How The Marvel Cinematic Universe Erases Women

The Avengers Films

The Avengers (2012) – Directed by Joss Whedon, written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015) – Written and directed by Joss Whedon

The team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes first appeared in the Marvel comic The Avengers #1 in 1963 in response to DC’s successful introduction of the Justice League Of America. In this source material, the team was founded by The Wasp, her partner Hank Pym, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor, after The Wasp, Pym and Iron Man gathered to help Thor and Hulk defeat Loki. Pym noted they all worked well together, and The Wasp named the group The Avengers. Captain America joined several issues later, replacing Hulk, who left amid concerns about his temper.

In the following years, the team was joined by Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, while later still, Hercules, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision and Black Knight joined the ranks. The next three decades saw a wide variety of character combinations toiling under the Avengers banner – including Tigra, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Monica Rambeau, Starfox, Mockingbird, Namor, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Ronin, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and Sentry. Isn’t there a lot of women in that list?

In the comics, 2007 saw the introduction of The Mighty Avengers, which was a post-Civil War comic book featuring the foundation of a new Avengers team by Iron Man and Ms. Marvel. This balanced team first included Ares, Black Widow, Sentry, The Wasp, and Wonder Man, in addition to Iron Man and Ms. Marvel.

In paring down this rich and diverse history, the MCU presents a very different kind of Avengers, however. Iron Man kicked off the MCU in 2008, and is shown to be the lynch-pin for the creation of the team. Their first battle is indeed initiated by conflict between Thor and Loki, but we see no women involved in the inception of The Avengers at a decision-making level.

The antagonist in Age Of Ultron is the titular Artificial Intelligence system, and once again, The Wasp is erased – because Ultron was actually created by her husband, Hank Pym, in the source material, but Tony Stark in the movie. Until the appearance of Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age Of Ultron in 2015 – a full seven years into the MCU – Black Widow was the only female Avenger, and her involvement in the assembling of the team is merely as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, sent by her male superior (Nick Fury) to gather the male heroes, and then help them. In addition, until the appearance of Dr Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) in the same film, every woman in the Avengers films with more than one line was white.

So, the initial Avengers line-up in the film franchise consists of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawk-Eye and Black Widow – characters selected by Marvel for inclusion. The Wasp is removed as a lead entirely, and is replaced by Black Widow in what is essentially a supporting role. The films introduce Hawk-Eye as an Avenger, although in the comics he did not join until years into publication. There are several other prominent female comic characters that could have appeared in his place (Ms. Marvel, for example), but instead, Hawk-Eye is used, leaving Black Widow as the only woman on the team for an extended period of time.