Here are two things about me:

First, I am the type of person who cannot prevent herself from mentioning to a conference organizer that 7 of the 8 speakers were white, middle-aged men even though they were speaking to an audience of women of varying ages. I can’t help it. It needs to be said, right?

Second, I’m super into superhero movies. I also can’t help this. I know they’re male-dominated and usually propagate the traditional and often demeaning gender roles. They’re also fun, which is why I like them. They also have excellent archetypes and foils and other character development devices that lovers of literature like myself have a difficult time resisting.

What’s more, many superhero stories are so conscious of their stereotypical gender roles that they defy them even as they exemplify them. Lois Lane, for example, is by all definitions a damsel ever in distress in the Superman story. She is also, however, smart and bold and powerful. The twist on her “damsel in distress” character is that she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. You know, except when evil real estate moguls get involved.

I’ve always been relatively impressed with the X-Men series’ balance of male and female characters. The overarching theme is that each person, male or female, has a power unique to the individual. The strength of their power has nothing to do with gender.

And then I re-watched X-Men: The Last Stand. And was horrified. In the first two movies, three women are particularly noted for their power: Rogue, the girl who can suck others’ life force from them through touch; Mystique, the evil and un-capturable shape-shifter; and Jean Gray, who has incredibly powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities. I won’t suffer you the whole silly plot, but this movie is basically a big showdown where many characters die or lose their powers. In the end, all the men who lose their powers, just magically get them back somehow. Rogue, Mystique and Jean, however, give away power, have power stolen and beg for death because power is just too much, respectively.

So what is our message here? Sometimes men lose power, but it will always return to

them. Sometimes power, however, is just too much for the ladies. Rogue didn’t have the self-esteem to keep her power when she had the chance to get rid of it. Mystique’s power was stolen when she was trying to protect her mentor, who turned his back on her as soon as she was powerless. And Jean, who had more power than any other character, begged to be put to death because it was just too much power for one little lady to control.

Now, I know in the comic books these stories are different and each character’s story has many variations. But I’m lazy superhero fan, and I just watch the movies. Like a lot of girls. Girls, who in 2006 shouldn’t have had the message that power is just too much for them radiating at them from a movie screen.

This rant does beg the question, “So…why are you writing about this?” I do know, this is a small deal in relation to the larger problems of the world. Still, I can’t help but not call it out when I see it. This is me filling out my feedback form at the end of the keynote address writing, “This industry is dominated by women and minorities. Can’t we hear from some of us next time?”

Sure, someone will roll their eyes at me. But if we all just keep being annoying enough about it, maybe there will be more Lois Lanes and fewer Jean Grays. Or maybe I won’t have to sit through four demographically identical speakers at the next conference. Maybe if I keep up the practice of exercising the power of my voice, even when that power is small, I won’t be overwhelmed by it (as the ladies are known to do) as it continues to grow.

One thought on “Women and Power, or X-Men is a little sexist if you ask me

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