The Marvel Cinematic Universe is beloved among many, from seven-year-olds to 70-year-olds. I personally started watching Marvel movies with my parents, right from the get-go, when Iron Man came out in 2008. When Avengers: Endgame came out in April of 2019, I was front-row opening night with my family, decked out in superhero apparel at midnight on a school-night. But when I tell people how obsessed I am with superheroes, why do they think I’m talking about the male actors who play them?
Don’t get me wrong, I like Tom Holland’s abs and Sebastian Stan’s eyes as much as the next girl, and don’t get me started on the three hunky Chris’s we have to choose from – but why is this the only interest I’m expected to have? I actually have a small collection of vintage comics, and my favorite Marvel movie to date is Black Widow, which follows a female superhero.
I never knew this was a common assumption, until my friend mentioned to one of her clients at work that I loved Marvel movies, and she responded, “Oh, because of the guys in them right?” This has opened my eyes to a lot of the underlying femenist issues with superhero media.
Let’s talk about photoshop, for one thing. Scarlett Johansson was the first female superhero to be introduced to MCU, as Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2. From the start, her body was changed repeatedly to fit the male-gaze, most famously in the photoshop job for the poster for Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
Even just at a first glance, her bodily autonomy makes no sense in this picture. Her chest has been absurdly enlarged, her head is bigger than the rest of her body, her arms are different lengths, and so is her hair. To me, this poster is clearly ridiculous – but are there men who actually find this to look real? If so, then I don’t think I’m the one watching marvel movies for looks.
Another thing is the clear difference in the treatment of male Marvel actors and female Marvel actors. As the original six avengers, Johansson often does group interviews with all men. The questions reserved for her? Black widow’s fashion choices and what her workout regimen looks like. How come she doesn’t get the same in-depth questions that her co-stars recieve?
Scarlett Johansson isn’t alone in her experiences. When Chris Pratt, who plays Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, was voted “the worst Hollywood Chris” in an internet poll, Marvel co-stars from left and right turned to social media to come to Pratt’s defense. Meanwhile Brie Larson, who plays Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, has been receiving hate from Marvel “fans” for years.
This isn’t to say there hasn’t been any improvement. In Black Widow (2021) the usual superhero suits were kicked to the curb, and we finally saw tennis shoes instead of high heels, hair actually being pulled up to fight, and best of all – POCKETS.
Though attractive actors never harmed anyone, that isn’t something that only applies to women. According to the research I’ve done, Marvel movies tailor way more to the male-gaze than the female-gaze.
Would I be lying if I said I minded when a clip of Tom Hiddleston shows up on my TikTok for-you page? Yes, yes I would be. But am I twice as excited to watch a conspiracy-theory video on what the next movie will reveal, and do I actually go out of my way to search for that type of content? Without question.