After writing yesterday’s post about Orion in Wonder Woman, I started imagining (as I have in the past) how inconceivable it is you’d have someone in say, Black Panther, presented as a sidekick or team-mate, and as racist as Orion is sexist. Someone who calls T’Challa “boy,” or makes jokes about the Panther’s sex life.
It’s been that way since second-wave feminism kicked off. As I mentioned in the previous post, it used to be the norm to saddle a feminist protagonist with a hardline sexist who’d discuss how being a cop (or whatever) just wasn’t a job for a woman, women couldn’t think logically, etc., etc. And the sexist, though presented as wrong, was still acceptable as a good guy. Nobody would present a black/white cop pair where the cop had a similar view of blacks.
And four decades later, I see the same thing, repeatedly. It makes me appreciate the Flying She-Devils TPB of Atomic Robo for not having “But you’re a girl!” come up in dialog (as they noted).
Yes, I realize that racism is associated with some truly horrendous attitudes and injustices. But sexism does some harrowing damage to women too, and plenty of conservatives wish the damage was worse. And the extremist view that women should have no rights and be completely subordinate to men isn’t much better than Jim Crow. So if racist protagonists in a contemporary setting are unacceptable, shouldn’t sexists be too?
Unfortunately our culture still tends to think the two poles of debate are “equality” and “Male supremacy” which makes “some rights for women but not full equality” sound like a moderate position. It isn’t.
Another annoying cliche, as noted at Shannon Thompson’s blog, is when the female villain’s big and evil plan is … to get a man. She’s going to steal the protagonist’s boyfriend. She’s the other woman. Her power is to control men. She’s obsessed sexually with the hero (note: I give Catwoman a pass here because she’s committed plenty of actual crimes, and I’m a moderate Selina/Bruce ‘shipper). In the first Chris Reeves Superman film, he stops Lex Luthor from sinking California into the ocean; in the second he stops Zod from conquering the world. In the Supergirl spinoff film, the question of whether Faye Dunaway or Helen Slater’s Kara gets the hunky hero is as much or more important as Dunaway’s bigger goals.
And third, we have the idea that a female character’s greatest fear or greatest torment is to become ugly. Uhura in Star Trek: Dagger of the Mind. Umar in Dr. Strange—an omega-level supernatural entity, she’s driven off at one point when she’s forced to behold her true face because OMG she’s hideous! Likewise Morgan leFay in the Doctor Strange TV movie of the 1970s is punished for failing Satan by being stripped of her looks. While I can’t think of any immediate examples, I have seen the trope more recently. I’ve seen men horrified by being physically aged but I don’t know I’ve ever seen that presented in quite the same way.
If I never see any of those tropes again, I’d be okay with it.