Anita Sarkeesian, in her “Tropes vs. Women” series, argued that the practice of creating “Ms. Male Characters” (i.e. gender-flipping a male character into a female character) was sexist. In this, Sarkeesian actually was right; a “Ms. Male Character” ultimately reinforces the core idea behind gender stereotypes. Men are the norm, women are the other. Men are generic, women are special. Women are defined by being women, and/or by their relationship to a man, rather than by what they do. Men do, women are. Men are actors/agents and women are not.
Yet now, Sarkeesian’s fanbase are actively cheering over the new “Thor” comics in which the Power Of Thor, and the name “Thor” even, have been assumed by a woman. The character-formerly-named-Thor is now known by his last name of “Odinson.” In other words, the new Thor is (despite the insistence on masculine nomenclature) a Ms. Male Character; a gender-flip of Thor with an identical set of abilities who only exists because of a pre-existing male legacy character. Her entire identity, down to the name, is completely taken from (the male) Thor.
What is even more galling about this is that the new, female Thor is also a textbook example of what Sarkeesian describes as a “man with tits.” The female Thor fights with traditionally masculine means and wields a brutally obvious phallic symbol. Sarkeesian’s entire Master’s Thesis was an argument that these kinds of female characters are misogynist for they reflect a privileging of “masculine traits” above “feminine traits” and therefore reinforce the patriarchial value system; female Thor is (by Sarkeesian’s standards) part of the Patriarchy.
Yet Sarkeesian’s fanbase loudly cheers for female Thor. This character is, by their own ideology, sexist on at least two counts, and yet they cheer for a character who is no more than an identity-parasite man-with-tits. She is defined by the character whom she is currently inhabiting the mantle of.
How can we explain this hypocrisy?
2. TRADITIONAL GENDER ROLES – A SUMMARY
The traditional gender roles existed to deal with survival-related challenges that have been present throughout most of human existence. Back in the days of subsistence and tribal life, the primary means of material survival was physical labor. Safety, security, food, shelter etc. were principally produced by raw muscle power. Ergo, sustaining and improving the standard of living required an aggressive approach to breeding, but only half of the population can bear children.
This created the maternity-centric “Mother Goddess” ideal of femininity. Barring a few rare cases of natural infertility, females were inherently able to live up to this ideal due to their innate biological faculties.
Because only half the population could bear children, specialization emerged and women were generally tasked with bearing children and other “close to home” tasks, with men shouldering the other burdens like hunting and protection. However, the tasks men were shouldered with were risky and not all men could perform them, and even those who could perform these tasks did so to varying different degrees. Ergo, the “Warrior/Hunter Gods” were not ideals which all males could attain or attain easily, and as such men had to demonstrate through action that they could live up to these ideals.
The aggregate effect was that our society conceptualized womanhood as an innate essence which “just is” (i.e. subsists within each individual adult female), which girls simply acquire once they begin to mensturate (i.e. become capable of performing society’s mandated feminine role). Manhood, on the other hand, got conceptualized into a Platonic ideal which needs to be actively lived up to in order for a male to be a “real man.” Males were subject to social and physical trials and tests to see whether or not they made the cut, whereas females were assumed to be useful-to-society by default.
“Men do, women are” because our gender system centers manhood around the actions of males, and womanhood around the biology of females. This is the traditional Subject-Object Dichotomy.
However, the fact that “manhood” and “womanhood” are both seen as socially useful, yet only womanhood is innate, means that females are seen as innately socially-contributive simply for being females. Males lack this; their biology does not guarantee the ability to be socially-contributive. As such, males are seen as lacking innate usefulness and thus are the disposable, expendable sex.
As a result, the Subject-Object dichotomy is overlaid by the Disposable-Cherishable dichotomy; men are seen as disposable subjects defined and valued on the basis of their actions and nothing else, whereas women are seen as cherishable objects defined on the basis of simply being women and valued accordingly. All traditional gender roles can be ultimately reduced to this.
It should be noted that neither role is particularly pleasant; males are treated as inherently worthless and subject to constant trials to “prove” their gender-compliance, and socially emasculated should they fail. Females are limited to a maternity-centric existence, treated as being interchangeable, and their agency is trivialized or ignored. Either way, this is the gender system our society is still struggling to interrogate and question.
3. IDENTITY THEFT: MARVEL EDITION
Superhero comics frequently treat different heroic personas as mantles which can be donned by a variety of people; “Captain America” is typically Steve Rogers but the title has also been held by Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton and Sam Wilson on various occasions.
But “Thor” is not a mantle or title; it is a proper name. The character currently referred to as “Odinson” was named “Thor” when he was born. The Power Of Thor (which is effectively the mantle in question) has been transferred to other people in the past – Steve Rogers for example – but the specific name “Thor” remained with Thor. Female Thor is a categorically different situation from that of a simple mantle transferrence, because the first name has been transferred.
In the light of the traditional gender system, what is happening here?
To put it simply, male Thor (the character currently called “Odinson”) is being subject to a form of emasculation. This metaphor is already apparent in his hammer (phallic/potence/agency symbol) and powers being contingent upon his “worthiness” (and it was brutally apparent in the first Thor movie, although it was his father in the role of emasculator). Traditional gender roles treat Real Manhood (and thus social worth and social esteem) as something demonstrated and proven and validated repeatedly through action, or in philosophical terms, as a “form” which one “participates in” so as to gain an identity; male Thor has had his entire identity (including first name and powers) taken away from him (other people have, in the past, weilded The Power Of Thor (Beta Ray Bill and Steve Rogers being two), yet Thor did not become unworthy of his own power as a result).
Thor’s mantle (i.e. The Power of Thor) is already transferrable and has been transferred several times; it can even be duplicated (as it was for Beta Ray Bill). Yet the writer of the new female Thor has consistently insisted that she is “Thor” and not Thora or She-Thor or even Other-Name-Here-who-Wields-The-Power-Of-Thor. Why is the story so utterly insistent upon revoking male Thor’s very identity? Why is the story trying to emasculate male Thor so extremely?
4. TRADITIONAL FEMININE POWER
Radical Second Wave and Third Wave Feminism would have one believe that the traditional gender roles aggregated all power to masculinity; women were thus rendered powerless and oppressed. This is a massive distortion of the fact that the traditional gender norms contained a very specific kind of power for women.
Women are objectified under traditional gender roles, and their agency is denied. However, they have the power (and social license) to gain agency by proxy, i.e. women (particularly attractive ones) are in a position to expect to be the beneficiaries of the agency of men. To be snarky, they get the boyfriend to change the lightbulb, the man will always pay for the date, the man will give up his seat on the lifeboat, and the man will fight and die for her sake. Men are expected to provide for and protect women, i.e. to exercise their agency on a woman’s behalf. A woman’s innate value means she is entitled to his agency.
Ergo, whilst men are ascribed the power of agency, women are ascribed the power to enlist male agency.
But there is an additional form of power which women have under traditional gender roles; women are socially positioned as judges of a male’s “real manhood.” Women aren’t the only occupiers of this station; fathers/father figures and same-sex peer groups are also in this position. However, a woman still has the ability to gender-police males and shame them for not living up to traditional masculine roles (examples being all the articles of the “where have all the good men gone?” persuasion and slurs calling males “man-children” who need to “stop living in their mother’s basement” etc). After all, traditional masculinity compels men to protect, provide for and satisfy women; women are often the judge of when men are doing this sufficiently well.
As such, on a symbolic level we can see male Thor’s emasculation by a woman as a literary exercise of (and perhaps a fantasy of exercising) traditional feminine power; it isn’t Odin who is revoking Thor’s symbolic genitals this time. As Freudian as this sounds, the applause for female Thor seems to be driven by some sort of vengeful castration fantasy. Many will find it somewhat ironic that Third Wave Feminists, who claim to be against traditional gender roles, are applauding something which amounts to a painfully gender-traditional female power fantasy.
5. TERROR TACTICS AND TRIUMPHALISM IN THE #WAR ON NERDS
Back in the tribal and medieval days, it was common to dismember or decapitate enemies and display their various body parts as a way to intimidate and demoralize one’s foes. It was also common to commit iconoclasm and destroy the temples of a subjugated people, as if for the invaders to laugh “where are your Gods now?” as they slaughtered and pillaged.
As Mytheos Holt argued in his article “The #WarOnNerds” (http://dailycaller.com/2014/11/13/the-waronnerds-how-far-left-feminists-and-the-media-created-gamergate/), what might loosely be called “nerd culture” (a culture of rationally-temperamented, atypical people who are misfits with respect to mainstream culture) has for a long time been subject to systematic campaigns of both defamation and infiltration by ideologically-motivated activists. Holt described comic books as the “holy texts” of nerd culture.
Extending the metaphor, it makes sense to describe the top-tier Superheroes as akin to “gods” – anthropomorpized personifications of that which the culture admires and aspires to be or wishes it was like.
This explains why Sif or Valkyrie (two long-running female characters in the Thor franchise) were not chosen to receive The Power Of Thor, and it explains why simply creating new female characters and giving them marketing exposure wasn’t the route decided upon (both of these routes would’ve improved representation); none of them are top-tier moneyspinners featured in massive blockbuster movies, whereas Thor’s star is brighter than ever thanks to the work and luscious mane of Chris Hemsworth. Thor is among the most hallowed figures within nerd culture; within western culture we don’t get too frustrated if an idol of Zeus is smashed into dust (presuming it isn’t an ancient artefact), but a sledgehammer to a statuette of the Virgin Mary would elicit gasps and make a far stronger statement.
In short, our “pantheon” has been raided and the idols are being disfigured. The message which is intended to be sent is “we control your culture now, we control your fantasies now, we control your institutions now.” They are not content with having their own spaces and cultures and idols, they wish to change ours. The sheer adolescent glee of female Thor’s supporters (or the absurdly stupid boilerplate Third Waver soundbites written for the character) can only be understood as a conqueror’s triumphalist revelry as they declare victory (a relevant Brianna Wu tweet can be found here: http://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/1974/7238/original.jpg). They are showing off their control over our cultural institutions and exercising it to demoralize us. Clearly, they hope the fact that nerdness is (historically) a culture with generally low levels of self-esteem will make it easy for them to break us.
Female Thor has nothing to do with promoting female superheroes; Sif and Valkyrie could’ve explored similar themes and plots and Marvel could’ve easily created a new character and had her written well. Female Thor has nothing to do with encouraging well-written female characters that possess depth; female Thor is currently being written as an extremely flat character with no personality outside a name and power set derived from a man.
Female Thor is a Ms. Male Character with no identity as an individual.
Female Thor embodies that which Anita Sarkeesian spent her entire master’s thesis describing as sexist; a Man With Tits who’s a “strong woman” only in virtue of possessing “masculine” qualities, which in turn preserves the association of femininity with weakness.
Female Thor is, by the standards of Third Wave Feminism, part of the Patriarchy. Yet Third Wave Feminists cheer for her.
Why? Because female Thor is an act of cultural iconoclasm intended to celebrate their successful hijacking of the commanding heights of “nerd” culture. The extreme and vicious level of humiliation inflicted upon male Thor – emasculation of one of the most exaggeratedly masculine characters in Marvel – is so psychologically gender-traditional that anyone sincerely against traditional gender roles should be aghast at it. Female Thor is not meant to be a character in her own right, but merely a symbol and an act of gloating; the flag of the invaded nation gets burned and the conqueror’s flag is being raised in its place.