Sexism? In my Superhero Movies? It's more likely than you think.

Today as I walked home from the T, I caught myself smiling at the Avenger’s promotion now up on the Boston Common’s Loews theatre. The midnight premiere tickets have just gone on sale (yes I bought mine) so advertising is going into overdrive. I then looked down and noticed I was wearing my Avenger’s shirt. So when I got home I watched all the trailers and took a nap, where I dreamed of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. fighting over me. When I woke up, I remembered the one ad that has plagued my mind since it came out a couple weeks ago. This:

As you can see, all of the Avengers are standing around in dominating stances, ready to fight, except one. The exception, of course, is Black Widow, the only female Avenger, played by Scarlett Johansson, reprising her role from Iron Man 2. She instead stands with her back to the camera, as most actresses do on the red carpet, peering over her shoulder. She is sexy and highlighting her “ass-ets.” (I’m not a fan of puns either, but come on I had to do it!)  Kevin Polk has done a sketch, switching the sexy pose from female to male. It’s hilarious, but why is it hilarious?

The answer is because it’s absurd for men to be sexualized in this way, yet you hardly notice it in the first ad. I know what you’re thinking, “It’s one ad! If you had ScarJo’s ass you’d show it off too!” But the ad is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexism in comic book and the films they’re made into.

The easiest point to bring up? Costumes. I’ll keep it light, because I’m sure when I say female superhero, the first image in your mind is a scantily clad, big breasted woman, soaring through the sky with her hair falling in waves behind her. To prove this as quick as possible, I’ll show the funniest of the sexy women. The costumes are as small as possible. I’m sure the g-string helps her kick higher and the amount of nipple tape used to keep the costumes in place don’t weigh them down at all. It’s not only the costumes; it’s the physically impossible positions that they are in, that seem natural because they are sexy. drew these amazing drawings of male superheroes (above) in costumes designed as if they were for female superheroes.

Let me give another infamous example of sexism in the comic world. A way writers objectify women to further develop their male characters, called Women in Refrigerators Syndrome. The term originated from a website called “Women in Refrigerators” started in the late 90s, that listed all of the female comic book characters that were killed off, usually in an over the top violent manner, as a plot device. The phrase originated from an issue of Green Lantern where Kyle Rayner, the hero,discovers his girlfriend Alex DeWitt's dead body in his fridge. The writers use the death or torture of female characters to strengthen the rivalry between the hero and villain.

One example of this syndrome might factor in on one of the biggest blockbusters coming out this summer, the new Spiderman. Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, was Peter Parker’s first love (before Kirsten Dunst as MJ). What happened to Stacy? She was thrown off a building by the Green Goblin and died to strengthen the hatred Parker feels for his green nemesis. This gives Spidey someone to avenge and a purpose.  Don’t be fooled by the picture above, Spidey does catch her before she hits the water, but she dies of whiplash anyway. Poor Gwen.

Again you may be thinking, so what? Male characters get killed a tortured all the time. The difference brought up another list, Dead Men Defrosting, composed of men killed or tortured, who came back to life stronger than they originally were. This includes Spiderman, Superman, and The Hulk.  Gail Simone, the creator of both lists, has also noted that “First, there’s (always been) a larger selection of male characters, so handful killed made barely a ripple. Second, they didn’t seem to be killed in the same way- they tended to die heroically, to do down fighting. Whereas in many cases, the superladies were simply found on the kitchen table already carved up.”

I give the example of the Women in Refrigerators because it can be applied over many forms of media, not just comic books and films. “The writers are using the Women in Refrigerators trope to literally trade the female character’s life for the benefit of a male hero’s story arc,” FeministFrequency commented in a blog for Bitch Magazine. If these women, the most powerful of their world, are killed so violently and carelessly, what does that say to “regular” women of our world who don’t have superpowers?

Look, I love superheroes no matter what gender, but how about we empower these women, instead of dressing them in close to nothing and killing them off to further the storyline of the men? Let these women kick ass!