I watched Thor recently for the first time. Rented it on iTunes, of all fool things. But the movie got me thinking. First of all, it explained a bunch of random things from The Avengers (like how Thor knew Erik Selvig, why we give a shit about Natalie Portman, and Coulson’s prototype gun). Second, it, and a Tumblr post, have me thinking about the Bechdel test and feminism in films.
In order to pass the Bechdel test the work must have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man. Two chicks. Actually speaking to one another. About something not related to a man. Sounds easy, yes? You’d think. Sometimes it’s more than Hollywood can handle.
Thor passes the Bechdel test. Thor passes because Jane Foster’s grad student assistant is a woman. In the first scene she asks if she can turn on the radio and Jane says “No.” It’s simple, but it passes. Otherwise Thor isn’t about the women at all. Sure Jane rocks Thor’s world, or whatever, but it’s not a feminist flick. It’s a story/movie about boys who don’t play well together and both want to rule the world(s). But it passes.
You know what movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel test? The Avengers.
There are three main female characters in The Avengers:
Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow; Agent Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders; and Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. These women play key roles in the film: Potts gets Stark to accept the info from Coulson, Hill is a dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and well trusted by Nick Fury, and Romanoff is a key player in The Avengers team, as well as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who convinces Dr. Banner to join up. There are other women in the movie, other agents, Ashley Johnson as the diner waitress who feels she owes her life to Captain America, etc. And not a single one of these women have a conversation about their own romantic relationship (Potts asks Coulson about his love life). Not one. (Unless there really is something between Black Widow and Hawkeye that I’m unaware of.)
Each of these women are badasses in their own way, and they are great feminist icons. I love everything about these characters. I want more of all of them in future Marvel movies. I want them to be who my nieces look to when they need a female role model in their entertainment. But the reason The Avengers doesn’t pass the Bechdel test despite having such amazing women characters in it is because the women never speak to one another. Not once. Even though Hill and Black Widow work for the same agency and are often in the same room. They never speak to each other.
Despite this odd failing (seriously Joss Whedon?), from a feminist standpoint, I would still take The Avengers over Thor any day. The women characters in Thor are absolute stereotypes.
Jane Foster, the beautiful scientist who changes Thor’s entire mindset by being passionate and capricious and dedicated to her work, as well as kind, and caring, and compassionate; Frigga, Thor and Loki’s mother who has approximately twelve lines of dialogue; Darcy, who serves as Jane’s
sidekick the Best Friend character there to make jokes and raunchy comments; and finallly Sif, Thor’s female friend, a raging badass there to fill the role of female-raging-badass. None of the women have any character development and are only present to push male character development/comic relief.
But remember the story of Thor isn’t about the chicks. It’s about two brothers. Despite that, practically every male character has some sort of development no matter how small the role (Erik Selvig has a change of heart, even the Gatekeeper is a dynamic character), but not single woman undergoes any sort of change.
The movie is also directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has historically never given much to his female characters.
Joss Whedon, the poster boy of Male Feminism, co-wrote and directed The Avengers. It might not pass the Bechdel test, but I’d still rank it higher on the feminist scale than pretty much every other comic book flick out there.