Marvel’s latest movie Captain Marvel sought to unveil a new female role model–the most powerful figure in the Marvel universe. Feminists hailed this as the necessary step to validating the Marvel Universe (where the female heroes are sadly outnumbered). The movie however received mixed reviews with many being critical of what they believed to be a feminist agenda.
I will admit that I have feet in both camps. On one hand, I am happy to see more female superheroes. However, I will state that I have yet to see a female superhero that I can completely support.
We meet Captain Marvel as she is being trained by Yon-Rogg. She has no memory of her life–only that Yon-Rogg helped save her life when she was barely alive. As he works with her, his admonition is consistently control your emotions. Finally, she is ready for her first mission. However, during this mission she is captured and her memories are revealed. This sends her back to her old life, not on the planet she had been living on, but on Earth.
As Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, flashes back to her life, her memories consist of several times when men belittle her and tell her she is too weak to accomplish anything important. In fact, the climactic moment in the film is when she literally and figuratively throws off the hindrances that kept her bound. Once that is done, she becomes the most super-powered of all heroes. Finally, someone who can be a worthy opponent for Thanos
While this show of defiance is exhilarating, it can also be burdensome.
A Heavy Weight
Many moons ago and before I became a Christian, I stood on a stage at my high school giving a speech about feminism. I was always outspoken about my feminist viewpoints. However, an important theme unintentionally came through my speech. I explained how women in the past were relegated to the home and not allowed to pursue careers. Times changed though but the liberation wasn’t as liberating as it was hoped. Women took on the added responsibility of work while still carrying the load of running a home. The cry was no longer let me work but help me!
I feel sometimes that this is where we are going. The burden women bear seems to be getting heavier. As we throw off these restrictions that have kept us down, we are finding that the weight isn’t lifted, in fact it’s only getting heavier. The only things that are represented as important action are the ones traditionally done by men. The message becomes not be the best version of you but be the best version of men.
Not A Woman I Can Relate To
My biggest disagreement is that I don’t believe Captain Marvel is a movie demonstrating the value of women. Everything she does as a superhero is no different than the powers of Iron Man or Thor. She is only distinctly female in form. At the risk of being stereotypical, what might it have been like for them to glorify traits that are considered uniquely feminine such as empathy or discernment.
Over and over again Captain Marvel is reminded that her weakness is her inability to control her emotions. Perhaps the message is that when she makes decisions using emotions she is being true to herself and the part, notably female, that sees through things. In this moment she acts as a woman displaying characteristics typically downplayed. However, if this is intended it is buried underneath the explosions and hubris. I would have liked this to be the action that saves the day. This is something I can relate to and this is something not always valued.
Instead, we see her actions of destruction emphasized. Actions I cannot relate to in any way. I’m a 5ft 2 middle-aged woman. Power isn’t oozing from my body at all.
I don’t want to be more powerful though. I don’t want one more expectation that I have to fulfill: beauty, organization, career, parenting. I’m exhausted. When is it enough to just be me? Weakness and all. Why is it my responsibility to both create the world and protect it?
As we cast our role models perhaps we need to re-evaluate what it is we value in our culture. If we hold strength and power as the ideals, we set us all up for failure.
Giving Up My Burden
My role model is not Captain Marvel with whom I have nothing in common. My role model, while not a female, is instead one who had all power but laid it down in order to do the hard work of loving. He doesn’t ask me to carry his burden, instead he offers to take mine. My weary soul tired from trying unsuccessfully to carry the weight of the world finally finds rest.
I don’t want my daughter or my son growing up under the burden of strength. I want them both to know they don’t always have to be strong to be valuable. Instead, I want them both to rely on God’s power and be free to shake off the expectations of this world and its infatuation with power. Maybe when we can learn to value what God values, we will be able to see what it means to be a woman worth looking up to.