Just Let Them Be Stronger Than Everyone Else, Shhhhhh… It’s Fine
While comics and fiction overall are not pure escapism, as they often mirror or discuss/deconstruct the politics and social structures we face in real life, with identities, powers, and even color schemes and motifs often having been carefully chosen to indicate or symbolize something we see in real life, sometimes they’re just great ways to see the world in ways we don’t normally. Having been close to my mother all my life and witnessed her mistreatment by many a man, I naturally grew to gravitate towards women in general and got immense joy out of seeing women kick ass, especially male ass. Even as a young child, I recognized the kind of patriarchal world that likes to imagine women as being inferior to and weaker than men, and given that my own personal hero (my mom) is a woman, I very swiftly rejected and rejected that notion and the society that perpetuates it.
Even before getting into comics in middle school, I always relished seeing Storm, Rogue, Jubilee (and sometimes) Jean Grey (mostly when she was Phoenix or Dark Phoenix) being badass on X-Men: The Animated Series; Batgirl, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy throughout Batman: The Animated Series; Supergirl, Livewire, Volcana, Mala, and Lois Lane the intrepid reporter in Superman: The Animated Series; Scarlet Witch, Jean, Storm, Shadowcat, Rogue and the various other ladies of X-Men: Evolution; Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Black Canary, Vixen, and Huntress, to name a few, in Justice League Unlimited. Black Cat in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Sailor Moon, and the Sailor Scouts; Xena, Gabrielle, and Callisto; Bonnie Bennett, her entire family line of witches, and various other powerful witches of the Vampire Diaries universe; I could go on. Seeing powerful women has not only ever made me smile, but it’s what I’ve come to seek, expect, and demand in my speculative fiction. Unfortunately, far too many crusty, nasty men bitch, moan and complain about women being overpowered Mary Sues. And beyond them, many writers and creators also under power echo those feelings or have women characters refuse to unleash their full potential in baffling ways, generally once some male main character is at risk or in opposition. Well, I say, let the ladies be powerful, and let them crush the men if they so desire. We love to see it.
Now, I won’t even lie to you. I’m not a Carol fan. But I don’t hate the woman. I certainly don’t hate how powerful she is, especially when she became Binary in the comics. For me, Carol was kinda… there. My main exposure to her was the fact she was the reason Rogue of the X-Men had her cool powers, and was present in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games. Side note and fun fact: the animated series had the power transfer be permanent because Mystique told young Rogue to “hold on and don’t let go!” when in the original comics the transfer went wrong and was permanent due to Carol’s partial Kree physiology (Rogue was mostly used to only absorbing mutant and metahuman powers at that time). Nevertheless, Carol is a very popular character who means a lot to a lot of people.
Like many, I did not care for the Captain Marvel movie, though not for the reasons most dudes did. I had no problem with her being extremely powerful. As I wrote in my very first article for Fabulize, I took immense issue with Monica Rambeau, the actual first woman Captain Marvel, being made into Carol’s surrogate daughter, and Monica’s backstory now being explicitly tied to Carol now when before it wasn’t even tied to the male Captain Marvel before her (Mar-Vell, who in the movie was Anette Benning). All this being said, while I believe taking issue with a Black woman being sidelined, depowered, de-aged, and turned into a sidekick for a white woman to shine (literally) is valid, I also think bemoaning a woman shining brighter than men is very telling. Why should that be your issue?
Jean Grey is my favorite X-Man. I love her powers the most and always thought they would be the most useful in real life compared to so many of the other X-Men. I mean… who wouldn’t want those powers if you could control them? But perhaps what I love the most about Jean is how much of a power scale glow-up she had. She went from being unambiguously the weakest member of the team, while also being the sole woman, to being one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe, with or without the Phoenix. While often a traditional hero, Jean also boasts quite the fiery (pun intended) personality when it suits her. She has thrashed many a man with a stern look and her immense psychic powers. And I live for it every. Single. Time.
It’s perhaps her ventures with the Phoenix that get her the most shit: “She’s too powerful”, “she needs to die”, and “She’ll just kill everyone”. Superman has been overpowered to high hell for most all of his history, yet it is rarely a problem in the way being overpowered is for Jean, Carol, Wanda, Diana, or any other woman mentioned in this article or beyond. When a man is powerful in these fandoms, it’s expected and it’s never questioned. At worst, like so often with Superman, he might be called “boring” at worst due to being unstoppable. But when a woman is shown being stronger than everyone else, especially the men, especially her designated love interest, then it’s suddenly an issue. As much as I love the Dark Phoenix Saga and how iconic it is, it set the precedence that once (most) fictional (and I’d say in real life, but obviously in different ways) women get too powerful, they must be either: 1) depowered, 2) killed, by a man or by her own hand, 3) have her power level reduced or be depowered completely, 4) be manipulated by dick to not flex or go off.
Jean has been killed in the comics and many other versions. She has been depowered or powered down in versions and by certain writers. She was also rendered completely useless in X-Men: The Animated Series during the 90’s when in the comics at the exact same time (even in that exact same outfit, mind you, but with her hair loose and free) she was one of the most badass and powerful X-Men even without the Phoenix and was skrewed over in ways I feel warrants an entire article on the FOX X-Men films (if I haven’t done so already…). Let me just say this for now… Jean would have obliterated Logan’s metallic-boned ass down to said skeleton if the movies wanted to be comics-accurate and not just jerk off to Wolverine all the damn time. But I guarantee you that if they had done that, fanboys everywhere would have united in hating Jean forever.
Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness is actually what inspired this article and I talked extensively about how and why Wanda’s treatment sucked and why women being powered-up and then made to be “evil” and needing to be stopped or depowered is so wack and uninspired. I also talked even more specifically about Scarlet Witch’s comic history here. Like Jean and also the Invisible Woman, Scarlet Witch began in the comics as someone whose powers were somewhat gimmicky and was treated as weaker than the men around her. Also like Jean and Sue, Wanda would power up and become quite the force in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, in the comics, Wanda was often used as a pawn by other men and male entities, often straight-up possessed or used as a mystical nexus battery for other people’s ends. Even in her iconic and infamous storyline House of M, her actions are influenced by Magneto’s not caring for her or her brother and prioritizing the mutant race as well as her brother actually being the one who convinced her to alter reality in the first place in an attempt to save her life. The MCU, to their credit in WandaVision, made her actions and motivations all her own, but Doctor Strange 2 undid all that WandaVision did right, and oh so thoroughly.
One thing I will mention for the purposes of this article and how Wanda is treated in fandom is how everyone seems to have so much smoke for her and is willing to believe the absolute worst in her (and I’m talking about before Doctor Strange 2 because they absolutely leaned into that popular opinion and weaponized her femininity in the most disgusting of ways) and question how powerful she should be. No one questions the actions of the men of the MCU and what they’ve done as much as her, a woman whose entire life was tragedy after tragedy and was looking for some semblance of happiness. And in the end, she sacrificed her happiness to free Westview. She did something horrible but did the right thing in the end. Making her into a wanton killer by Doctor Strange 2 (even if I liked seeing how no one could really stop her) was insulting because of how much it contradicted how much she valued human life in every previous film and project. Even in Westview, she enslaved people mentally, but she thought they were living peaceful lives and she didn’t want anyone hurt, and when she realized the anguish everyone was in, she freed them (except Agatha, but even then, she could have simply killed her).
Storm in the comics is, for the most part, extremely well-realized. She is regal, tough, compassionate, decisive, and very powerful. She is complex and layered. Her backstory is rich and character moments are numerous. She has faired decently well in animated adaptations where she was a main character such as X-Men: The Animated Series, X-Men: Evolution, and others. Games like X-Men Legends 1 & 2 as well as the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games allow the player to get to know her and her backstory in several ways. The main issue is the movies.
The FOX-Men fucked over Jean and every single woman they ever showed, and also Scott (never forget Scott), but no one was fucked over like Ororo. She says one of the cringiest lines in all of cinematic history, which I won’t even repeat here, in the first movie, can barely take on Toad in a fight before resorting to using her powers and was barely shown being a decent melee fighter when she’s a master fighter in the comics, she barely had lines most of the time, was flat out denied her co-leadership status of the comics, was given her white hair (a family trait in the comics, not even her mutation) by a dude, was not worshipped as a goddess before joining the X-Men (how do you omit that???), her close friendship with Jean was downplayed, she had zero love interests (the kiss with Logan was improvised and left out of the theatrical release in Days of Future Past), and her powers were basic as hell. Sis barely conjured a wind and would shoot some lightning here and there. No lockpicking or knife-fighting skills, no queer tension with Yukio in the Wolverine movie (which also left out the rest of the X-Men, including Rogue stepping up as a hero), and Days of Future Past doesn’t even acknowledge her real name. Logan tells Charles: find us. Scott, Jean… Storm. Her name isn’t actually Storm, you clown!!! And fuck the writers for that shit for damn sure!
Beyond avoiding colorism in her inevitable casting in the MCU, Marvel Studios needs to lean into Storm way more than FOX. She needs to be a leader, if not the field leader. She needs to be shown her full fighting capabilities, including knife-fighting. She needs to be shown using her powers in creative and effective ways, a flash freeze, a blizzard, and some sharp hail, instant pea soup fogs followed by knockouts (shout out to Evolution when she did that to Mystique in the season one finale). Whatever relationships they decide to put her in is of no consequence to me, especially without Black Panther as an option (RIP Chadwick), but she needs to be shown to be desired by many, including Doctor Doom because that shit happened. He was checking for her hard. Aside from Panther, I’m not necessarily down for Storm being relegated to swirls unless it’s queer. I say give her and Yukio a shot if she has to have a relationship.
The Women of DC Comics
There are too many women I could talk about here to go into depth, least of all in one article, so I’ll mention some highlights. Wonder Woman, while generally allowed to be powerful has often been the only female member of the Justice League in many versions, which has always bothered me. We don’t need token women, token Blacks, or LGBTQIA+ folks in things, there is always room for more. Also, as I mention almost all the time, I despise the New 52/Rebirth version of Diana getting her powers from being the daughter of Zeus instead of the goddesses. Plus, whenever they take away her ability to fly. A recent Justice Society movie also did that, so I got extremely annoyed and turned it off (she literally had to look to Hawkman to save someone in a falling jet, which has been my literal example of why I hate when she can’t fly, because if there’s a falling plane or whatever, what is she going to do?). Fans often bemoan how powerful/strong she should be, especially when compared to Superman. While she may not be quite as strong as him, she is the far superior fighter and warrior and is strong enough to whoop his ass. Plus she is divinely powered and he doesn’t do well against magic, including divine magic, so her weapons can affect him like they can anyone else. But most dudes don’t care about any of this and would rather see them smash, because, apparently, she needs a man who can “handle that”. First of all, who says she needs a man at all? She’s bi and can be with a woman. Secondly, she’s capable of having relationships or relations with anyone. It doesn’t take someone with powers. Get your heads out of the gutter.
Other women who get a lot of shit in fandoms are legacy characters to male heroes: Supergirl, Batgirl, Power Girl, etc. Even though these women have proven themselves to be unique and to headline their storylines and comics for decades, they are often reduced to “Superman/Batman/etc. in a skirt”. No one bats an eye at the many male Robins and what those legacies mean. But as soon as it’s a woman or girl, it becomes a whole weird thing. Her skills are doubted and called into question. If she’s rough around the edges or starting out, she’s “incompetent”. If she’s skilled she’s “a Mary Sue” or “unrealistic”. If she’s more powerful than they think she should be then she’s “overpowered” or “God Mode Sue”. Even how sexual or sexualized a woman is can be and is critiqued, weirdly, by men. Of course, most are happy to leer at women sexualized in higher degrees, and they’ll complain if they were once sexualized but are de-sexualized. Men. DO NOT ARGUE OR DICTATE HOW WOMEN SHOULD LOOK. Especially if the artist is a woman. Say it with me now! If you are confusion as to whether or not you should be uncomfortable by or impressed by a certain design, ask a female or non-male friend or loved one what they think and why. It never hurts to get another perspective. But in general, let the ladies live. In real life, if a woman dresses sexy, that’s her choice, and it (most likely) is not for you and has nothing to do with you.
The only thing that’s appropriate, in my opinion, in terms of judging the way women appear in these projects, is if they feel they should be taller or stronger, especially if casting directors seem determined to adhere to the male gaze and make women superheroes and action girls accessible to male desire (which often means shorter and more petite).
The Women of the Buffyverse
Buffy was my entire childhood. Seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar beating up mostly dudes was the highlight of my youth. And while the show was terrible at race, sexuality (not exploring the obvious tension of Buffy and Faith and generally being confused about bisexuality/sexual fluidity when it came to Willow), the age stuff between Buffy and Angel (still not worse than Buffy and Spike though. Fight me with scythes), and Xander existing, it still holds a special place in my heart. I hate that Joss created this series and that it is the main reason why he masqueraded as a “feminist” for so long. But looking back in hindsight, his trash was evident all along if you look closely, not that most of the cishet fandom would notice.
Xander was a self-insert for Joss. It’s so painfully obvious. He was horrible to Cordelia, who was way too good for him. He cheated on her with Willow, who too was way too good for him. Then he gets with Anya, also way too good for him, way too easily. And they have her endlessly going on and on, and on, about how incredible he is in bed. Girl, please!!! A thousand years old, and this man-child is the best of the best? Mmmm-kay. It was really when Xander judged and slut-shamed Anya for sleeping with Spike after Xander left her at the altar the day of their wedding. Fuck Xander, and fuck Joss. Also, fuck Joss for having Xander of all people be the thing that talks Dark Willow down and brings her back. Not Buffy, not her parents we never see, not Tara’s ghost, Xander… Fuck Joss for killing Fred the way he did. Fuck him for real for killing Cordelia the way he did and having her sleep with the closest thing she had to a son (even if she was possessed, that wasn’t made clear right away and was still her body being used against her will, so r*pe). Fuck him for having Illyria being a total beast and then powering her way the fuck down. Fuck the fans who complained about Glory and how powerful she was. She was an excellent villain and I still obsess over how Sarah Michelle played the revelation that Glory wasn’t just a demon but was a god. Also, for the fans who like Xander. I don’t care who you are, you are not to be trusted.
Beyond all that, Joss seemed to love to bring down women and their power levels, literally. We never really see Willow cut loose like she did when she was Glory. Yes, she did a very crucial spell in the series finale, but it also would have been cool to see her in battle taking out scores of uber vamps. Illyria on Angel was literally all but depowered and later brutally beat up by a man because of it. And despite Anya’s sudden rise of badassery as a human in the finale, she literally got cut down just as quickly because Joss utterly hated her character. So feminist…
Bonnie Bennett, as well as her actress Kat Graham, is one of the most disrespected women I have ever seen. I have talked about how and why the CW and the Vampire Diaries showrunner, Julie Plec, and executive producer, Caroline Dries, are evil and treated both the character and actress like complete and utter shit, but instead, I’ll focus on the toxic fandom and how her power was used in the show.
Bonnie was a powerful witch from a bloodline of incredible magical strength, and yet at best she served as a Magical Negro plot device: to save the lives of her white friends and solve all their problems without considering her own. Most fan discourse of the show centered around shipping, as that’s how the show had been constructed. Characters tended to develop based on what relationships they had or who their on-screen love interest was. Most fans of Bonnie shipped her with Damon Salvatore, one of the leads, because of their original books’ counterparts having been love interests, the chemistry between real-life actors who were friends, and the fact that Damon (as a lead and the most beloved character in the franchise) would have gotten Bonnie the best storylines and screentime. But Plec and Dries had other plans.
Ironically enough, in purposefully denying Bonnie the ship she deserved, they focused on her magic and powers instead. And yet, she was never allowed to truly flex in cooler, more pragmatic ways that even Elena and Caroline were allowed to when they became vampires: yes Bonnie got to save the world and her friends (many times over), but she was never shown casually dispatching enemies or taking anyone out. Even her battles had her incapacitate and almost kill her foes, but she never got to show that kind of badassery that was relegated to the white characters. Many (mostly Black) witches on the show, despite having telekinesis, fire manipulation (fire literally being something that kills vampires), and various other magical powers that should allow them to kill vampires quite easily, instead are the ones to drop like flies. Gloria, Bree (played by Gina Torres, who never even got to be seen using her powers), and more were often wishy-washy with their powers or talking too much before being brutally killed by white vampires. It’s almost as if the creators wanted to prioritize the white vampires as badasses who could kill anyone, no matter what they were up against… Realistically, the witches should have been running shit and killing vampires left and right in a magnitude of creative ways. Telekinesis alone should have made them unstoppable. And Bonnie should have been the strongest of all.
The fandom was not kind to Bonnie either. People hated her when she opposed Damon and Stefan, particularly in season 2 when she became a stronger witch, casually mind-frying Damon and threatening to kill them if they harmed innocent people. Yes, Bonnie was hated for being an actual hero… While people loved Elena because she was devoted to the vampires, despite the danger they constantly brought. Bonnie had her fans, but sometimes even while they could recognize the racism her character and actress were given, they couldn’t see how or why her love life was a problem. Fans who felt that Bonnie and Damon just being friends was fine because “not all women and men need to date” did not realize the same could be said of Elena and Damon. Elena and Damon never even made sense. They were incompatible. At least Bonnie and Damon grew a lot more by the time they got closer, but the writers and many fans were unwilling to see the obvious chemistry and potential for riveting storylines and character development.
Hercules who??? Xena is the only one I cared about when it came to them. Lucy Lawless was the live-action Wonder Woman we all deserved. Far better than what we would end up getting in 2017. Even the Amazons in this show were better Amazon representation as they showed racial, ethnic, and disability representation which would be very realistic for a clan of warriors. Xena was tall, gorgeous, queer, and badass. Beyond Lawless’ acting chops and beauty, she also looked like she could and would kick your ass, which is an important aspect to consider when casting your warrior woman leads. Beyond her superhuman strength, weapons, and fighting prowess, Xena’s use of pressure points set her apart as a deadly opponent who could dispatch many a foe. Unfortunately, many crusties in the fandom disagreed with me on her power level when I mentioned the fact that she killed the gods of her universe. “Those gods were jokes,” they said. It’s almost as if even when seeing overt examples of feats of power and skill, they have to be questioned or outright dismissed because it’s a woman performing said feats…
Women and non-men winning should be celebrated, not critiqued or called into question. Especially if it’s ethnic or queer women and non-men who have even more holding them down and making victories harder to achieve. Women and non-men should be allowed to flex, stomp, crack jokes, and stunt as much as any other man in these movies, shows, comics, and games and not be chastised for it. And how powerful one character’s strength should not be directly compared to or measured against someone else’s. Wonder Woman’s strength has nothing to do with Superman’s. It is not dependent on it or influenced by it. One gets strength from solar energy, the other gets it from divine magic. And while we all cannot, and should not, agree on everything, it’s ok to agree to disagree and shut the fuck up when it comes to certain things. A woman or non-man’s power, and how they dress (as long as it’s not objectively offensive), among other things are such things that don’t need a ton of debate in fandoms unless someone is being underpowered or objectified in gross ways.
In a world where women are below men in the social hierarchy, let them and the rest of us who like seeing strong women in fiction, be powerful. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other options for you, I promise.