Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Thor and Feminism

I can't remember what it was exactly, it may have been the Simpsons, but I remember a gag going something like this: There's a new football team being formed at school, and to shake up the system Lisa Simpson (or whoever) decides to shock the world by joining the team. "I bet you weren't expecting...A GIRL!" she declares, stepping onto the field in a football uniform. The coach shrugs. "We already have three girls on the team," he says. This is what reading the new Thor is like.

The series, written by Jason Aaron, is trying to be overtly feminist, but it just comes off as being awful. Credit where credit is due, though. There are a few good things about Thor that I like. When the series was first announced, as far as I know, the only thing that was stated was that the name of the book was Thor and it had a female character. I was assuming that it was going to be Thor turning into a woman, which is not impossible considering the book's magic-based plotlines and in light of the fact that Loki got de-aged to a teenager quite a while ago and is still stuck that way. Not the case, much to my delight. Thor himself is no longer worthy to lift his hammer, and an unknown, penis-less newcomer is taking his place, calling herself Thor, just to be confusing, I guess. This means that Thor is sulky, bearded, scraggly, never wearing a shirt, and carrying around an axe. It is the second-best kind of Thor, next to the jovial, hard-drinking, glass-smashing, bar-fighting Thor.

Woman Thor, however, is pretty much an empty husk of a character. Her only characteristic being that she is a woman, and the only way that people react to her is that she is a woman. In issue #5, Woman Thor (henceforth known as WT) gets into a fight with The Absorbing Man and Titania, wherein Absorbing Man comments, "Damn feminists are ruining everything," and Titania straight-up surrenders just because Thor is a woman now and she just has so much respect for that.

I openly identify as a feminist, but this made me cringe. It's hard to even get started on all the awfulness going on here.

First of all, this is suffering from the Lisa Simpson (or whoever) gag I mentioned earlier. Thor walked out onto the football field and expected everyone to gasp and say, "It's a g-g-g-g-g-g-GIRL!" It's 2015 for christ's sake. We have had female superheroes for decades now, and do you know what we call them? Superheroes. Seriously, nobody cares if your superhero has a vagina anymore. Well, ok, there are people on the internet that think this is awful, but that's because they hate it on principle alone, or they're unfamiliar with rudimentary Thor history, where he was turned into a frog and replaced by a horse. You're going to have people who hate that Thor is a woman, but don't mind if he's a frog, and it's ok to just fucking ignore those people. That's what the rest of us do.

Secondly, if you want to make a point or if you want to have your character, you shouldn't have to make it so blatantly obvious. There are tons of popular female superheroes that don't need to talk about being female all the time. They are focused on protecting Jersey City, or teaching mutants, or fighting space aliens, and by doing all those things become feminist icons. Put it another way, you need to "show, don't tell" that your character is a feminist. To be fair, it's a bit hard for me to understand, being a man, how some women feel about having a character like this. I stand by my criticism that it is "feminism done wrong", but I tend to resonate more with characters who personify certain characteristics instead of announcing that they announcing certain characteristics.

Thirdly, there is an actual way to make your character represent a certain viewpoint without awkwardly bringing it into a fight scene like Jason Aaron did, and that is to have it be your character's actual motivation. Imagine for a second if instead of WT fighting crime to make the world a better place (like every other superhero) and having everyone be stunned like what you got boobs, if instead the only reason she became a superhero was to change perceptions of femininity? The only reason that she is out there fighting crime is because she wants people to see her as a symbol; that's the only thing she cares about. It would be interesting, for sure, and would avoid a lot of awkward dialogue where Absorbing Man just can't believe he's fighting a woman, even though he's done it literally hundreds of times before.

In the end, I'm more disappointed than anything else. There's a lot of room for female superheroes in the comic book universe, and I would have loved to have seen a new one done correctly. remember what I said about hard-drinking Thor being the best Thor? What if Woman Thor was that Thor instead of Lisa-Playing-Football Thor? What if instead of blank void of a character that happens to have books, we got an overweight, jovial, Thor, who defied any notion of acting "ladylike" and went around beating the fuck out of criminals because it was fun. Kinda like Pam from Archer. You can hate it if you want to (and that's cool, it took me five seconds to think of it) but this would not only be a unique character that I don't think we've seen in the Marvel universe, but it would also expand the roles that women can have. She wouldn't have to be a "symbol" of feminism; she could just be an alcoholic, badass crimefighter.

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