people think about the world in comic books and media. Her ideology is continually stressed in the print format and it continues to encounter the message for girls. Sawyer cites Genz who stated:
“Unfortunately, many consumers likely do not recognize the postfeminist ideology in female team superhero comic books and continue to celebrate the gathering of various female characters” (Sawyer).
Zellers (2005) in her paper explains that comics are accused of women exploitation and excessive violence. For example, in Marvel’s “Avengers” Natasha Romanoff was abused during the interrogation with Russian mobsters as she refused to give out the information. It is crucial to note the way she sits on a chair which was done on purpose as it creates the whole picture of her sexuality. Such scenes have an enormous effect on society as they generally are representing hatred, discrimination, and objectification. Since women are referred to the weak ones even though, super heroines, they are still quite frequently victims of abduction.
All papers claim the same things about female roles in the comic books and its displaying on the screens. Women are usually portrayed as inferior, unbelievably attractive, seductive and passive characters. In comparison to Natasha, other females in “Avengers” are somewhat softer and romanticized. Every frame with Betty is soft in the movie. Even when she was hurt and passed out she was lying in a beautiful pose, just like a model – who is also a subject of objectification in the real world, with minimal damage to her pretty face which serves as bright contrast to the blood-covered men.
Such trends result in the internalization of the objectification of females as desired ones. Women in the “Avengers” series are portrayed having visible sexualized bodies, as a commodity and as sexually available ones. As it has already been mentioned, objectification of the body causes negative effect on girls.
Women portrayal in comics and movies has fluctuated in line with different time periods of the world, and there is even more than this problem inside mentioned industries. There are race features, religious conflicts and many other things to concern, but I chose to drive the attention to the women representation, because, personally, I have been a fan of comic books. I did not notice in what way characters were presented. Notably, they were depicted wrong all these years until this class had me analyze my favorite characters in the new way. Female characters still have to go through a host of modifications before they are shown in a proper way that appeals to women and girls, and not just the male audience. By doing so, industries can relate to the fact that they have created a successful and non-gender biased franchise. More female writers and cartoonists need to help with creation of the stronger and meaningful ways of storytelling. At the same time, men have to stop objectifying females.