Doctor Strange and the Insidious Misogyny of the MCU

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It’s often harder than it should be to be a female fan in the genre space, and that doubles when you’re talking about superhero properties. Despite significant progress in recent years, the medium is still heavily dominated by male characters and male-centric stories. Female heroes are all too often left out, serving as love interests or storylines – if they’re lucky, sometimes both. And while female viewers are seemingly welcome in this space, there’s an unfortunately pervasive sense that we’re part of this fandom on some kind of “guest pass”, and we should just be grateful for the crumbs of representation that we obtain.

Because while Marvel Studios is certainly keen enough to tout its feminist merits by pointing out Captain Marvel or Black Widowthe franchise was waiting another 20 movies to feature a female lead in Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and sat on a solo outing from Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) for so long that the character is dead first, essentially rendering the project useless for larger storytelling purposes… beyond introducing his sister (and obvious replacement) Yelena (Florence Pugh). And don’t even get me started on the gross complacency that was that “all-female team” moment in Avengers: Endgameas if letting a group of women stand side by side is giving them things like interiority, emotional depth, or stories of their own.

It would be one thing if the biggest franchise just ignored its women or featured one female character for every five males. Most women who regularly spend time watching gender properties are unfortunately too used to it. (It’s the Eowyn effect, basically.) And, to be fair, Marvel has spotlighted a ton of female-led series under its Disney+ banner, from Wanda Vision and Hawk Eye for Echo, She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel. But it often feels like the whole franchise is trapped in a pattern of one step forward, two steps back when it comes to its women. The really infuriating thing about the MCU is that while it actually has a ton of great female characters, it often seems like it doesn’t know what to do with them, often defaulting to the most simplistic storytelling choices and behaving like if it just included women. his canvas amounts to writing for them. Nowhere is this kind of insidious misogyny more apparent than the MCU’s treatment of the Scarlet Witch.

To be fair, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) certainly isn’t the only woman the MCU has smeared in recent years. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier turned nice American girl – and Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) niece!! – Sharon Carter (Emily Van Camp) head of an international criminal syndicate. Loki judged Sylvie (Sophie Di Martino), a female variant of the God of Mischief, far more harshly than any of the male versions of the character – and they’re all literally the same person. Laura Barton (Linda Cardinelli) was apparently once a SHIELD agent, but her starring role in Hawk Eye is to serve as little more than Clint’s (Jeremy Renner) emotional sounding board.

But no female character’s treatment can rival what Wanda endured, just because she’s gone. through for the better part of a decade now. Since Avengers: Age of Ultronwhere she is presented as a captive Hydra brainwashed to Captain America: Civil War, in which her very existence – and a tragic and well-intentioned mistake – is the catalyst by which the globally oppressive Sokovia Accords are enacted, she is constantly being punished for powers she does not fully understand and have never asked. She is forced to kill the love of her life not once but twice during Avengers: Infinity War in the name of saving the world from Thanos. His reward? Getting kicked out of existence for five years, and none of his supposed friends can even bother to call him after that. At this point, who’s even mad at her for mind-controlling a random New Jersey town? (Just kidding. Mostly.)

But at the same time Wanda Vision is essentially perfect television and leads with both honesty and empathy as it finally grapples with the extent of the grief and trauma Wanda has had to endure so far it’s also apparently the confirming exception Rule. Because at the moment Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness rolls on, all that nuance is out the window. Gone is that complex, layered Wanda. In her place is simply a witch: a scheming, manipulative, murderous archetype who is suddenly monstrous instead of sympathetic, who seeks to replace her lost children by stealing another woman’s.

“You break the rules and become a hero. ?? I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair,” Wanda says at the start of the movie, and the problem is, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness never really makes a convincing case that she’s wrong, simply choosing to rewrite her character as an unstoppable Terminator-esque, powerful and violent killing machine in a way that uncomfortably mirrors many of the tropes surrounding the idea of ​​”the ‘feminine hysteria’. (Sigmund Freud would be proud!)

Wanda’s irresistible desire for a family was a major narrative driver behind Wanda Vision, which saw her essentially force an entire town of innocents to live out her fantasy of a comfortable sitcom family, so it’s not like it’s a new emotional drive for her. But Multiverse of Madness essentially ignores much of the show’s conclusion, in which Wanda faces the reality of her mistakes and corrects them, despite the fact that it meant once again losing Vision and the children they created. This is growth, y’all!! But instead of advancing its story, the movie just retreads what is essentially the same ground, just with a higher body count, (much) worse dialogue, and the convenient insertion of an evil MacGuffin who supposedly made evil. (The ultimate insult – Wanda can’t even fully claim her own rage.)

While all of Wanda’s decisions in Wanda Vision because she was desperately looking for a family, Multiverse of Madness turns her motherly instincts into a chaotic and dangerous weapon, essentially reducing her to a one-note supervillain defined almost solely by her desire to find a version – any version – of her sons. She’s not very picky about what, nor does she care what their loss will mean for the Wanda she has to take them from. (The movie never bothers to ask why she doesn’t try to interdimensionally kidnap another Vision or Pietro either. I mean, for a dime, for a pound, right?)

The MCU has always had something of an uncomfortable gendered view when it comes to Wanda’s powers, one that’s made even more explicit when you compare and contrast her treatment to that of Doctor Strange. She is emotional and unstable, he is calm and rational. Her ability to suppress her feelings is something the story seems to consider oddly ambitious rather than sad. Wanda’s immense powers automatically make her dangerous and untrustworthy, while Strange’s powers mean he is seen as a strong and capable leader no matter what mistakes he makes. (Would you know Wong was Sorcerer Supreme by now if the movie didn’t mention him so many times? Multiverse of Madness has he ever treated him as if he surpassed Stephen? Just something to think about!)

I mean, Stephen Strange commits all the sins he accuses Wanda of in this movie and is still offered a chance at redemption; he is named a hero instead of a hypocrite, even though he essentially immolated himself out of sheer pride in all other realities. He’s the Earth-383 version of Professor Xavier believes in and tries to help, not Wanda. He manages to openly yearn for all versions of Christine, even as he refuses to reach out to a mother grieving the loss of sons she never really had.

After all, Wanda did the impossible thing she was asked to do by killing Vision. She defeated Westview – on her own, I might add! – and said goodbye to him once more. She still suffers for all these things. But Strange gave Thanos the Time Stone and robbed half of humanity of five years in the process, all before literally tearing reality apart a second time in favor of a teenager he doesn’t even love. not that much. The only consequence he had to face was that one (1) man was rude to him at a public event one (1) time. Clint Barton spent the five years of the Blip directly murder people in the name of nebulous ‘revenge’ and not only is immediately welcomed into the Avengers fold, but rewarded with his own streak who can hardly be bothered to say what he did as Ronin was even evil. These things are not the same!

The thing is, I think Marvel is legitimately trying. I think Kevin Feige understands that legions of women are fans of this franchise and want to see their stories represented in the heroes they love. I think the MCU doesn’t really mean to treat its female characters like second-class citizens. But what does it mean that they keep doing it anyway? With the return of the X-Men and Fantastic Four to the Marvel stable, we’re going to see some of the most popular women in comics history – Jean Grey, Ororo Munroe, Rogue, Sue Storm – hit our screens. in the near future. Don’t they deserve better than that?



Lacy Baugher Milas is the editor of Paste Magazine, but loves to dabble in all kinds of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.


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