A guest post by Garrideb
One of the most insidious forms of sexism is the valuing of stories about men above stories about women. An obvious symptom of this is the gross outnumbering of male characters to female characters (in a list of Best Picture Oscar winners, in a list of television show leads, in a list of superhero comics, etc..,) but even when a female character is given the spotlight, there are many ways to keep men at the forefront.
This is why the third step of the Bechdel Test is so important; that moment when two women talk about something other than a man is a moment where women’s stories are being prioritized not only by the
script, but also by the fictional women who are interacting. It’s a sort of textual infinity mirror — women reflecting their struggles and goals back and forth at each other, to the very rare and refreshing exclusion of men’s stories.
Carol Danvers is a prime example of this phenomenon, because when we read a story about Carol Danvers, we are reading about a character who values and prioritizes the stories of women.1 In a character burdened with spotty feminist intentions and anti-feminist backlash, it is one of the purest and most beautifully feminist things about her.
But don’t take my word for it; here are five examples of Carol promoting the stories of women.
1. Carol at Woman Magazine
The very first issue of Ms. Marvel from 1977 has Carol accepting a job at the Daily Bugle as editor of Woman Magazine. J Jonah Jameson wants a very traditional women’s interest magazine, but Carol’s got other ideas. The first story she wants to run is that of Salia Petrie, a space shuttle pilot and friend of Carol’s who she met at NASA.
Of course, no shuttle flight can go smoothly in the Marvel universe, and Sal’s story arc – which pops up here and there across the entire original Ms. Marvel run of issues – contains some of my favorite things. Astronauts! Robots! Mistaken death! Tearful reunions! Women cradling other women in their arms!
And throughout Carol’s career at the Bugle, Carol interacts with a variety of women – some who get along with her and some who do not – and refuses to be intimidated by J Jonah Jameson.
2. Carol and Wanda’s Story
The first time Carol comes barging into Avengers mansion, Wanda is the one to trust her. Wanda keeps her company while Carol borrows some lab space to concoct an underwater breathing serum (it’s comics, just roll with it). Soon they are looking out for each other and being respectful and supportive while not quite understanding each other’s world views.
Carol can show an astounding depth of anger towards Wanda when she perceives a betrayal, but she’s also often the first to defend Wanda such as during Avengers: Disassembled and in AvX #0. Carol cares deeply about Wanda’s legacy. Part of me feels that this is because Carol parallels her own failures with Wanda’s failures. Another part of me suspects that Carol has a crush on Wanda. Hey, both could be true.
3. Carol Tells Her Own Story
Carol is a writer. In the very first issue of Ms. Marvel, she tells MJ that writing is her “first love”, and that writing an exposé about her Cape Kennedy security job was a coping mechanism. Her novels, too, can be highly autobiographical, and we know she published
one while initially recovering from her alcoholism. Writing her own story is therapeutic for Carol.
Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel run deals heavily with Carol’s desire to control the way the world sees her. She hires a publicist, assembles her own specialized task force, and faces down several adversaries who try to co-opt her identity. That’s not even mentioning the mutant kid who brings Carol’s past to life by reading one of Carol’s novels out loud. Carol tries, fails, and tries again to write her own heroic identity. Needless to say, one of the biggest
themes of Ms. Marvel is a person’s ability to script their own life, and it’s significant that a female character is at the center of this theme.
3. Carol Chooses Jan
Carol and Jan do not always get along. The way the two Avengers approach super-heroics are as different as night and day, and this has lead to arguments and the occasional name-calling. Despite this, when Tony Stark asks Carol to lead the new Mighty Avengers team, Jan is the first person Carol wants to recruit. She says of Jan, “She was the best Avenger.”
I find this especially interesting because there are many ways to interpret this remark. Perhaps Carol does admire Jan for having a personality type so different from her own. Perhaps she admires Jan’s grace and humor. Perhaps she admires her for being the only female founding Avenger, or for flying wholeheartedly into combat
with superpowers that rarely compete with those of her team mates. Whatever reasoning we ascribe to this comment, Carol says it and Tony
supports it by saying, “I miss her the most,” and I can’t help but feel that the author expects – or at least wants – the reader to agree.
Jan was the best Avenger. The Wasp was the best Avenger. Carol says it and we aren’t meant to laugh. And you know what? It makes sense. Despite being mired in the sexist conventions of her 1960’s origin, many writers have managed to make Jan vibrant and fierce. She’s been a competent and compassionate leader of the Avengers. More Avengers (and more importantly, more writers of Avengers comics) should name her in the same breath with Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.
So it makes sense, and I’m glad Carol said it.
5. Carol Mentors Anya
Carol had never shown an interest in having a sidekick or doing any kind of mentoring until she met Anya Corazon. At that point Carol wasworking with Tony Stark to arrest unregistered superheroes, and Anya was protecting her neighborhood as Araña, an unregistered superhero. When Carol’s team catches up with Anya, the two bond quickly and Carol takes Anya under her wing.
Of course, no sidekick gig can go smoothly in the Marvel universe, and Anya and Carol have to deal with the usual villains in addition to copious amounts of pro- and anti-registration extremism. Carol often isn’t the best role model, and Anya questions her as much as she follows her, but that’s what makes it a good partnership for both the characters and the reader.
I love it when women mentor other women in the stories I read, and it’s even better when that relationship is both beneficial and flawed. It’s compelling and it’s human, and it doesn’t need to focus on men to achieve that.
1 By celebrating the moments in which Carol focuses on women I am not hating on the male characters. I love Carol’s interactions with Cap and Tony, and her team-ups with Spidey are pretty awesome. I even – very rarely – almost care about Wonder Man when he’s with her.
* * * * * *