The Time When Marvel Was Seriously Sexist

The #MeToo, post-Weinstein era has changed a lot of institutional thinking about how we view women and minorities. You can see and feel the changes in attitude happening around you in the media chatter and the culture, and that’s a good and long overdue thing.

Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch

After movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp and Black Panther, Marvel is seen as some kind of White Knight to combat racism and sexism and promote inclusion in Hollywood, so lauded one of their more mediocre superhero movies is being talked about as a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

And even though you might gripe because it’s such a small thing, I’d like to call Marvel out on a very regressive gender relations moment early on in its history.

The studio’s first official entry into the MCU (although none of us knew it then – probably not even Kevin Fiege himself) was 2008’s Iron Man. It was directed by Jon Favreau from a script by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, so it’s not entirely clear who’s to blame for it… But, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) attends an opulent bash to receive an award he can’t even be bothered to show up for because he’s gambling in the casino next door.

On his way back to his car attended by his bodyguards, Vanity Fair reporter Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) accosts him to put him on the spot about how he makes his money – by developing and selling weapons.

The first troubling issue is that, while Everhart is just doing her job, Stark keeps hitting on her, behaviour that has seen many powerful man raked over an ocean of #MeToo branded coals nowadays and strip him of his career.

Maybe the fact the movie cuts to a scene of Everhart falling into bed with Stark is being too picky – the only criticism there might be of her character, letting him charm the pants off her instead of following through on showing him to be a war profiteer.

But what happens the next morning is the worst kind of double standard. It’s not that Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) is so used to Tony’s sexual conquests she has a spiel down pat to have the girl’s clothes cleaned and returned to her and a car ready to take her home. It’s her comment in response to Everhart asking what she does for Tony – “occasionally taking out the trash”.

In case you missed the subtlety of the intimation, Everhart is the trash for sleeping with Tony as soon as she meets him, and (presumably) for caving in to his charm, good looks and alpha male status when she was supposed to be adversarial with him to do her job properly.

Take careful note that Tony – as a man (let alone a rich white man, the kind society not only worships but forgives any misbehaviour) – isn’t trash for the number of chicks he brings home to bang and then have unceremoniously ejected from his house the next morning like so many takeaway dinner containers from the night before.

But worst of all is that the epithet and the smear comes from Pepper, another woman who thoughtlessly buys into stereotypes about how men who have anonymous sex are just doing what men do, whereas women who do it are “trash”.

Wonder if Fiege and Disney are praying nobody notices…