The MCU is finally making strides in women representation

‘WandaVision’ is a superhero story that demonstrates value in feminine power

Wanda Maximoff.
Credit: 
Disney+ screenshot

Last week, when I opened Disney+, I was met with a banner promoting Captain Marvel with the caption “Celebrate International Women’s Day.” I was infuriated.

Not only was I frustrated because, as many critics have articulated, Captain Marvel isn’t a groundbreaking feminist film—and it doesn’t celebrate the titular woman character it barely develops—but just one banner over was a promotion for WandaVision, a markedly more nuanced and empowering example of a woman superhero.

It’s obvious to many fans, particularly women, that Marvel has been lacking in its representation of women heroes on-screen. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it took 20 films to get a woman-led film. The few prominent woman characters that do exist in the MCU, like Black Widow, Gamora, and Captain Marvel, adhere to a specific brand of feminist representation: the stoic, literal-ass-kicking kind.

Yes, there’s plenty to like about these characters, and yes, they do demonstrate woman power—a facet of it, anyway. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling empowered by these women; many people have, myself included. But as much as superhero films are about beating up the bad guys, to suggest that a woman’s power is defined by her ability to punch someone in the face—like the MCU often does—frames these characters’ strengths around their ability to perform traits valued because of their proximity to traditional masculinity, like roundhouse kicks and being emotionally reserved.

WandaVision is a long-overdue break from the pattern of emotionally underdeveloped leading woman heroes. Finally, we can watch a woman demonstrate her strength in a way that extends beyond delivering superpowered blows, finding power in love and family.

Wanda Maximoff’s story is one of navigating immense grief and immeasurable loss. Her journey through the nine episodes of WandaVision is as much about overcoming emotional pain as it is about defeating corrupt intelligence leaders and evil witches. Unlike her MCU predecessors, she’s a woman superhero who’s vulnerable, and that vulnerability is given the chance to flourish into rich character complexity and a compelling story.

So many MCU leading women are projections of masculine ideals, heroes who can hold their own in a fight and keep quiet when they’re hurting. Captain Marvel is a rigid character whose development is sacrificed to give more screen time to filling in the gaps of the MCU’s continuity. Black Widow, whose emotional complexity can be watered down to a problematically brief reflection on her forced sterilization, was killed off to drive the story of Avengers: Endgame. Both of these characters are not only written with much to be desired from woman fans, but are represented in a way that trivializes a lot of feminine power, relegating them plot-moving objects within their own narratives. Wanda, at long last, is something different.

It’s true that Wanda is one of the most superpowered heroes in the MCU. But she isn’t just strong because she’s—spoiler alert—the Sorceress Supreme. She’s strong because she overcomes the loss that was pushing her out of control, because she learns how to grieve, because she fights for her husband and her children. Wanda’s story shows the value in qualities we view as feminine, instead of devaluing them like Marvel has done so many times before.

Unlike Disney, if you’re looking to celebrate International Women’s Day by watching a superhero, I suggest you tune in to WandaVision. It’s not only wonderfully entertaining—it’s an emotionally rich reprieve that gives me some hope for the future of Marvel’s on-screen women superheroes.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.