Marvel’s Misogyny and the Comic Book Microcosm

After I wrote my piece on Jennifer’s Body, I continued to keep my eyes open for other she-monsters and devilish dames. Just recently, I discovered Abhay Khosla’s observation about Marvel Comics and their misogynistic representations of women in their popular stories. While, on the surface, dedicated readers of Marvel will definitely find glaringly obvious conflicts that seem to supersede the misogyny, as Khosla points out the gynophobia are as, if not even more so, obvious than the superficial conflicts blanketing the subtext. Despite what many commenters had to say, Khosla’s selection of the highly conceptual comic, Dark Reign: The List, was an ideal testament to the overall tone that Marvel produced. I suggest you read his piece because he thoroughly describes some of the most incredible details about the comic book. And, of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you here nor do I want to contribute to a publication I haven’t read. Instead, I would like to comment on the symbolic references Khosla points to and the overwhelming responses from commenters who disagreed with Khosla’s arguments.

Additionally, while I do like to speculate the microcosm that is the comic book world, I am not entirely a comic book fan. I do have a few old tattered rags and a couple of new ones (a saucy necrophilic porno was my most recent purchase); but, I do not aggressively visit ComiCon (Although I want to so badly), nor am I completely updated on the latest issues of the most popular comics and graphic novels, but I do have my strides. Finished The Watchmen over a year ago and… well… Deanna of the Dead has kept me company ever since.

Anyhow, although my experience in this special niche of the literary/art/pop culture community is lacking, I believe this also strengthens my perception of the obvious gender issues that Khosla points out in his commentary. I mean, if someone who has never read Evil Reign before can easily spot the gender bias over the other themes, like patriotism, then isn’t that a bad thing? Shouldn’t the other elements have been just as strongly written?

At the same time, if Khosla only acknowledges the misogynistic aspects of the comic, then perhaps I am missing out on a crucial story that is more important than the women and their circumstances. Even so, to say that this story is somehow more significant than these segments of the story, then one would have to admit that they’re ignoring some very unconcealed friction between the opposite sexes.

Khosla slyly pulls parts of the Dark Reign and ties it to the theme of “castration anxiety” and “gynophobia” among middle-aged men. There were several references to vagina dentata and, as the illustrations provides, his opinions prove accurate. The large reptilian she- creature literally looks like a big, long, wet, green sleeve with sharp teeth crowning her mouth. Khosla also pulls from Freudian theories about how the head represents the female vagina and connects this to a part of the story in which a woman’s head is repeatedly being destroyed. Oh, yes, this is certainly a delicious article!

What amazed me more than Khosla’s article were the responses made by readers. These comments were left on i09’s website, on which Khosla’s article is mentioned. So many of the comments completely side-stepped Khosla’s revelation by mentioning other themes in the story:

“I can sort of see your point, but its ignoring the fact that there was another, more pertinent subtext, mainly the PATRIOT act. Not to mention the fact that she was essentially ordering him to 1) break the law and 2) rat out his friends.

Again, to use a historical parallel, it would be like saying that the people who refused to cooperate with the Communist witch hunts were homophobic because Hoover and Roy Cohn were gay.” — Wookie1972

Others were downright skeptic of the piece altogether:

“wow. just goes to show that you can justify anything with anything. not to say that comics aren’t misogynistic but to say that civil war was because cap didn’t want to submit to a woman and playing it as if that was a conscious choice? seems a little far fetched.” — gaveedra

However, I found two opinions that paralleled each other so strongly, they further substantiated the significance of the women’s roles in Evil Reign: The List.

Commenter Mordicai makes a very valid point about how “text” and “subtext” works in Evil Reign… :

“Yeah– people are going to backlash this, but that is because a lot of readers have a hard time understanding “text” & “subtext.” Sure, there are perfectly good reasons Cap freaks out about Maria Hill, perfectly good reasons for Iron Man to take the reigns over from her– but that is the TEXT. In fiction, you can make up whatever you want– so somebody MADE UP those perfectly good reasons. So what you see is– woman orders man; man rebels! Man takes over power from women; happy ending. That is the subtext…”

It’s similar to the point I mentioned earlier. Based on Khosla’s perspective, and the perspective of commenters, the most apparent story focuses on the Patriot Act. And it is the intentions of Marvel Comics to get you to follow this storyline to the end; but, that doesn’t mean the feminist theory is far fetched, especially when the symbolism is just as visible, even behind the thinly veiled curtain of the main plot.

Mungley001 talks about Marvel’s need to create balance by placing females as victims, villains, and heroes:

“I think there is an attempt (poorly handled) at Marvel to show some gender balance. The premise at Marvel seems to be that if women are going to be considered equal, then they should be villains as well as heroes. This often dissolves into the lame-ass motivations of jilted lovers, etc.

So while the misogyny is there, it is amplified by an attempt to involve female characters. Is it better to have a horny female villain or just have horny women lusting after the heroes (the answer is: none of the above, but Marvel seems to have missed the option of strong female character with reasonable motivation.)”

The commenter goes on to reveal other elements of the story, elements that prove Marvel might be flawed at creating arguably honest and provocative roles for both the men and women in their tales. This comment reminded me of Jennifer’s Body. While that sexy monster was a product of a weakly written backstory, she was still refreshing to watch nonetheless. Even if the level of scariness was not completely high, Jennifer’s monstrous capabilities proved dangerous and compelling. This is the same response I feel when I look at the picture of the big she-monster. While Marvel does expose its fear of women, it also places a violent and powerfully moving emphasis on this woman too. We fear her and, because of her sexualized flaws, we can’t help but eroticize her frightfulness as well. With this potent combination of fear and sexual fury, the women can’t help but become the driving forces of this story.

I really should get into comics more deeply, because while women are actively present in the stories told, their roles are diverse and highly valued in relation to the comic book community.

    • Daisy
    • December 7th, 2009

    Female characters should act like real females. That means if a woman is horny evil cunt in a story something in her past helped make her that way and it doesn’t mean that the writer hates women.

    That is unless there is no reason in her backstory to be acting like that. In that case the writer just sees women that way.

    Sorry if this comment sucks but I’m on the toilet typing on my touch and just don’t feel like making this pretty. Real life never is pretty.

  1. There is a backstory to it, from what I read in the analysis. According to Khosla’s article, the monster is actually used in retaliation against a traitor. She (if I’m getting this correctly) is actually half-human half-alien but has been “weaponized” to remain in “estrus”, which really means that the ex-wife looks like a green earthworm because she is in a state of constant horniness.

    The choice of the monster’s appearance and its constant state of “hunger” (subtext to mean sexual hunger) is pretty telling. It’s not that she was a horny woman before and suddenly became a horny monster after. Her ex’s nemesis altered her completely so that she is in a forced state of arousal and, thus, a monster.

    We can assume it away to mean nothing. But, what I find impressive is that Khosla doesn’t. He pulls pretty far, which is why his analysis is accused of being far-fetched, but his references are substantial to me. And the mixture of comments to his analysis suggests that while there isn’t an intentional motive for Marvel to bash its female characters is intentional (which I discuss) but, when interpreted through another perspective, does have misogynistic themes.

    These same themes still make the comic intriguing, however. The misogyny isn’t overbearing; but, in science fiction/fantasy/spec fic, it doesn’t need to be. Our universe and our technology has advanced under this construct, but that doesn’t mean human nature has truly progressed.

    And I agree. Real life is never pretty. Makes things interesting.

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