Kelly Gallagher ’22
When I first heard people comparing “Captain Marvel” to “Wonder Woman,” I didn’t see a problem with it. The films are both the first female-centric movies to emerge from their respective franchises of Marvel and D.C., and people compare those franchises all the time.
But after “Captain Marvel” came out earlier this March, I noticed that people were talking about “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” in the context of which is more feminist. For example, people are praising Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) for not having a love interest and wearing a suit instead of a skirt. I agree that it’s great to have a female superhero with those qualities, but I think it’s inaccurate to say that makes her a more feminist hero than Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot).
The first problem with pitting these two movies against each other is the rivalry it creates between female characters, a practice cautioned against in the “Captain Marvel” film. Captain Marvel, also called Carol Danvers, is one of two female members in her alien military unit (stay with me here, folks), and the other woman, Minn-Erva, feels threatened by Carol’s skill. This situation is reminiscent of the unfortunate reality that many women in the workplace feel pressure to compete with rather than support each other. Minn-Erva’s rivalry with Carol is contrasted by Carol’s friendship with her fellow Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau. Their friendship is largely defined by their support for one another, and through this, the film encourages women to make each other stronger, not tear each other down.
The other problem with designating Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman as the “better” female superhero is that this debate propagates the mindset that there’s an ideal type of female superhero. It’s fair to compare Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman – fans compare superheroes all the time – but they should not be battling each other for the title of “Best Female Superhero.” After all, when’s the last time Entertainment Weekly ran an article on who’s the “Best Male Superhero?” Never, because there’s not an archetypal male superhero. There are all types of male superheroes, ranging from geniuses to goofballs, who are adored for their individuality rather than their ability to satisfy a standard. Female superheroes should receive that same treatment.
However, is it even worth it to dissect this debate? These are just movies, of course. But the Captain Marvel vs. Wonder Woman debate reflects and advances a limiting view of feminism. For example, by saying Captain Marvel is more feminist for wearing a suit, we’re saying there’s something wrong with wearing a skirt. A view as problematic as this is worth dismantling in any context.
Many feminists agree that the goal of feminism is not to urge women to be a particular, perfect type of woman, but to provide women with choices. Captain Marvel wears a suit, Wonder Woman wears a skirt. Neither choice is more feminist. It is feminist to have two female characters who are depicted making different choices about their lives and are considered equals. In this way, the two films make a more powerful statement together than on their own.
When people talk about “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman,” it shouldn’t be in the context of which did more for feminism, but in the context of how important it is that we now have two awesome female superhero movies. Viewers have more well-written female characters to look up to, kids have more Halloween costume options, and Hollywood is still swindling us all. It’s a win for everyone.
Photo courtesy of Polygon