How The Male Gaze Has Shaped Marvel's Depictions Of Both Male And Female Characters

Photo: jstoobs / Tik Tok & Marvel Studios
jstoobs TikTok and Marvel Avengers

If you've been on TikTok recently, you've probably seen the debate about dressing for the male and female gaze.

Many have been arguing that men are as damaged by the female gaze as women are by the male gaze, but there seems to be some confusion about what these gazes are.

The debate between the male and female gaze is differentiated by one thing — the sexualization of a woman's body. 

This idea isn't something new as we have seen what it looks like in movies and TV shows when a man writes a woman vs when a woman writes a woman and there are major differences.

This can definitely be seen in the Marvel Universe with its women superheroes and villains. 

Both men and women in Marvel are victims of the male gaze.

On TikTok, quite a few users have something to say about this as we have historically seen in the old Marvel Comics the representation of female characters through the male gaze.

These characters often represent the fantasies of male authors and readers rather than being accurate depictions of powerful women.

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Most of the Marvel women are depicted from a man’s point of view from their body proportions — like big breasts and a tiny waist — to their outfits, and more. All to please the man watching.

One TikTok user, named Megan, responded to a claim that men in the Marvel Universe are more sexualized than women.

   

   

"It's hilarious that some men really believe that," said Megan showing a picture of Chris Hemsworth working out, with his arm veins popping while pulling weights together.

After seeing this photo, she had a thought. "The thought was men think that this is the *air quotes* 'female gaze' — and the existence even of the female gaze is um debatable and muddled and that's a conversation for another time — but for anyone confused this is the male gaze." 

Male Marvel characters are created by the male gaze.

Megan makes a good point. These movies and comics are largely created by men who seem to have defined the ideal man as being muscular and strong without consulting women.

"Chris Hemsworth is a very attractive man but this is for men. All of the shirtless muscle shots in the MCU, that's a male power fantasy. Not a female sexual fantasy."

These kind of men are designed to give male audiences, albeit damagingly, something to aspire to — not women.

If men are being sexualized in the MCU then it is through the male gaze, just like how women are.

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Megan created a follow-up video trying to explain even further.

"When men are sexualized in film, and specifically in the MCU, it is still through the lens of the male gaze, which caters to the idea of what they think women want to see when actually it's their idealized versions of themselves." 

"Even if you wanted to make this argument about men in the MCU, I would never agree that it is just as bad or as some people are saying worse than the overt sexualization of women."

She compares how Thor is seen in the MCU versus Black Widow.

Thor, even with taking his shirt off is proud to do so as he's, "the center of his own story, empowered, a protector, all things men want to be."

However, Black Widow is just a sexual object, "she is literally and figuratively stripped of her own agency, she's just following orders, she's just there to do what she is told, and to be pretty."

Megan says this as Black Widow's first appearance was in "Iron Man 2" where she was changing in the back of a limousine, stripping naked, and told the driver to not look  which he did anyway.

Then, when Ironman looks her up, there are lingerie photos of her which are intentionally sexualized images. 

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"These are two vastly different forms of sexualization because sexualization is not synonymous with objectification. When women are sexualized it's because they are seen as prizes to be won. Objects to be obtained. Men are sexualized by being the peak, the ultimate version of themselves." 

When a male character in the MCU is seen as sexy or played by a hot actor such as Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans, it does not mean that the character is being objectified or sexualized.

Therefore a fan sexualizing a character like Thor, who hasn't been sexualized on screen, is not the same as filming an MCU movie through an objectively sexualizing lens as we have seen with women characters like Black Widow, Wanda, Lady Sif, Gamora, and more.

The male gaze is slowly shifting out of Marvel.

We have seen this change a bit in movies like "Thor: Ragnarok" and "WandaVision" as mentioned by TikToker Ariel's, arielmary19, who proved female characters' outfits can focus on how much power they have rather than how sexy they look. 

Valkyrie, a character in "Thor: Ragnarok" was drawn in the comics wearing very skimpy looking armor but in the movie in battle, she's covered head to toe in body armor.

Wanda in the new series "WandaVision" also isn't sexualized as much as before because in her fight scene she's wearing armor that fully covers her chest, unlike her past outfits which often included her wearing corsets and showing her cleavage. 

It wasn't until recently where that changed, as more women were able to take over higher positions such as Anna Boden being the first female co-director in "Captain Marvel" and Cate Shortland making history as the first solo female director in the MCU with the new "Black Widow" — which also was the first Black Widow movie that didn't sexualize the character.

Most recently, we saw director Chloé Zhao directing Marvel's "Eternals."

So, hopefully, this new wave of female directors can bring the female gaze into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Therefore, if we want to stop sexualizing female characters, those characters shouldn't be written through the male gaze and filmed through a sexualizing lens. 

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Megan Hatch is a writer at YourTango who covers news & entertainment, love & relationships, and internet culture. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.