Women and their portrayal in Superhero movies

Hey everyone! I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer! For my Sociology of Gender course, I wrote my final paper on Women and their portrayal in super hero films, and decided to share that paper with you guys here! I only discussed women in films because there was no way I could fit males into this topic considering the limited word count I had, but let me know if you want me to write something on it for you guys! Because my original paper did not include pictures I will be adding that here and editing a few other things. Now, let’s get in to it.

Marvel entertainment in recent years, have begun to expand their cinematic universe as well as diversify the characters within their comic books. Because of this diversification however, the Marvel Vice President David Gabriel stated in an interview with Pop Culture Trade that diversity was actually harming comic book sales[1]. He later clarified this statement with the fact that these sales concerns were only based on the opinions of comic book retailers, and that many of these new characters were among Marvel’s most popular.

For the sake of simplification, I will be focusing on three major characters, how they are portrayed, and the response they received. The three main women in superhero films I will be referring to will be Black Widow[2], Mary Jane Watson[3], and Wonder Woman[4].

Black Widow was introduced to the Marvel cinematic universe in 2012, and has become a staple in the team from then to now. However when compared to her male counterparts, not only does she have the least amount of available merchandise, but her storyline has dwindled from that of a former KGB agent to hardly anything more than the Hulk’s love interest and subordinate to Iron-Man.

Black Widow’s clothing is shown to be a tight black suit with the zipper low enough to where her cleavage is incredibly exposed[5] something that does not aid her in fights, but rather feeds the male audience. Her clothing justifies having a female hero to a male audience. Furthermore, because her body is portrayed in such an overly exaggerated manner, it sets unrealistic expectations as to what preceding female protagonists are supposed to look like. Considering the fact that up until 2010 when Black Widow was initially introduced into the cinematic universe, it was rare to see a female as her own hero, therefore Black Widow began to set the standard for those comic-to-film female heroes that followed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the most recent Avengers film, Black Widow’s character has begun to dwindle as one who is constantly given instruction by her male counterparts (particularly Iron Man and Captain America) and someone for the hulk to have a failing romantic connection with. One of the reasons that their relationship is doom to fail, according to the film, is that she is unable to bear children. Her failing to become a mother, is her failure as a female as a whole, and therefore further pushes gender stereotyping that even though a woman can fight and do other things that a male does, what really makes them is their ability to procreate.

Mary Jane Watson was the main female protagonist in director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and was Peter Parker’s love interest throughout the trilogy. The portrayal of Mary Jane emphasizes one of the most overplayed female stereotypes: the damsel-in-distress. Mary Jane is throughout the films constantly in danger and waiting on spider-man to come and rescue her time and time again.

In the beginning of the series we see that Mary Jane does have a small storyline developing- a broken home and identity issues. However, the movie fails to capitalize on this and make Mary Jane appear to be uninterested and uncaring to Peter Parker, and which forced him to appear overly obsessed over Mary Jane Watson.

Mary Jane is seen as an object, just something to dangle over the head of Spider-Man throughout the series to make him do the bidding of others[6]. In his perspective, she is a prize to be attained and if he can attain this prize then he will have won the game of life. She is constantly seen as waltzing right in to danger and crying out for spider-man’s help throughout the series, thus perpetuating that she is there to be the damsel-in-distress.

A particular scene that strongly enforced this was in the second spider-man film in which Mary Jane was kidnapped by Doctor Octopus and strung up like a doll, waiting and hoping for Peter’s character to rescue her. In this scene, her tight shirt and the framing of the camera make a point to emphasize her breasts and that the audience has a strong look at her “assets.” What this scene is telling us is that she is just to be looked at, and that women in general are objects that men can use to hold over the head of one another to get ahead. In the first Spider-Man film they also made a point to emphasize Kirsten Dunst’s breasts in a scene where it’s raining, thus making her tight shirt see-through, and thus feeding the audience to more looks at her cleavage.

Finally, we will discuss Wonder Woman[7]. DC is viewed as having a sort of holy-trinity[8], as in three of one of the most popular superheroes of all times. This trinity consists of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

Because DC for years had failed and ignored the chance to capitalize on one of their most iconic superheroes, they were often mocked and scorned by the media, especially when Marvel has easily been able to capitalize on second tier and even third tier characters. The entertainment industry still views the superhero industry as made for young white men, although research has shown that women account for about 30-45% of the audience. As put in “ ‘tricky’ connotations: Wonder Woman as DC’s brand disruptor”:

“Because of this male- skewed thinking, comics-based franchises are marketed around this industrial construction of their audience, which creates barriers to producing female-led superhero franchises like Wonder Woman.”

For several years, attempting to get a Wonder Woman adaption was incredibly difficult, especially considering that whenever DC was asked about producing a Wonder Woman film, the answer was always that it was too ‘tricky’ to do so. An issue with Wonder Woman, in the mind of the film industry, was her incredibly close ties with the feminism movement and that would be too difficult to sell to the male audience they’re so constantly trying to please.

However, after much scrutiny, DC finally delivered in giving a Wonder Woman film- the first female lead superhero movie since Elektra[9]. Wonder Woman’s outfit- as revealing as it may be- was justified in the film when she questioned how else the women were supposed to fight, as reference to the long skirts she was being given to try on. For this change in her appearance and how she stands in the center of her own film, Wonder Woman is the Warrior hero.


Superhero films have evolved in more ways than one- from being stand alone films to becoming one large universe, from cheesy effects to having some of the most vivid graphics, and now- choosing to develop their females as equally as the do the men. With both Marvel and DC being set to produce several female-leading films. With this progression in the superhero industry, we will begin to see slow progression in the sci-fi genre, and possibly in film as a whole.


Hey guys! Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! Please share this with your friends, and have a wonderful day!

Social medias: twitter- natjimenez16; IG- myviewsfrommiami &natjimenez16; Snapchat- bowtieger



[1] O’Rourke, Morgan. “Super-powered diversity.” Risk Management, May 2017, p. 40. Academic OneFile,. Accessed 18 July 2017.

[2]Black widow as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in the following films: Avengers, 2012; Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015; Captain America: Civil War, 2016

[3] Mary Jane Watson as portrayed by Kirsten Dunst in the following films: Spider-Man 1, 2002; Spider-Man 2, 2004; and Spider-man 3, 2007

[4] Wonder Woman as portrayed by Gal Gadot in the following film: Wonder Woman, 2017

[5] Iron Man 2. Dir. Jon Favreau. Paramount Home Entertainment, 2010. Film.

[6] Spider-Man 2. Dir. Sam Raimi. Perf. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Columbia Pictures, 2004. Film.

[7] Wonder Woman. Dir. Patty Jenkins. Perf. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Warner Bros., 2017. Film.

[8] Howell, Charlotte E. “Tricky” Connotations: Wonder Woman as DC’s Brand Disruptor.” Cinema Journal 55.1 (2015): 141-49. Web.

[9] Elektra. Dir. Rob Bowman. Perf. Jennifer Garner and Goran Visnjic. Marvel Enterprises, 2005. Film.



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