Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"I am not some starry eyed waif here to succumb to your... your pelvic sorcery!": a discussion of sexism in Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy was a slight departure from the usual space-adventure mold. It deliberately set up cliches in order to destroy them: emotional speeches about honor and friendship are met with the eye-roll they deserve. A villain standing over a good guy, monologuing about their evil plan, was interrupted by the good guy doing exactly what you've always wished they would - just straight-up shooting the baddie without waiting for the end of their lecture. The film was a Marvel production, and in true Marvel style, blended shoot-em-up action with smartly crafted comedy. The result was equal parts Star Wars and the type of superhero flick recent audiences adore.

However, as with many films of this type, there are several distinct problems present in its composition. For example, the team of five who are the movie's heroes contains only one female. Gamora, who is a promising character in some respects, still too often falls into the mold of the token "hot girl assassin". She looks good in a tight outfit, but lacks originality. It is refreshing that Gamora is never a damsel in distress, and she isn't just an ass-kicker with no substance; she has a complex background and motivations. However, these motivations exclusively involve male characters. Her main internal conflict can be boiled down to, for lack of a better term, "daddy issues".

And of course, she has sexual tension with the dashing young hero. Gamora is compelling, but in her relationship with Peter Quill, she gets stuck in the pattern of the "beautiful, vaguely hostile native who needs to be educated by the handsome white man". This is depressingly similar to her previous role in the movie Avatar, right down to the alien ethnicity. When Quill makes moves on Gamora, she angrily rejects him (with the line quoted in the title of this post), but in context it's taken to be because she just doesn't understand/is afraid of love! Or something to that effect.

Guardians is a comedy. However, the most humorless characters are the females - Gamora and her sister Nebula (played to perfection by Doctor Who's Karen Gillan), are the only two women in the film, and close to the only characters without a sense of humor. Gamora's "Kevin Bacon" line is as close to a joke as she gets. And even there the punch of the humor is that she's 'uneducated' (by Earth standards, at least), and she's quoting something she was taught by Peter Quill.

Gamora and Nebula have an interesting relationship in that they are sisters, and although the plot of the film places them at loggerheads, it is indicated that they have not always been nemeses; Nebula says, in her sultry monotone, that out of all of their siblings she hated Gamora least. It's implied that this is as close to affection as she gets.

Peter Quill, the movie's handsome hero, is hilarious and original; however, in keeping with his Han Solo - type character, several of his jokes in the film are at women's expense. There's the classic gag of the man being 'trapped' by a one-night stand: he forgets sexy alien girl Bereet is still in his ship the morning after. There’s also the scene where he shows Drax (another male character) all the scars he got from irate past dates - the classic guys-reminiscing-on-their-"crazy"-exes trope.

The movie does a good job of breaking adventure-film stereotypes, such as a completely unflawed hero or a spunky, uncomplicated sidekick; however, it still has issues with sexism. The women feel more like real people than in other, similar movies, but they still are lacking in satisfying character content. Nebula and Gamora are sisters, supposedly with lots of potential for meaty, well-written conversations about their past and conflicts, but their only conversations in the movie involve men. For this reason, Guardians of the Galaxy falls short of passing the Bechdel Test.

Don't get me wrong, I really loved Guardians. I thought it was original, well-written, and funny without being either too clever or too slapstick. The action-movie genre is taking steps in the right direction when it comes to feminism, but there is a long way to go.


  1. Yes, yes, yes to all. Yes to everything about this. Your writing is very articulate, and you get the point across really well. It sounded very professionally written, and not only did you hit on just about every point about the movie, you did it in a convincing, well thought out manner. I also loved the movie, and with that said, completely agree with the fact that action movies are slowly getting better, but that we are far from there yet.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words :)

  2. I really liked the movie and I also agree with your analysis. I think they did a great job of putting a funny spin on common ideologies by mocking them.

    1. Thank you! It was really refreshing to laugh at the classic action-movie cliches without feeling bad that I was "disrespecting" the piece and the hard work that went into it by giggling at the writing.