Subconscious Sexism & Superheroes

Recently, there was some controversy surrounding Jeremy Renner and Chris Evan’s comments about calling Scarlett Johansson’s character Natasha/Black Widow a “slut” and a “whore” during a press conference for Avengers: Age of Ultron. I was discussing this with my Marvel fanboy boyfriend, and he brought up the idea of picking your battles as a feminist. He said it was obvious they were joking and didn’t really feel that way, and that there were bigger issues to be discussed in regards to feminism. I understand this argument, and I’ve made this argument. And I don’t want to be the kind of person that can’t enjoy entertainment because I’m constantly picking it apart. But I think the most dangerous kind of sexism is the subconscious kind. The kind of sexism that can be brushed off as a joke, or integrated into a plot line under the radar. The kind that we don’t pick up on, but still take home that message. The message that women are less worthy of respect. That women cannot be sexual without being called sluts. Or that women can only be eye candy or a love interest.


Speaking of love, there was also some backlash towards the Natasha and Bruce Banner love story. This didn’t bother me in the slightest and I didn’t even recognize it as something that women would have a problem with until I spoke with my totally awesome sister-in-law slash badass feminist who really didn’t enjoy the movie because of how they dealt with Natasha’s character. As much as I can understand her feelings towards the film, I find it odd that as women, we don’t want women to be fully developed characters. We are limiting female characters by saying they can only be badass. Why not badass, vulnerable, and wanting to fall in love? Especially in wartime y’all! I think it’s a unique double standard, because no one is upset when Captain America is taking out bad guys and mourning his lost love. It’s just crazy unfair how critical we are of female characters, with the good intentions of making them better. On a sidenote: Natasha has been completely eliminated from the toy line, and even her badass bike has been handed off to the very white, very male, Captain America. Is this a case of picking our battles? Let Natasha feel all the feels for Bruce, and let’s go kick some misogynistic Hasbro ass!

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It’s not just superhero movies that have got me thinking about this subconscious sexism. Catching the recent trailer for Pitch Perfect 2 on TV can be painful for me. Although I think Pitch Perfect has a lot of positive things to offer as far as feminist ideals (being yourself, it’s okay to be different, women supporting women, multiracial and sized cast) it also has it’s issues (racism against Asian Americans). But the one that sticks out to me the most in the trailer, is that a character is called “Fat Amy” – she is literally defined by her size. I am so happy that women like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson are finding success in Hollywood and defying typical beauty standards, but I can’t help but be disappointed when their only value in comedy seems to come from cheap laughs about their weight. Not to mention the fact that after a performance mishap, her vagina causes screams of terror, or that she gives extremely mixed signals to a guy at a party which just makes me think of date rape. No big deal!



I think that this subconscious media we are taking in on a more constant basis than ever is really important to understand. Whether it’s in regards to racism and the riots in Baltimore where we are seeing journalists calling African American’s “thugs” and White Americans rioting after a football game “Rowdy” – or how women are portrayed in film and tv – we need to think about what message is being sent to us, and more importantly to our children. The insane amount of racial stereotypes in cartoons is so disheartening. We can say, “oh, it’s just a cartoon” or we can look at it for what it really is…the media that is shaping the next generation.

What are your thoughts on subconscious stereotypes and sexism?

NATHALIE JAMAR, Editor in Chief

Nathalie is the resident beauty and skincare addict for Covalent. She loves olives, traveling, peonies, instagram, and ginger kombucha. She lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and her little alopecia dog cricket.

featured images c/o Marvel, Hasbro,