I recently watched Thor: The Dark World, which I’ll be getting to in a later post (I felt that this deserved its own, because it’s more encompassing than Jane’s character as seen in Thor: The Dark World).
Jane Foster, reincarnated anew for the Marvel films, could have been the greatest woman to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. She truly could.
In various of the Marvel comics universes, Jane is usually depicted as a nurse who works for, and who quickly becomes romantically entangled with Thor’s human alter-ego, Dr. Don Blake. In some more recent cases, she has been a doctor who works alongside Dr. Blake, as Marvel has begun to give more women positions of authority, but one thing remains true: she is always the supporting character, the love interest who is usually seen in conflict with Sif from Asgard, and who enjoys the excitement of the forbidden love trope due to Odin’s disapproval.
For what I believe could have been a multitude of reasons, Marvel decided not to use the concept of a hidden identity with Thor at all, and the character of Dr. Don Blake, the form into which Odin forced Thor into when he was sent to Midgard (Earth) when exiled, has yet to be mentioned at all. It is my belief that he may be referred to as the persona Thor takes on Midgard in the announced Thor 3, but it seems that Marvel has scrapped the entire storyline thus far. This renders Jane Foster, as she appears in comic-verse, completely obsolete. Hence, when Marvel started its new film franchise, it had to re-create her character – find her a new job in this new world that would mean she could easily get into contact with Thor upon his arrival on Midgard, and thus retain her role as a main supporting character.
This, in my opinion, could have been Marvel’s biggest chance to create a modern, truly identifiable woman and push the depiction of women on screen to a higher level of realism. And, to be quite frank, in my (biased, subjective) opinion, Marvel did not do this completely. Maybe mostly. But definitely not in the elegant way that I had hoped for.
Right now, in films, the only strong women are those who are seen picking up a weapon and fighting – becoming ‘one of the guys’. This seems to be following Germaine Greer’s interpretation of women as effectively having to become transvestites and lose their status as a woman in order to succeed in a man’s world. For example, to take the character of Pepper Potts; many people commented that in Iron Man 3 she becomes a strong woman and gets to “do more”. Well. Yes, she gets more action, but does that make her a stronger woman? Why does she have to pick up the suit and kill Killian to be justified as a strong independent woman who saves Tony, when she’s done so hundreds of times in her role as PA, friend and CEO? Why can people not see Pepper as she is; a powerful, articulate woman in her own right, who steps up and helps Tony in any way she can because she is a loyal friend and lover?
Marvel does have a spectrum when it comes to level of physicality shown by its female characters, ranging from Jane on one end of the extreme, to the likes of her intern Darcy Lewis and Dr Simmons, who are occasionally handy with a tazer, to Pepper Potts, who engages in violence in Iron Man 3 and displays the capability of violence way back in Iron Man 1 (she kills Obadiah Stane, remember?) to women who have made fighting their career, and are the epitome of the ‘attractive woman warrior’ – Natasha Romanov (the Black Widow), Agent May and Sif. However, the majority of the women do use weapons, and are inviting the view that the only women who deserve to be on screen are those who can be labelled as ‘bad-ass’, or who have successfully negotiated their sexuality in order to integrate themselves into a patriarchal society. The problem with so many ‘strong warrior women’ is that they set unbelievable expectations for women. So girls end up thinking that they aren’t good enough, that they can’t succeed as women, because they don’t have the ability to fall down four stories and shoot out all the guards in the process. It also means they now don’t identify with any of the characters, since the male characters are also depicted as very physically capable and strong (not to mention the under-representation of racial and sexual diversity).
This is where Jane comes in. Jane is given a position of relative authority: she is an astrophysicist, which suggests her high intellect, capacity to imagine and innovate, and determination in a hard science field that is male-dominated. She has an intern. What’s more, Marvel spends quite a bit of screen time on Jane in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World. I believe that in Jane’s character, Marvel has begun to show one of the newer strands of feminist movement, wherein a woman does not have to adopt a man’s role in order to succeed, but should be accepted as herself, as a real, happy, successful woman, not because she “can do anything a man can do” but by accepting everything that she is, whether she’s a warrior or an accountant or a stay at home mum. Because compared to the other women in the MCU at the moment, Jane is the only woman who does not fight physically. Yes, there are other characters who are similar to her, such as Dr. Jemma Simmons in the Marvel T.V. spin-off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but even she renders a man unconscious in Episode 7.
I think it’s great that we have Jane’s intelligence and physical normality (also why I think a lot of people picked up on Darcy – she’s just a normal early 20s student concerned with her iPod and matchmaking her friend with this hot dude that she likes), rather than another super-capable spy/assassin/fighter like Natasha Romanov. Natasha is amazing, but not all women are like her. Jane isn’t that tough. She can’t kill a man with her hands and she doesn’t have a ninja move like the thigh strangle-hold. The point is, neither can I. Neither can any of the women I know.
Jane Foster enters the MCU and shows girls that their brains can be just as heroic as their bodies. That intelligence is strong as well. She’s (mostly) realistic. Being a strong woman doesn’t mean giving up sexuality and not being attracted to men at all. In order to appreciate ourselves, we don’t have to be blind to the other sex. One can point out aesthetically pleasing men, can date men, can interact intimately with men and marry men, and still be an independent woman. It is possible, and many women do it. Jane does this, to some extent. Yes, she giggles when she sees Thor. Yes, she’s attracted to him. But what often gets overlooked is that Thor is also her science project. She has spent her entire life studying space, and then suddenly, she literally bumps into an alien from another realm. Thor becomes the biggest bit of proof she’s ever gotten – of course she’s going to try to stay close to him. He IS science. In Thor: The Dark World, this is expanded upon, as Jane is now placed in an unfamiliar environment and has the opportunity to explore Asgard and experience the ‘magic’ of the Aesir.
Now, where Marvel stumbled, in my opinion: firstly, in pushing the agenda of the Hollywood romance, and secondly, succumbing to the bad-ass trope.
In a way, I believe that Jane Foster is the truest depiction of a scientist that is given in the MCU. Bruce Banner, Tony Stark; while being scientists, they have motivations other than the desire to learn; to gather more knowledge, and they are both, at the end of the day, very self-serving. Meanwhile, Jane has studied astrophysics all of her life, without being able to verify if she was getting anywhere, if her assumptions were right, for the sake of the science itself. She is characterised by her determination and perseverance in the face of obstacles such as S.H.I.E.L.D. and a broken Bifrost. She doesn’t give up after Thor goes back to Asgard, she continues her research.
In Thor, we don’t get this impression strongly enough. In Thor, most of what I saw was Jane apparently falling deeply in love with someone whom she’d known for, what, 2 days? I felt that was unrealistic. I felt that Marvel, instead of focussing on Jane as a character, stretched the romantic love story aspect of the plot to such an extent as to render it unbelievable. In trying to provide for a Hollywood romance, Marvel flattened what could have been a magnificent three-dimensional depiction of a woman, of a person. They do rectify this somewhat in Thor: The Dark World, but the result is a character without a strong foundation to build on.
Secondly, in Thor: The Dark World, I thought that Marvel fell into the trap of trying to force Jane to be a bad-ass. The slaps, an overused trope of female indignation, didn’t quite fit into the film, in my opinion, and seemed to be an attempt to satisfy the demographic that thinks strength can only displayed in physical shows of violence.So by the end of Thor: The Dark World, we are left with all of this potential, all the beauty and strength and awesomeness of what Jane Foster could be, and it is overlooked by the romantic aspect of Thor and her relationship (as well as the frankly uninspiring plot). Which, to me, was extremely disappointing.