Heroines Are Not Whores: Why I Just Can’t Love Guardians of the Galaxy

I haven’t checked the box office statistics yet, but I’d be floored if Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest in Marvel’s Avengers series of superhero films, isn’t right at the top. And for the most part, I can see why. The movie’s damn funny, has good action, and almost every aspect of the film was very lovingly crafted.

Except the women. And boy did their treatment of the film’s heroine have me disappointed.

For a quick recap, GotG follows a band of five heroes (or maybe anti-heroes) who have misadventures in space. We have Peter Quill (AKA Star-Lord), a “so sleezy you love him” type; Drax the Destroyer, a no-nonsense hulking alien out to get vengeance for his family; Rocket Raccoon, who is indeed actually a raccoon, as well as a bounty hunter; Groot, a tree man not unlike Lord of the Ring’s ents, save for his inability to say anything other than “I am Groot”; and Gamora, the film’s sole heroine, who is an assassin out to stop her evil adoptive father’s nefarious plans, and also get vengeance (lot of that going around) for her parents.

When your cast includes a talking tree and a genetically modified raccoon, you know going in it’s not going to be your average film, nor all that serious of one. And indeed, a lot of people’s response to my criticisms would probably be “it’s a COMEDY movie, don’t take it so seriously!” But I have to. When I see as many little kids in the theater as I did, and when I hear that star Chris Pratt is dressing up as his character Star-Lord to visit kids in children’s hospitals, and when I see nearly everyone universally love this movie to death, I have to be mad, and I have to take this seriously. Because this was Marvel’s worst treatment yet of a woman in a superhero movie. 

*Spoilers follow*

Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a huge brawl between Rocket, Star-Lord, Groot and Gamora. Guess who’s the only one to get knocked out? That’s right, the only female there. And despite Rocket specifically stating that the weapon he hits Star-Lord with is his most powerful, Star-Lord has time to hop back up and crack some jokes while casually walking away from the battle, while Gamora (still unconscious) has to be taken away.

The gang gets taken to prison, where Gamora is near instantaneously captured by some old enemies and almost killed, until Star-Lord steps in and talks their way out of the situation. A reminder here that Gamora is said to be one of the most feared assassins in the galaxy, yet is easily captured off screen by random prison thugs. And needs to be saved by a man.

Rocket, Star-Lord and Gamora find themselves in an outer space dogfight, and guess who the only one (again) to be shot down is? Through some Movie Science however, Star-Lord is able to withstand the vacuum of space and save her (again). They’re beamed on board a rescue ship, with Star-Lord (naturally) falling on top of her. He then has a conversation about saving her, still laying on her. As if this wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, this comes just after the two had a conversation where Gamora said she wasn’t interested. After a minute of literal sparks flying, leaning closer, and brushes of the hand, Gamora pushes away Star-Lord to say she’s “not some waife” for him to romance and save. Hmm. I guess that’s where Marvel expected I, as a woman, would do a fist pump and applaud. But I just can’t when already proven they don’t care about their heroine winning any fights, and when only minutes later she’s back to being wooed by the guy laying on top of her. Who she told no five minutes ago.

During one of the climactic battles, the entire group is fighting waves of enemies. Except Gamora of course. She’s off fighting the only other woman there, who happens to be her sister, Nebula. Who by the way is only fighting Gamora so their father will favor Nebula over her. At … least they’re not fighting over a boyfriend? I guess that’s the positive takeaway here? But I hardly find pitting the two main female characters against each other to win daddy’s love a positive step.

And then we have the part where Gamora gets called a whore. Oh, by the villains right? No. By her teammate. In what’s meant to be a comedy segment, Drax says how he’s grown fond of his teammates despite their flaws. He tells Gamora that he doesn’t mind that she’s a “whore.” And the audience burst into laughter. Little kids around me were laughing. Backup a minute, and let’s remember the various women Star-Lord has slept with in the movie. The opening scene involves him forgetting there’s a woman in his ship, and forgetting her name. Characters mention that he has a terrible reputation as a womanizer. But he never gets called a whore, or even a “man-whore.” Nope. Gamora, who has no real romantic plot in the movie, gets called the oldest and most worn-out slur for women there is.

It’s just sad. We still don’t have a female-lead movie from Marvel. We still don’t even have plans for a super heroine film in the Avengers series, and this movie certainly doesn’t make me think Marvel’s taking the idea seriously. And now one of their few heroines has to be saved several times within one movie, called names, and shown to be less capable than a genetically engineered raccoon. I can only imagine the little girls who saw the movie, forced to watch the only depiction of their gender receive such treatment.

“But what about the rest of the movie?” you ask, because there were really good parts you’re worried I’m overlooking here. Oh sure, there are lots of reasons that the film was great. But I just can’t think about them. I can’t in good conscience support what this film does- make women in hero and action movies just a background piece. I’ve talked to many people who think that it wasn’t that bad, and that it wasn’t that big of a deal compared to all the things the movie got right. And that’s exactly why I’m beginning to hate this funny, action-packed movie. Because it’s trying to teach the world that women just aren’t important. It’s trying to say that we shouldn’t care if they completely flop when it comes to how women are portrayed. We don’t need to care about representation, so long as the rest of it’s good. And when someone raises these points, people get uncomfortable. That is, if they don’t outright say you’re wrong, or that you shouldn’t care about it because it “didn’t matter” to the rest of the movie.

And that is not acceptable. We can’t keep saying that women aren’t important in movies. We can’t keep letting movies get by with “well it was cool aside from that.” Even now, I have that knee-jerk reaction to defend the good parts, but it’s not worth it. I can’t stand by terrible depictions of my gender. I can’t applaud a movie who doesn’t think I’m worth the effort to impress. So I won’t. I want to here more people talking about how this is not okay. I want to be able to see movies where I don’t have to go in crossing my fingers, worrying that my gender’s going to be thrown under a bus (possibly literally, depending on the action movie). I want to be able to say “that movie sucked at showing women” without getting told that it doesn’t matter, or that I’m annoying for bringing it up. Ideally the movies would be good enough that I don’t have to say that, but I’ll take what I can get. However, I’m not going to get better movies or people more willing to critique their portrayal of women when we get movies that keep reinforcing the idea of “it’s great without women, so you shouldn’t care about that part.”

So as a female movie-going nerd, where am I left? Go see the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, which has confirmed to have cut some of Megan Fox’s fight scenes for being “unrealistic” (again, in a movie with ninja turtles)? Wait for DC’s next Superman movie and hope that they don’t butcher Wonder Woman? Pray that X-Men: Apocalypse will (please please please) have a female lead, instead of having the women shuffled to the back like in Days of Future Past?

Marvel, call me when you get to work on Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, or Wasp’s movies. America’s support of the flimsily-premised Lucy this last month has proven that it would happily accept Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow in a leading role. You were starting to get it, when you made Pepper Pots save Tony Stark (more than once!) in the latest Iron Man, or when you made Black Widow kick all kinds of ass (plus be the funny one!) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And then you did this. I don’t care that because of this movie, the rest of the summer’s going to be filled with people singing Hooked on a Feeling, or calling each other a-holes, or saying “I am Groot.” I’m sick of this pathetic treatment of women in movies, and continuing to do so makes you look like the real a-holes.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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