Avengers Isn't Feminist

By | Tuesday, May 15, 2012 1 comment
Let me be clear right up front: I really liked the Avengers movie. I thought Joss Whedon put together a fine film, especially considering that A) he was juggling a number of significant characters and B) they were largely portrayed by big name actors who could easily have gotten into competitions of ego. I generally think Whedon does a good job as a storyteller. Plus, I can say I helped by being an extra in the film. So, I'm totally biased towards enjoying the movie.
But, despite Whedon having a reputation for being a feminist, Avengers doesn't have the hallmarks of promoting feminism. Yes, Black Widow is shown to be a strong, independent character. Maria Hill has some moments as well. Gweneth Paltrow portrays a strong Pepper Potts, but her role is so limited in this movie than her strength is really only inferred from the Iron Man films. But think on this: Avengers does not pass the Bechdel Test. Nowhere in the movie do any of the named female characters talk with one another.

The thing is, that's a very low hurdle in the first place. Just to have two female characters talking about something other than a man. That happens in real life ALL THE TIME. And yet women are so frequently are pushed aside in our popular entertainment that something like the Bechdel Test had to be created! In the second place, both Widow and Hill work for SHIELD. It would've taken almost no effort to switch a few of Agent Coulson's or Fury's lines towards Widow over to Hill, and met a still very low bar.

From a feminist perspective, Avengers is a stronger movie than, say, any of the original Star Wars triology. But it's still very much a male-focused movie. One could argue that's not necessarily a solid criticism of Whedon himself; despite being the writer and director, he was working with a specific set of characters more or less assigned to him. And, in that context, Whedon did do a pretty good job in representing the women he had.

To be fair, too, the Bechdel Test is not the end-all, be-all set of criteria to use. As one of the posters on BechdelTest.com noted:
The purpose of the test isn't at all to comment on the quality of any one movie or to comment on whether any one movie is feminist or not. Anybody using the test for that purpose is misusing it. A movie can pass this test and be awful and horribly sexist (SuckerPunch?), or a movie could fail this test and be a cinematic masterpiece with messages that no feminist would object to (Up? Wall-E?).

The purpose of this test is just to show a pattern -across- movies. The pattern is that, when taken as a whole, the medium of film does not include female characters and interactions as often or as positively as it includes male characters and interactions.
My point is that, of Whedon's various films and shows and whatnot over the years, Avengers is probably the least feminist among them. Widow is indeed shown to be a very strong character in many respects and, to a much lesser degree, so is Hill. But within the confines of one movie that also features Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Nick Fury, Hawkeye and Loki, they do tend to get wrapped into the boys' club feel.

Avengers really is a well-done movie, but it's not a feminist one by any stretch.
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Anonymous said...

Well there's always Showgirls. That movie passed the Bechdel test