Marvelous Hypocrites: Sexism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Author: Jordan Sickrey

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most popular movie franchises ever. It has had fourteen movies released thus far and has another nine planned (three released every year for the next three years). It also has the tv shows that air on ABC: “Agents of SHIELD”, which is in its fourth season, and “Agent Carter”, which was cancelled after two seasons. It has the show “Inhumans” which will be airing in 2017. Beyond that, it has the Netflix Original series that include: “Daredevil” (renewed for Season 3), “Jessica Jones” (renewed for Season 2), “Luke Cage” (renewed for Season 2), “Iron Fist”, “The Defenders”, and “The Punisher”. There is also a Freeform series called “Cloak & Dagger” in the works for 2018. They are also preparing for pilots to be done for even more Marvel.

However, this success has always been built by stepping on the female characters. For the purposes of keeping this relatively short, I’m going to keep this strictly in the movies. The treatment of female characters in the Netflix series and ABC shows is a whole other matter, which I would go into, but I won’t. It’ll make this much longer than necessary.

Now, people may ask “Why are you attacking Marvel? They make great movies! The TV shows are fantastic!” This is fairly true. The movies are interesting and visually pleasing. Some of the arcs on the TV shows are really well done. The visuals on the shows are just as stunning as the movies, even without the larger budget.

However, again, this does not mean that they cannot improve. The main thing that needs to be improved is the treatment of the female characters. Without further ado, let’s move into the unfair treatment of how the women are treated in the movies.

Case Study 1: Betty Ross

Betty Ross is a woman who has only ever been in one movie, and it is a movie that most people tend to forget is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That movie would be The Incredible Hulk from 2008. Betty Ross has a PhD in cellular biology and was shown working at Culver University. She is the daughter of General Ross, though he appeared to have been promoted in Captain America: Civil War (2016).

Betty has not been talked about at all since The Incredible Hulk. She was so important to who Bruce Banner is as a person, but she has not even been mentioned once since her appearance in 2008. She was the first person to ever break through the Hulk’s mind. The Hulk was not mindless when it came to Betty Ross. Yet, she just disappeared. Even after Bruce appeared to be able to control the Hulk after the events of The Avengers (2012), there was no mention of him even calling her.

Now, her storyline is revolving around Bruce. However, Betty Ross was not just the love interest. She was able to assist a fugitive and help him escape, and she fought against her father—a general—to protect him. She was no limp noodle. She was her own character who made her own choices and stood on her own two feet. Her story did revolve around Bruce in The Incredible Hulk, but her character was not only there for Bruce.

And Marvel just made her disappear. She was already 30 or 31 when The Incredible Hulk came out, and Hollywood has problems with women who are 35 or older, which she would have been when Bruce and Hulk returned in 2012 with The Avengers. So Marvel just quietly pretended she never even existed.

Case Study 2: Pepper Potts

Pepper Potts was a very divisive female character. Many people have a problem with Gwyneth Paltrow, which bled over into them not liking Pepper. However, by many other people, she was a beloved character. Her devotion to Tony was one of many admirable qualities, especially because Tony Stark is not an easy man to deal with.

And, Pepper has never been a prop for Tony. After all, she became the CEO of Stark Industries. She often helped Tony save the day, twice delivering the final blow (Iron Man in 2008 and Iron Man 3 in 2013). She always knew what was going on, and she knew how to command the arena.

Yet, after Iron Man 3, she stopped appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She was mentioned, very briefly, in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) where Tony was bragging about her to anyone within earshot—mostly because Thor was bragging about Jane, and Tony confessed that he and Pepper were “taking a break” in Captain America: Civil War (2016). There appear to be no plans to bring Pepper back, even though she has been an important link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, through the three Iron Man movies and The Avengers.

Why is this? Well, after Gwyneth’s last appearance in Iron Man 3, she was 41. This is “old” by Hollywood standards, and Marvel could not see why they would keep her around. She had served her purpose with helping Tony on his path, and they wanted to move on to the conflict between him and Steve for Captain America: Civil War, so while she was mentioned in the movie, it was only to mention that she and Tony had broken up. Which is ridiculous, because she is canonically the CEO of Stark Industries, so she should be there in some capacity. Especially if the Avengers’ home base is in NYC, because it makes sense that Tony wouldn’t want to be too far away.

But, no. Civil War needed Tony and Steve to both be at their lowest and most desperate, and that includes getting rid of the woman that has always stood beside Tony when he needed someone.

Case Study 3: Jane Foster

Okay, just going to preface this with some honesty: Jane Foster is my favorite character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I am extremely bitter about how the franchise and the fans have treated Jane as a character and Natalie Portman as an actress.

Jane Foster is arguably the hero of the Thor franchise. The first Thor movie in 2011 was framed as her movie, just as much as it is Thor’s. The movie starts and ends with Jane Foster, and it is centered on her work as a theoretical astrophysicist. Thor is just the hot byproduct that fell out of the sky and proved that she was right about her life’s work. She and Thor are equals in a way that they push each other; they support each other; they put each other on the right path. Their interest in each other forms naturally, and it only comes after Jane realizes that Thor is also incredibly smart.

However, Jane is not relegated to just the “Love Interest” role. She has agency and power and helps the plot move forward. In the first Thor, literally nothing would have happened without her. Thor would have been wandering around New Mexico forever and a day and never learning what it means to be Worthy.

Of course, she should have been in The Avengers (2012). Dr. Selvig being the one to work on the Tesseract was completely unnecessary. It was Jane’s work that focused on the possibility of life outside of Earth. Jane was the one who believed that there could be other dimensions out there. So, it should have been her that worked on the Tesseract with SHIELD. But, no. She was whisked away to be kept safe in Norway–more like Marvel wanted to keep her out of sight–but they still felt a need to drop a small mention, given that her potential romantic partner and her mentor/father figure were both in the movie.

And then in Thor: The Dark World (2013), Jane is again the one who is responsible for saving the world. It is her knowledge of astrophysics and the way that she tweaked Dr. Selvig’s equipment to work with the Convergence that saves them. Thor just uses his muscle to keep the bad guys distracted long enough for Jane to do her thing. And, we finally get to see Jane and Thor be together.

Jane is not a typical “Love Interest”, either. She is nerdy. She does not dress for the male gaze. She dresses practically and comfortably. She has red rain boots on for the entirety of The Dark World. She even tries to move on from the hero after he’s been gone for two years. (Of course, everyone tries to hate on her for pining for Thor when they forget that Thor was pining just as much if not more.) She is not sexualized in a way that nearly every other female character has been. (Pepper in particular, as she was in a sports bra and yoga pants for about the last quarter of Iron Man 3 (2013).)

But then she too disappears. She is mentioned along with Pepper in Age of Ultron, as Thor brags about how Jane is up for a Nobel Prize. But then the Marvel heads decided that Thor needed someone who was more of an equal. As if Jane Foster, who saved the world with him twice, who stood up to Odin, who survived with an Infinity Stone in her bloodstream for days when it was proven by Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) that Infinity Stones are incredibly dangerous, wasn’t equal to him. Just because she couldn’t fight. Even though she does. She never runs away. She does all she can in both Thor and The Dark World to stand with Thor and do the right thing. But, Natalie Portman will be 36 this year, and Thor: Ragnarok apparently has no room for her. The off-screen break up and subsequent disappearance of Jane Foster is among the biggest tragedies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Conclusion

Now, I only looked at three characters out of the many women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, we all collectively pretend that the Bruce/Natasha romance that was shoehorned into Age of Ultron (2015) didn’t happen, right? The way Natasha was compared to a monster due to her forced sterilization was just cringe-worthy, and the entire plot made no sense.

Not to mention Laura Barton who was only there as a “Love Interest”, and who did not seem to even exist prior to the movie, because Marvel did not even hint at her existence until suddenly they were on a farm and Clint was kissing her.

Then in Civil War, they blamed Wanda Maximoff and treated her like she was unstable and dangerous even though she is still just a child. She generally has a lot of control over her powers, and the deaths that were caused on that mission were definitely more Steve’s fault than Wanda’s.

I could go on and on and on, because there are so many Marvel women who got the short end of the stick. Helen Cho, Maria Hill, Sharon Carter, Maya Hansen, Queen Frigga, Lady Sif…the list goes on.

Marvel may say that they are being inclusive. Marvel may say that they are not just catering to the men. However, it shows when the movies effectively kill off or phase out women. Apparently women can only be fun and exciting when being “one of the guys”, which is the new template for Valkyrie, who we will get to meet in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.

I used to love Marvel. But they really need to stop saying that they are inclusive and show that they are inclusive. They need to bring back Betty Ross and Pepper Potts and Jane Foster. They need to take the time to really make sure that the women are characterized as well as the men. They need to stop killing women just to further a man’s story (Maya Hansen and Queen Frigga are among the casualties).

The Marvel company is nothing more than a group of sexist men who want money. And they need to stop promoting themselves as something that they are not. Marvel is nothing more than a group of marvelous hypocrites.

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month: Reporting

Author: Ashley Benedict

Rape Kit Backlog

DNA evidence has become a critical factor in achieving justice for victim/survivors of sexual violence, but there are still challenges in the way evidence is collected, stored, tracked, and used to hold perpetrators accountable. The overwhelming backlog of DNA evidence is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.

The backlog of unanalyzed sexual assault forensic exam evidence is often referred to as the DNA backlog or “rape kit backlog.” The source of the backlog is complicated and multi-layered, but there are two main sources:

DNA evidence is a critical factor in identifying, prosecuting, and convicting perpetrators, but in some ways, the effectiveness of DNA evidence has been the source of its biggest obstacle. As DNA evidence proved to be a useful tool in both investigation and prosecution of sex crimes, collecting this evidence became standard procedure for law enforcement agencies across the country. Today, all 50 states and the federal government collect DNA from perpetrators convicted of certain crimes. An increasing number of states have expanded their laws to collect DNA from people arrested or accused of certain felonies and, in some cases, certain misdemeanors. In addition, DNA evidence can be collected directly from crime scenes and during sexual assault forensic exams.

Sexual assault forensic exams

You may have heard the term “rape kit” to refer to a sexual assault forensic exam. The term rape kit actually refers to the kit itself—a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam. A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction and may include:

  • Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection
  • Comb
  • Documentation forms
  • Envelopes
  • Instructions
  • Materials for blood samples
  • Swabs
Preparing for a sexual assault forensic exam

If you are able to, try to avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence such as:

  • Bathing
  • Showering
  • Using the restroom
  • Changing clothes
  • Combing hair
  • Cleaning up the area

It’s natural to want to go through these motions after a traumatic experience. If you have done any of these activities, you can still have an exam performed. You may want to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the hospital or health facility where you’re going to have the exam.

In most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 120 hours in order to be analyzed by a crime lab—but a sexual assault forensic exam can reveal other forms of evidence beyond this time frame that can be useful if you decide to report. Place your belongings, including the clothes you were wearing, in a paper bag to safely preserve evidence. If you have questions about the time frame, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or talk to your local sexual assault service provider.

The length of the exam may take a few hours, but the actual time will vary based on several different factors. It may be helpful to have someone to support you during this time. If you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or contact a local sexual assault service provider, you may be connected with an advocate who can talk to you about the examination and offer support. The advocate may also be able to accompany you during the actual exam. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.

What happens during a sexual assault forensic exam?

The steps below outline the general process for the exam. Remember, you can stop, pause, or skip a step at any time during the exam. It is entirely your choice.

  • Immediate care.
  • History.
  • Head-to-toe examination.
  • Possible mandatory reporting. If you are a minor, the person performing the exam may be obligated to report it to law enforcement. You can learn more about mandatory reporting laws in your state through RAINN’s State Law Database.
  • Follow up care. You may be offered prevention treatment for STIs and other forms of medical care that require a follow up appointment with a medical professional. Depending on the circumstances and where you live, the exam site may schedule a follow up appointment, or you can ask about resources in your community that offer follow up care for survivors of sexual assault. Someone from the exam site may also be able to provide information or resources about reporting options.
Who can perform the exam?

Not every hospital or health facility has someone on staff that is specially trained to perform a sexual assault forensic exam and interact with recent survivors of sexual assault. When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) you will be directed to a facility that is prepared to give you the care you need.

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) — registered nurses who receive specialized education and fulfill clinical requirements to perform the exam
  • Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) and Sexual Assault Examiners (SAEs) — other healthcare professionals who have been instructed and trained to complete the exam
Why should you consider having a sexual assault medical forensic exam?

How long will the evidence be stored?

The amount of time an evidence kit will be stored varies by state and jurisdiction. A SANE, advocate, or law enforcement officer should let you know how long the evidence will be stored and the state’s rules for disposing the kit. It’s important to note that the amount of time the kit is stored doesn’t necessarily match up with the amount of time that legal action can be taken against a perpetrator, also known as the statute of limitation. If you have questions about timing, statutes of limitation, or any other concerns, contact your local sexual assault service provider.

In Michigan, for sexual misconduct in the first degree, there is no time limit to commence legal proceedings against the perpetrator of the crime; for second, third, and fourth degree offenses, legal proceedings must take place within 10 years after the crime.

What’s the benefit of having a sexual assault forensic exam?
What happens to DNA evidence?

Once DNA is collected, there is a protocol for how the evidence is handled and used in an investigation. The evidence can be provided to law enforcement who are legally required to send it to a crime lab. The lab will analyze the material and develop DNA profiles that are unique to a specific person. The lab works with law enforcement officials to compare these profiles to the DNA of potential suspects. If the perpetrator is unknown, they may compare the DNA profile against a large database run by the FBI called CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. This way, they can identify suspects that the victim doesn’t know or isn’t familiar with.

Reporting

Communicating with law enforcement

When you’re talking with law enforcement, it can be helpful to know what to expect and to understand their process. You may only interact with law enforcement when you report, or they might ask you to stay involved with the investigation over a length of time. Knowing what your rights are and when to raise your hand can help you feel more in comfortable and in control:

  • You should have privacy.
  • It may take a while.
  • You can take a break.
  • You can go up the chain.
  • You can have support.
    • A trained advocate. When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the sexual assault service provider in your area may be able to connect you with an advocate who is trained to support you while you talk to law enforcement. Some law enforcement agencies also have trained advocates available.
    • Someone you trust. If you want a family member, friend, or partner to be present, you can have that too. Be aware that family or friends who are present when you speak with law enforcement may be called as witnesses if the case goes to trial. If the officer asks to speak with you privately, understand it’s likely to help you feel comfortable disclosing information that may feel private or sensitive. You can refuse this request.

Here are some general notes and tips about reporting to law enforcement

Note:

What goes into the report?

When law enforcement files a report, it includes the case tracking number and a written narrative based on the interview(s) with the victim. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, some aspects of the report will include:1

Why don’t some victim/survivors choose to report?

Of the sexual violence crimes reported to police from 2005-2010, the individual reporting gave the following reasons for doing so:

  • 28% to protect the household or victim/survivor from further crimes by the offender
  • 25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
  • 21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty to do so
  • 17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from reoffending
  • 6% gave a different answer, or declined to cite one reason
  • 3% did so to get help or recover loss

Of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the individual gave the following reasons for not reporting:

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble (Remember that most sexual assaults occur by someone the victim/survivor already knows)
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason

 

________, High Five Bro.

Author: Gracey Mussina

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Author’s note: It might be helpful to give readers a background context to this excerpt which is in a photo form to keep the card formatting for the lyric essay:

This is an excerpt from “_____, Against Humanity,” which is a lyric essay/personal narrative written last year for Advanced Creative Nonfiction. The extended version of this essay mimics the card format of “Cards Against Humanity” and reflects the underlying tensions in cultural society.

Question of the Day

Has the sex positivity movement gone too far? Has it not gone far enough? Why or why not? Let us know what you think by sending in work, comments, or questions to gvsufeministvoices@gmail.com!

Art and Activism: Why it Matters

Author: Ashley Benedict

Didn’t anyone ever tell you that art is a form of protest? As a Writing major, I’ve heard this countless times from professors. As writers, artists, musicians, etc., everything we do and everything we make can be considered a form of protesting. I’ve written stories about LGBT rights, sea levels rising, women’s issues, and more. I’ve heard songs that exist as Calls to Action, read poems that leave us thinking about social issues, and seen pieces of art that display the ugly truths about our society.

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