Feminism in a Hollywood blockbuster
Comic book movies tend to be sausage-fests. This is a shame because there is a plethora of great women who can be drawn from comic lore into most of these stories and hold their own. The Christopher Nolan Batman films for example have only featured one woman thus far, Rachel who serves as muse and love interest to Batman and while the next film will feature Catwoman this is only because Bruce needs a love interest after Rachel’s fridge-death last movie. Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Talia Al Ghul, and many others would make logical character choices for the franchise but where are they?
Suffice to say I didn’t have much hope that Marvel’s Thor film would score high in this regard either, but I was presently surprised with what I saw, with a couple caveats.
First of all the movie is a Bechdel pass, though just barely. Jane Foster, who in this version has been upgraded from a nurse to an astrophysicist has some non-guy science discussions with her student-aid Darcy, mostly in the first and second act of the film. Jane Foster is also portrayed as a competent woman who doesn’t loose her head under fire; when a small New Mexico town is under attack by the giant Asgardian Robot called “The Destroyer” and Thor tells her to evacuate she instead stays and helps with the evacuation of the town. Portman also focused on giving Foster a somewhat more genuine research scientist personality having her be a bit frazzled and seeing things in abstraction.
While Jane is the love interest she’s never really sexualized in fact Thor being over a thousand years old is very old school and goes for a kiss on the hand and it’s Jane who takes it to the next level and plants one on his lips right before the climax showing sexual agency on her part. In fact the story swings this around the other way and has the Darcy objectify Thor, with comments like, “does he need CPR? Cause I totally know CPR,” and “For a crazy, homeless guy he’s pretty good,” while staring at Thor’s exposed chest.
The other female characters are all active participants in shaping their own destiny; most notable is the Lady Sif, in mythology and the comics it’s based on Thor’s lover and wife but we don’t see that here, is a competent warrior who earned the respect of her peers to become known as one of Asgard’s fiercest warriors (there is a bit of comedy here as Thor asks one of his companions who found him the greatest battles, and he replies that it was Thor, another who led him to the greatest banquets and feasts and he replies that it was Thor and to Sif who proved everyone wrong when they thought a woman couldn’t become one of their top warriors, and she replies that she did it herself). She never needs rescuing by Thor and handles herself well in both fights she is involved in. She has some emotional range too, showing concern, wit, charm; she’s proud but not “frigid” in some sterotypical way where her being a warrior is her sole defining characteristic.
Then there is Frigga the wife of Odin and mother of Thor. We initially see her only by Odin’s side refusing to leave his bed when he’s in the Odinsleep (a comma like state where Odin regenerates his power), and so she seems to be totally defined by her role of wife and mother, this would be regrettable but understandable given the space of time in the film but she is shown to be wise and cunning and capable of taking care of herself. Eventually assassins come to kill Odin in his sleep, often in film you’d expect the wife to throw her body overtop of her husband’s and become a living shield all the while begging for her husband to be spared, until the hero swoops in at the last moment, but here Frigga draws a sword in defence of her husband and fells one of the two assassins, before help arrives.
The movie celebrates a woman’s right to be a soldier and to fight for her loved ones without fetishizing it or valuing it above non-violent careers, Jane contributes to the story without throwing a punch by helping evacuate a town and refusing to flee from danger even when directed by Thor. She is portrayed as a woman in a male dominated career who is bullied around by the government, who take her research for their own purposes ensuring that she’d never get credit for her work the fate all too many real women in the science fields, but refuses to accept it and stands up for herself.
The film does have a couple troubling moments as it pretains to sexsism. Specifically Thor is taunted twice with sexist insults or threats in order to goad him into fighting. In the first instance a Frost Giant calls him a princess, when he attempts to walk away from a fight. The second is more troubling, Loki, the main villain of the film, makes an implied threat of rape against Jane Foster to force Thor to fight him; this is even more troubling given that the trickster god is supposed to be a villain whom we can sympahtize with and are supposed to feel for. These and some instances of abelism (like the aforementioned crazy homeless person bit) are the only problems I have with an otherwise excellent film.
Thor is a man’s story but when placed alongside other movies in the genre like Iron Man 2, in which female characters are either hypersexualized or reduced to panic attacks and damsels in distress, it’s a movie with a much more feminine mind frame and feminist friendly message to young girls. I only hope that Brunhilde Valkyrie gets an apperance if this film gets a direct sequel outside of The Avengers.