Damsel in distress:


NOT a damsel in distress: 


bugger off. mary jane had the BEST female character treatment out of all the marvel films, and natasha was royally screwed over in age of ultron.

physically beating bad guys up has nothing to do with being a strong character.

Well, being completely helpless in the face of danger and constantly getting kidnapped by super villains in every single movie in the series just so the hero has a pretty girl to save in the third act sure as hell has nothing to do with being one. And I’m kind of baffled that you would think it does, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that was sarcasm on your part.

*cracks knuckles* Okay, leaving Natasha out of the equation for a minute –

Being helpless in the face of danger isn’t remotely a bad thing, and I really wish people would stop equating ‘good female character’ with ‘strength’. I love characters who aren’t strong, who aren’t kickass, who don’t get to land the hit, etc etc. “How do they react when put in danger” should not be the be-all and end-all of who and what a female character is. (It’s not like it is for male characters, after all.) It’s like how this very good post says –

“I’d rather have works centering on Pepper’s kidnaping and forcible
injection of Extremis than another gifset of her fresh from the flames,
not because I want to romanticize her pain or devalue her strength but
because I’m wary of romanticizing her strength and devaluing her pain.
Pain is how we connect to characters. Their suffering and their mistakes
are what make them dynamic, and interacting with the difficulties of
these characters’ lives is what creates a vibrant fandom.“

I absolutely adore Mary Jane’s character in the Spider-Man films (and the comics, although that’s not what we’re talking about here) and I’ve written before about, well, her pain. I feel Natasha’s pain as well, don’t get me wrong, but I’m far, far more likely to deal with the minor pains in life like being fired from jobs I badly want or hiding the ‘low’ jobs I don’t want than I am likely to face the horrors of being a reformed child assassin. Mary Jane’s not a Hero with a capital H, and sometimes she’s not even a very nice person, but she’s not punished for this.

(no, I don’t think the three separate kidnappings really count as punishment, as she emerges from them all unscathed, and doesn’t even seem that fazed by the third time, taking action to save Peter from Venom and managing pretty okay, by most non-superpowered standards, on her own. And by the end of the third movie, Harry is the one fridged for the sake of Peter’s character development, not her.)

How the narrative of Spider-Man reacts to Mary Jane being treated misogynistically is interesting, too. When Norman Osborn first leers at MJ’s chest when he meets her and then calls her a gold-digger in front of everyone, (’You think a girl like that’s sniffing around because she likes your personality?’) we’re supposed to empathize with her as she storms off almost in tears. And here’s a very key point on where MJ and Natasha differ: Natasha is also treated misogynistically – Loki calls her a mewling quim, those dudes at the beginning of Avengers call her just a pretty face, etc etc – but whenever that happens she turns the tables on them, defeats them, beats them up. And that’s good, honestly – displays of female power against sexism are always good –

– but not everyone can live up to that standard. And that’s also fine. All MJ can do is yell at the men who let her down, or try her hardest not to let the abuse she suffered as a child affect her life and career, or drop a concrete block on Venom’s head just as he starts talking about her and Gwen Stacy like they’re the property of men. (Natasha would applaud that action, I am sure.)

In other words, yes, Mary Jane needs to be saved a lot. Going from a purely Watsonian perspective here – her life and the people she hangs out with put her in a lot of danger. She’s not kickass, she’s not powerful, and (here’s the kicker) she’s exclusively a victim of men. Her father is seen emotionally abusing her, and even two movies later this is seen to have had a huge affect on her life. (As it should, because that’s how it works in real life.) Norman/Green Goblin kidnaps her to get to Peter and taunts him about how he’ll kill her ‘nice and slow’, because (as we’ve already established) movieverse Norman is a huge misogynist. Eddie/Venom also kidnaps her for misogynistic reasons – he thinks that because Peter ‘stole’ Gwen from him (Gwen being a woman who actually has no interest in either of them) murdering Peter’s own girlfriend in front of him is an appropriate revenge. (The only supervillain who doesn’t really fall into this pattern is Doc Ock, and it’s probably not a coincidence that’s he’s the most sympathetically treated.) MJ’s also a victim of Peter in the third movie, when he gets possessed by the Venom symbothingy and shoves her down to the floor.

Actually, yeah, you know what? MJ’s a victim. Even without the supervillains around, she’d still be a victim. Her father abused her, Flash Thompson was a jerk to her, Norman (in his regular non-supervillain persona) is both sexist and classist to her, even Peter isn’t a model of good behaviour to her either. (It’s not for nothing that she calls him out for not letting her make her own choices.) She’s a victim, victim, victim. And yet by the end of the series, she’s still standing, still swinging, still singing even. 

Natasha and MJ are both victims, but just because Natasha was granted the power to defeat her oppressors doesn’t make MJ any less of a character for not having that power. Whirling this back around to the beginning again, being helpless in the face of danger (as most of us are) is – well, it can be a really important thing to show a woman being. Because not all of us will ever be able to respond to misogynists/danger/supervillains with strength, and for obvious reasons it’s very important that a woman in real life isn’t expected to do that.

Being a victim and coming out of it stronger is a good narrative. But being a victim and coming out of it just okay is a good narrative too. If someone’s saying one’s inherently better than the other, what’s that saying about how we actually perceive female strength?

I’m kind of baffled, etc etc. Also, Natasha would have loved Mary Jane.