I stand in the gap between typical opposing views on feminism—I believe in strong, powerful women who embrace their feminine qualities, play their roles well, and don’t belittle the men around them. That’s why this particular moment in Avengers: Endgame caught my attention and I had to reign my imagination back in to stay present for the remainder of the movie.
Don’t worry—there are only a few very minor spoilers here. I have another article in the works that will definitely contain spoilers, but this one doesn’t touch the overall plot line—at all. And hopefully, it won’t bore you even if you haven’t been following the MCU.
Approaching the climax of the story, in the midst of a battle of truly epic proportions (Is that a spoiler? I was expecting an epic battle, not sure about anybody else), Captain Marvel (who we already knew would play an important role) steps in to accomplish a task that really looks too big for anyone, even her, to handle alone. A strong female voice off-screen says, “She’s got help.”
The camera zooms out and there stands Okoye, head of Wakanda’s armed forces, ready with her spear to aid Captain Marvel’s mission. One by one, all of the female heroes in the MCU appear at her side, in all their glory and power—it’s such a spectacular moment, I don’t want to spoil it, and words wouldn’t do it justice anyway. Even though Captain Marvel is the only girl hero with her own standalone movie, the women of the MCU have been on a wide range of adventures and have had an incredible depth of character development throughout their appearances in other films. They are all unique, fierce, genuine women and together they are truly a force to be reckoned with.
Needless to say, this moment echoed Black Widow’s solidarity with Scarlet Witch in Infinity War—“She’s not alone.” It also builds on a long history of Marvel’s increasingly powerful female superheroes. Pepper Potts has been at the center of Tony Stark’s character since the first Iron Man movie in 2008, and though she isn’t technically a superhero, she has grown a ton as a character and played a very important role in the grand story arc. In Endgame, she donned her own Iron Man suit and stepped right up with the other powered heroes.
Then of course there’s the first female Avenger Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, who first appeared in Iron Man 2, then Captain America: Civil War. The MCU ladies have been introduced and developed one by one, accompanying their male counterparts throughout the last decade. Captain Marvel served as a landmark—and not only was Carol not alone on the battlefield, but her film won’t remain the only one in the MCU with a female lead. The origin story of Black Widow is in pre-production, and there will likely be others.
Now, I want to look at this from a few different angles and encourage you to take a different view of this show of female strength than what might be popular. Captain Marvel was supposedly the “most feminist movie of all time,” but that fiery feminism only played out behind the scenes in the words of the cast and production team. In reality, it was emotional, sincere, and empowered women to be not only strong, but gentle and life-giving. Endgame is an entirely different situation, where we have women en masse on the battlefield, in the thick of combat, a unified force for good in the midst of a lot of bloodshed and destruction.
Women in combat… in the real world
Since we’re talking about women on the battlefield… let’s actually talk about women on the battlefield for a second. The debate about women serving in combat roles in the military has been a long and heated one. Proponents argue that many women are just as capable as men, and that drawing from 100% of America’s population, instead of just half of it, would yield a stronger overall fighting force. The problem is, what actually happens is just the opposite—a weakening of discipline, unit cohesion, strength, and overall effectiveness.
In 2015, the Marines released the results of a year-long infantry experiment that compared mixed-gender squads with all-male squads. The results? Women don’t belong in combat. Male teams outperformed co-ed teams on every task and test except one: accuracy in firing a 50-caliber machine gun. Tasks included changing massive tires on armored vehicles, carrying heavy packs, scaling walls, digging fighting holes, maneuvering with heavy weapons, and pulling the wounded to safety. Women often needed assistance with physically demanding tasks, demonstrated lower overall physical capacity, completed tasks more slowly and fired weapons with less accuracy than their male counterparts. They also sustained far more injuries than men—six times more—such as stress fractures from carrying heavy packs.
Those are just the facts. I’m a woman and proud of it, but not too proud to acknowledge that we’re different than men. We may be equally smart and capable of most jobs in the military or elsewhere, but our bodies are designed for an entirely different purpose than men, making us unfit for the battlefield. Yes, we’re built to bear children—like it or not, it’s a biological fact, and pregnancy aside, our hormonal changes from week to week make it difficult to function at the same pace as men. But we’re also just plain smaller on average, and don’t naturally have as much upper body strength. When women are put in combat roles, they lower the speed and deadliness of their entire units, as the Marine Corps study demonstrated. Even in modern warfare, physical strength definitely still matters. But besides that, the hormonal differences between men and women cause courage to manifest very differently—and women are far more likely to cave under just plain fear.
That’s not even touching the anecdotal evidence of sexual attraction and tension within mixed-gender units—it’s only natural, but it can be detrimental to unit cohesion and effectiveness. There’s also the nasty truth that in prisoner-of-war situations, women are far more susceptible to rape and abuse than men. Women might make great officers—but studies show that men are hard pressed to accept the leadership of a woman when it is anything other than warm, nurturing, maternal.
The Israeli Defense Forces has a long history of women in combat, beginning with Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, when women were on full combat status. From then until the mid-1990s, women weren’t allowed in combat roles, but now the majority of combat positions are open to women. They make it work—but it’s not always easy. They face difficulties in a deeply religious culture where Orthodox Jews often refuse to work alongside women. In 2002, the IDF established the Proper Integration Ordinance, which attempted to regulate female integration by setting out rules for modest behavior and establishing separate living arrangements for men and women. The ordinance met with a storm of public debate and discrimination complaints from female soldiers. Men now have the ability to appeal against their placement in a mixed unit if it violates their beliefs. The IDF is one of the most effective militaries in the world—it has to be, given Israel’s precarious position, surrounded by enemies—but that’s more because of their technical capabilities than anything else. Female integration remains a point of conflict, with some arguing that it hinders the IDF’s operational capacity and weakens it by reducing its independence from civilian life.
Men and women have opportunities within all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. The wide variety of tasks needed to maintain the greatest fighting force in the world requires a lot of people with a wide range of skill sets. Combat roles only make up about 20% of military occupations—the rest are in science, engineering, intelligence, aviation, law, and more. Some women are very well suited to certain jobs, but some roles are better filled by men; combat positions are definitely the latter. Ignoring that fact is a denial of biological reality and logic as appalling as that inherent in the transgender campaign. The military is not the place for social experiments, and war is not about fairness and gender equality. It’s about accomplishing the mission: breaking the enemy through expert engagement with the lowest possible loss of American life.
Okay, back to the MCU
Now, I don’t say any of this to discredit the “girl power” in Endgame. Combat is very different in a comic book universe—and the women are different too. In a world where a woman can wield a vibranium spear powerful enough to stop a tank, ride a Pegasus, shrink down to subatomic size, use magic to manipulate reality, or boast an Iron Man suit—yes please, get those women out there to help defend the universe! Or avenge it, as the case may be. I think that’s all that needs to be said about that!
There are those unsatisfied with this shining moment of female solidarity, who complain that the gals (especially those of color like Okoye) didn’t get enough screen time, that their assembly was a mere nod to check the “diversity” box, that it was cheesy and forced. But I didn’t see it that way. For one thing, the MCU is a comic book universe, where iconic shows of superhuman strength and finesse are part of what makes it so special. How many times do the Avengers (the original ones), or the Guardians of the Galaxy get together and strike a pose? Maybe it is cheesy, and it’s certainly exaggerated, but that’s the nature of the thing and it’s just cool, sorry.
For another thing, Marvel is building on a long history of mostly-male superheroes—really you could trace it all the way back to the first comic book in 1939. Endgame is the climax of 22 films over the course of more than a decade, and it closes out some of the longest-running storylines—yes, they’re mostly stories about white dudes. But MCU fans are invested in those characters, they’re like old friends for those who have followed the franchise for a while; it makes sense that the focus would be on them since they’re stepping out of the story after this movie. After this, the torch will be handed on to a more diverse team—Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, is set up to play a big part in the next phase of the MCU (*wink, wink*), I get the idea Captain Marvel isn’t going anywhere, and the Black Panther sequel is highly anticipated.
Captain Marvel star Brie Larson is an outspoken feminist and sparked a boycott of the movie with her harsh comments towards white men. None of that was communicated on screen, however, and I think the movie itself proved that we can empower women without hating on men. Read my full thoughts on that in my article on Captain Marvel. Likewise, I believe we can celebrate cultural and racial diversity without desecrating American culture or hating on white people.
Endgame is the end of an era—the entire tone of the franchise is changing. I understand wanting girl superheroes—they all bring a unique flair to the screen, and special, feminine emotional appeal. I understand wanting heroes of color—Black Panther is an awesome movie and character, and there are some hardcore ladies from Wakanda too. But I hope Marvel’s careful integration of women and people of color doesn’t turn upside down and become a tool of the radical left.
The world is watching closely for what the next phase of the MCU will bring. Some want to inject political agendas and use the movies to alter social stigmas. But I just hope we continue to see believable development of relatable characters, brilliantly written storylines with gripping plots, clear lines between right and wrong with heroes that fight for what’s right, women who chase their dreams without tearing down men, and sorta-cheesy-but-awesome superhero poses.