Reel Women: Marvel Gives Us Hope by Making Thor a Woman
This week, Marvel made a pretty major announcement on ‘The View’: Thor will no longer be a man. Thor will be a woman. Of course, the change will be temporary, but along with announcing that the Falcon will be replacing Steve Rogers as Captain America, the company is making some pretty diverse and exciting changes that set some interesting precedents — precedents that could influence the way we perceive and accept these characters on screen, as well.
A few years back, some members of the comic book fanbase expressed outrage on the internet when it was suggested that ‘Community‘ star Donald Glover be cast as Spider-Man. Why couldn’t Spider-Man be black? It’s not his white maleness that defines him, it’s the fact that he was bitten by a radioactive spider. Here we are in 2014, and Marvel has just made an announcement that challenges how we define superheroes. It’s not as if superheroes haven’t been switched out before, with guys like Captain America, Batman, Spider-Man, and even Thor himself all being replaced by someone else. At one point, Thor was even replaced by a space horse!
And this isn’t even the first time a woman has picked up Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolnir, which can only be wielded by someone worthy of its power — although most of the stories in which women have picked up the hammer have been non-canon, including a “What If?” story back in 1978 in which Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, found Mjolnir and transformed into a lady version of Thor named Thordis.
But “What If?” and non-canon stories seemed more acceptable because those are fantasies within fantasies — a woman could never actually be Thor or wield Mjolnir … until now. Comic books have long used the identity of a superhero as a symbol; it’s not the Bruce Wayne or the Peter Parker who really matters, it’s what those guys and their heroic personas stand for. As long as they’re wearing the costume and upholding the hero’s moral code in their pursuit of justice, it shouldn’t matter who’s behind the mask or under the helmet or hood. Now we can have a black Captain America and a female Thor, even if it is just temporary. Eventually the comics will return to the status quo, as they always do, and the status quo is and has always been white male, a precedent set by their creators long ago.
What is exciting about the idea of a female Thor though, is that it conditions fans to accept that a woman can easily play a role that has been traditionally male because it is not the character’s maleness that defines them, but their abilities, their moral integrity, and their sense of justice. And because comic books operate in a realm of fantasy, anything is possible: aliens, magic, intergalactic war, time travel, you name it. So why can’t Thor be a woman? For that matter, why can’t a white male superhero be portrayed by someone who is not a white male in a film or television series, without changing their name? One of the key elements of Marvel changing Thor’s gender is that Thor will still simply be Thor. Jason Aaron, who has been writing the series, insists, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe.” They aren’t giving her a feminine name to differentiate her in any way, although when Falcon becomes Captain America, he will be Falcon as Captain America. They aren’t changing Steve Rogers’ skintone overnight — but wouldn’t that be something?
Women are still woefully underrepresented on film and television, and geek culture can often be exclusionary. But Marvel is setting a wonderful precedent here, one that could crossover into the realm of film and television — we could one day have a female Iron Man or see a black Captain America on the big screen (and that seems very possible, with Chris Evans’ desire to retire from acting soon), and maybe we’ll even see this female version of Thor. The possibilities are wonderfully limitless, as they should be.
And while it’s great to see Marvel bringing some diversity to the table, it would still be nice to see more original female characters being created. Perhaps this new female Thor will go on to have her own story when her run as Thor has ended. Perhaps she’ll inspire comic book writers to create more female heroes. Hey, Marvel, while you’re at it: where’s that Black Widow movie?