It seems that with every new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, roles for women are getting better. This is especially seen in the fan embrace of Hela and Valkyrie in the most recent addition to the MCU, Thor: Ragnarok. The film features two mighty female fighters who aren’t used to make the hero look better: they make the entire film better. Hela is a formidable villain regardless of gender, and Valkyrie has her own redemption story (along with an epic costume change and a pegasus). However, women in the MCU don’t always get this opportunity. There’s still work to be done.
Many fans are demanding more representation in the fandoms they hold dear, and of course, the MCU is near and dear to our Arc Reactors. With the plethora of male heroes and villains in the MCU, it’s important for female fans to see women who are capable and who serve a function outside of just furthering the male hero’s story. The MCU hasn’t always been fair to the lady population; in fact, some of the things it’s done to women have been downright terrible. Here at CBR, we’re looking at the 15 worst things to happen to women in the MCU.
15 LAURA BARTON IS UNDERUTILIZED
In her limited amount of screen time, Laura Barton, wife of Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, proved herself to be a perceptive confidant with good advice. She picks up on the burgeoning feelings between Natasha and Bruce, and she supports and trusts her husband completely. Similar to military wives, she knows that her husband is constantly in someone’s crosshairs, but she has confidence in him and lets him decide when it’s time to stop fighting.
However, like her husband, she suffers from limited development. Hawkeye is an Avenger, yet his role is limited. In The Avengers, he spends a significant amount of crucial character development time under mind control, so we don’t even learn he has a family until Avengers: Age of Ultron. Because he’s treated this way, there’s no hope for his wife to get the development she deserves.
14 YOUNG AUNT MAY
Aunt May has been a bit on the matronly side in her previous iterations. She’s usually looked like someone who would know how to crochet a tea doily. We were comfortable with this interpretation, and didn’t really question it, until Marisa Tomei was cast to play Aunt May in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Marisa Tomei is stunning, and the criticism here is not that she’s attractive. What’s problematic is a number of characters comment on her attractiveness, so it becomes her defining characteristic. Her character seems to be there only to play off of Tony Stark’s flirting, and while she also has great chemistry with Tom Holland, most of the guidance Peter gets in the film isn’t from her. This does a disservice to her character because Aunt May is so much more than a lady who can get free Thai food.
13 HOPE VAN DYNE FINDS OUT THE TRUTH TOO LATE
The death of a parent is traumatizing enough, but imagine also not knowing about a secret life this parent had that contributed to the death. This is what happened to Hope van Dyne in Ant-Man. Hope’s motivation throughout the film is to prove herself worthy to use her father’s technology. She’s a strong-willed character, trained in combat and proficient in communicating with the ants. Her father, Hank Pym, continued to deny her this, and brought in some outside guy named Scott Lang, which, rightfully, bothered her.
Towards the end of the film, Hank confesses that there’s been another suit this whole time, which is bad enough, and that her mother died a hero’s death using it. A revelation like that has the possibility of scarring someone for life, and she should have heard about it sooner. Her dad sat on this secret for almost 30 years!
12 CHRISTINE PALMER IS EMOTIONAL LIFE SUPPORT
Look, we’ve all been that person in a relationship who put in too much effort to fix something that was clearly broken. Usually this is done in the hopes that the other person will change, but then we kick ourselves about this later and bemoan our idiocy. Dr. Christine Palmer is that idiot.
In Doctor Strange, Christine spends most her time mending Stephen’s body and attending to his emotional needs. We meet these characters with the knowledge they had dated previously and have since broken up. So, Christine makes the classic mistake of staying friends with a toxic ex. He asks for her advice, but doesn’t listen to it. He asks her to help him, and then he leaves. Dr. Strange is a powerful sorcerer, but a terrible boyfriend, and an even worse ex. Christine will hopefully move on because she can do better.
11 NEBULA IS A CYBORG BECAUSE OF HER FAMILY
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we get a little more details on how Gamora and Nebula were raised, and it is far from wholesome. We knew that Thanos wasn’t their biological father, but we didn’t realize the extent of his abusive parenting. To train his daughters, Thanos would pit the sisters against each other, and the loser would suffer. Gamora always won, so whenever this happened, Thanos would replace part of Nebula’s body with cybernetics. He would literally, piece by piece, strip Nebula of her humanity.
Unfortunately, there are no child protective services in space, and considering the abuse she endured, it’s actually impressive that Nebula isn’t completely unhinged. This shows her own strength, and she has earned the right to hate everyone. But it’s not right that this was done to her in the first place.
10 THE SCARLET WITCH & VISION RELATIONSHIP
Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, is one of the few MCU women who has powers. She’s telekinetic, telepathic, and overall a formidable force. She can outsmart and hold her ground with every Avenger, and even Ultron recognizes that she is the only one who can tear them apart. So naturally, she’s gotta hook up with someone.
The Scarlet Witch and Vision relationship is canon. Like the comics, in Age of Ultron, they bond over being outsiders, and this bond grows into love. However, Wanda is human, and Vision is not, so this will lead to some issues. Previous comics have stories about their children disappearing and Vision losing his emotional capabilities. Their relationship is rocky to say the least. The MCU could’ve redeemed this and focused on her strength independently, instead of pairing her off with Vision so quickly.
9 THE CARTERS AND ROGERS LOVE TRIANGLE
Steve Rogers waited for so long to see his girl, Peggy Carter. While he was frozen, she didn’t sit around and pine for him: she continued her work as a Strategic Scientific Reserve agent and cofounded S.H.I.E.L.D. She and Steve do not get their happy ending, but she went on to have a family of her own. One of her descendents is Sharon Carter, her great-niece.
Like her great aunt, Sharon has also worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and wants to prove her value. Also like her great aunt, she’s attracted to Steve Rogers, which results in a kiss in Captain America: Civil War that makes us uncomfortable. Having someone as your role model does not need to include making out with someone she loved. Plus, no one should be in relationship where someone can say “that’s not how your great aunt used to do it.”
8 THE MURDER OF MAYA HANSEN
In Iron Man 3, everyone is fighting over the Extremis technology which alters genetic code to give the bearer super strength and speed. This technology was created by a scientist named Maya Hansen, with some help by Tony Stark. Maya is a preeminent scientist in her field and was considered a genius like Tony. With her brilliant brain and shared history with Tony, she made the film more interesting.
Despite her hookup with Tony years ago, Maya seems to have a bond with Pepper, and one starts to imagine how this dynamic would work at Stark Industries. But then this capable scientist gets murdered by Aldrich Killian. Young girls already need more of a push to get into the sciences, and MCU isn’t doing them any favors by making this Maya’s fate.
7 NATASHA ROMANOV AND BRUCE BANNER
Natasha Romanov and Mark Ruffalo’s version of Bruce Banner, like Clint Barton, are Avengers who do not have their own film franchise. Hawkeye has a family, so it seems like because the MCU didn’t know what to do about the other two, they shrugged their shoulders and put them in a relationship.
Not only does she deserve a scheduled (not promised) standalone film, Natasha Romanov shouldn’t be put in a relationship. As one of the original MCU females, Black Widow is the one who has proven herself, time and time again, to be on the same level as the superpowered Avengers. She has the most interesting backstory compared to the rest of the team, and this can be explored without giving her a boyfriend. Character growth for females does not require a love interest.
6 JANE FOSTER IS A DISPOSABLE SCIENTIST AND LOVE INTEREST
Jane Foster is a renowned astrophysicist but unlucky in love until it falls out of the sky. It sounds like a romantic comedy plot, but it’s what happened in the Thor franchise. Jane is a leader in her field. She's aggressive and protective when it comes to her work and is the kind of scientist young girls would aspire to be.
But then she’s completely dropped from the story. Kevin Feige said that they wanted Thor to interact with someone “more on his level,” which is completely ludicrous. It’s Jane’s technology that saves the day in Thor: The Dark World, and she even understands technology on Asgard. So, don’t tell us she’s not on his level. The MCU used this as an excuse to toss her aside. It's not okay to throw away strong female characters out of convenience. Give her an ending that’s worthy of her.
5 MEEK MANTIS
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 introduced Mantis, a female with empathetic powers that stem from her antennae. She’s adopted by Ego, Peter’s father, and he exploits her powers to help him sleep. She is basically in a servile role for the majority of the film until she joins the gang at the end. While her powers illustrate the importance of having empathy, which is particularly relevant today, the way the MCU treated her character shows a lack of empathy.
The character in the comics is part Vietnamese, while Pom Klementieff, the actress, is part Korean, and Mantis was portrayed as a meek Asian stereotype. In addition to her doing whatever Ego wants, Mantis gets called ugly repeatedly by Drax, and she just laughs adorably in response. This did an injustice to women as well as the Asian community.
4 NO DARCY LEWIS, NO DEPICTIONS OF CLOSE FEMALE FRIENDSHIP
The ratio of male to female characters in the MCU is unbalanced. Two women in a scene together is rare enough, and if they talk about something outside of plot exposition, it’s pretty extraordinary. The friendship between Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis is the only depiction of close female friendship in the MCU films, and it’s gone.
Though she began as an intern, it’s clear that Darcy is good friends with Jane. She knows a lot of intimate details about Jane, including how difficult it was for her to start dating again. When Jane was left behind, Darcy was the one to pick up the pieces. Though she was a comic relief character, Darcy cared for Jane in a way the hero of the story couldn’t. In a fictional world heavily populated by men, it was refreshing to see a relatable friendship between two women, and it will be missed.
3 MEREDITH QUILL WAS A FINE GIRL … AND INCUBATOR
Peter Quill finds out a lot about his family in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He hears the story of how his parents met, the song his dad used to sing to his mom, and oh yeah -- how his dad impregnated her, left, and then killed her. Meredith Quill dies when Peter is eight because Ego has commitment issues and was worried he was becoming too attached to her.
Abandoning family is bad enough, but this egomaniac takes it a step further and gives her a brain tumor, resulting in a slow death. Though her taste in music inspires Peter and the hero he becomes, her function in the story was as an incubator. Moms don’t seem to fare well in general in the MCU, like Frigga, but Meredith is an example of a different problem: a female character shouldn’t be defined by who they give birth to.
2 NATASHA ROMANOV’S “GRADUATION”
Natasha is trained to be a super assassin the Red Room, which she gets flashbacks about in Age of Ultron. She earns her codename, Black Widow, by proving herself to be an effective killer. Instead of marching to “Pomp and Circumstance” and moving a tassel over from one side of a cap to the other, Natasha’s graduation ceremony is a bit more severe.
To ensure that she won’t get distracted during her missions, Natasha is sterilized. The results of this surgery are permanent, so though Natasha has changed a lot since then, her reproductive system can’t. Though having children isn’t the end all be all for many women, it’s still a matter of choice. This choice was taken away from Natasha when she was being heavily brainwashed, and this is an unforgivable crime.
1 PEPPER POTTS GETS POWERS, BUT THEY’RE QUICKLY CURED
The film that began the MCU, Iron Man, starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. She was our original MCU woman to look up to, and we got to see her move up in the ranks to become CEO of Stark Industries. In Iron Man 3, Pepper is infected with Extremis and gets powers. This is exciting because our girl can be her own superhero now! And then, just as quickly as she got them, her powers are taken away.
Though Extremis would wreck havoc on her body eventually, there could’ve been a way to explain something science-y that would allow her to keep the powers. Instead, the last we’ve seen of Pepper so far is her about to get engaged, which again is a stereotype. She had power coursing through her veins, but at the end of five film appearances, all she’s left with is a rock on her finger.
Which of these is the worst? Make sure to hit up the comment section!