09 April, 2010

The Treatment of Women in the X-Men Films

I have tried to be inclusive of trans* men and women in this post. If anyone thinks I have failed in this endevour, or there is a way I could improve it, please let me know, either in comments or in an email.

Let me preface this by saying: I love Marvel. I am a comic-book geek, and Marvel is my playground. It is one of the only superhero worlds with kick-arse female characters and kick-arse teens. As far as non-white characters, trans* characters, disabled characters - sorry. There is a *lot* of fail.
But I cling to Marvel in the hope that it will get better, because I love superhero comics. I live in the hope that, as the slightly more progressive of the comic-giants, Marvel will one day stop fridging its women; will have a non-white character who doesn't turn out to be the villain; will have a disabled character that doesn't have their disability magicked away; will have a mentally ill character that isn't "cursed by maddness" and thus evil; include a fucking trans* character, period!

I know, I know, it's asking a lot. I might as well hope for Joss Whedon to knock on my door and say "I've treated the subject of rape horribly in the past; how can I do better?" But I refuse to believe that the world which brought us Kitty Pryde, Sue Storm, Jubilee, Emma Frost, Storm, Tamora Pierce's White Tiger and Jean Grey/Phoenix can't get better.

Which brings me to my anger. I was involved in a mock-Twitter argument which started as Marvel vs. DC, and ended up as Kitty Pryde vs. Batman. Not who would beat whom, but who is the coolest. Leaving asside the fact that Batman is a (very) rich, white, able-bodied, straight, cis-man and thus has every priviledge possible available to him, it was a fun argument. Until.

Until it was suggested that Batman was cooler because he had block-buster action flicks made about him and Kitty didn't. And suddenly I wasn't having fun anymore, I was angry. More than angry, I was furious. I still am furious. Because who does Hollywood make kick-arse action flicks about? Oh that's right, able-bodied cis-men. Kick-arse women? (cis or trans*, especially trans*) Not so much.

But there was an X-Men movie franchise, with actual cis-women in it! Rouge and Storm and Jean Grey and Phoenix! Oh, really? So I'm just supposed to jump for joy because there are women in these films? I don't think so! The treatment of the female X-Men (hah!) in these films.

In the comics she is down and dirty. She is powerful. She is poor. She isn't afraid to use foul tactics to win a fight. She wasn't afraid of using her powers, especially if it won her the battle.
In the film? Actually, in the film she's a mix of three characters: Jubilee, Rouge and, gasp, Kitty Pryde. In fact, the only thing film-Rouge had in common with comic-Rouge was her powers.
Film Rouge spends all three movies pining over various boys and men. In the first film, the only film she is prominent in, she is a fucking plot device to spur on Wolverine! She was used. The first film, the only one she's prominent in, she wasn't a character, she was something for the other characters to react to.

Talk about a kick-arse super heroine! She can control the fucking weather! You'd think a weather-witch would come in mighty handy in a massive, drawn out battle of the mutants! And she does come in handy, those three times she actually used her powers.
That's right; three films, countless battles, and she only uses her powers three time. Um... yay? Not to mention the fact that you barely fucking see her! You see her eyes glow, and then she vanishes! You don't see half the fuckng cool stuff she does! You know, the stuff that saves the day? She ain't credited for that, either.

Jean Grey:
Oh Jean. She was horribly mistreated in these films. Her role? Be caught in a love triangle between Wolverine and Scott. Woo. She is a telepath, though! But, oh, she's punished for using her powers. That's right, she saves the fucking day, isn't seen doing it, and has a fucking off-screen death. Talk about being fridged!
But of course, she comes back as;

Apparently Jean was more a more powerful telepath than even Professor X! For reasons not properly explained, this is considered a Bad Thing. We couldn't have a young cis-girl be stronger than an old man now, could we? So Prifessor X takes it upon himself to mess with her mind and supress her powers.

Stop. Let me talk about that for a second. Because sweet merciful darkness what a fucking horrible thing to do!! People being scared of powerful cis-women and thus supressing them? Mutilating them against their will? Gee, it's not like that happens every fucking day!

But back to Phoenix. And now we have some ableist-fail as well! You see, the act of supressing Jeans powers "drove her insane". It created a split personality, Dark Phoenix. A powerful cis-woman with a mental disorder? Let's make her evil! That's never been done before, right? Right...

And you know what? I'm sick of this! I'm sick of being tossed a bone, I'm sick of being expected to leap for joy every time a cis-woman is on the fucking screen! And heaven for fend I ask for actual fleshed-out characters; fleshed out characters who aren't thin, white, cis, currently abled men!

On the plus side, I have discovered an awesome new blog, Heroine Content. They published some commentary on the fourth X-Men film, which I decided not to mention at this point:


hexy said...

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

You thought Marvel was bad, you should see how women get treated in the Bible!

Pharaoh Katt said...


LOL! Too funny. And you made me realise that my profile still said I was Christian, oops :P
In future, please sign your comments.

Ruthie G said...

Kitty Pryde is cooler than anyone. Just ever, I will accept no arguments. I think the movies didn't mangle her completely because she had such a small part (although they tried their best).

Storm also gets the immortal line "what happens when a toad gets hit by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else." Is that meant to be funny?

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for more excellent female comic characters, try DC! Wonder Woman, Oracle, Huntress, Manhunter, Amanda Waller, Batwoman, The Question, Lady Blackhawk, Batgirl...the list is huge.

Of course, they also have a slight fridging problem (what type of media doesn't? sigh) but they also have lots of female led comics.

- A DC fangirl

Jet said...

Awesome post.

M said...

The changes to Rogue's character are even more annoying if you know that, in the original script, Magneto is after Wolverine, and Rogue helps save the day. Of *course* this had to be changed!

I'm annoyed at what they did to Callisto, too. She's not a major character, but they still felt the need to turn the sexy up and the strong down. The Callisto I remember was a masculine, badly-scarred woman who didn't willingly follow anyone; in the movie she's changed into a sexxxy femme with tattoos, and she trots after Magneto for no apparent reason. The Morlocks (who live underground because they're too 'ugly' to walk around safely in public) are also changed into sexxxy clubgoers. What the hell?

Skye said...

Found this through the Geek Feminism blog, thanks for the shout out!

I had actually not read any X-Men comics before seeing the films, but now I have, and it's not helping me feel better about a lot of the decisions made in the films!

-Skye of Heroine Content

Pharaoh Katt said...

DC Fangirl: I have always been a Marvel Girl at heart, but I've just picked up The Circle by Gail Simone. So we'll see :)

Ruthie G: I know what you mean. Storm suffers from the [strong female] character problem (as opposed to [strong character] female). And the problem is, line like that are supposed to endear us to her!

Jet: thank you :)

M: really? She was meant to save the day? Argh!! Do you have a link you can send me with the original script?
And Callisto... Good goddess! Why on Earth do they feel the need to make a strong willed, masculine character into a sex-not when SHE DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A HUGE ROLE?!?!? It blows my mind. What, we're not supposed to notice? We're not supposed to care? Argh!

Skye: you're blog is awesome and has been addedto my weekly reader. I found it while doing research for this entry. Thanks for coming by and saying hi :)

Anonymous said...

It's "Rogue", not "Rouge".