Apologies for being so late to the table!
I spent a long time looking for a specific post from Helshades to reference, but – alas – I can’t find it for technical reasons, so I’ll try to paraphrase the gist from memory.
There was a discussion not long ago on the issue of ‘female erasure’ in the fandom, which followed an interesting debate on whom was to blame for this lack of female presence in fanworks: Marvel or the fandom. I had been, at the time, somewhat on the fence as I read through various replies and posts, but now I have to say that the only people to blame are the fans themselves.
We are the reason for the lack of women.
We alone are at fault.
Marvel has so many interesting and complex women, which both contribute to the plot and also are a positive portrayal of their gender. The most popular female character appears to be Black Widow, which – honestly – isn’t a surprise to me in the least, precisely because she is such an interesting character in her own right. She isn’t interesting as a woman, just as she isn’t interesting for breaking the norm of a female lead … she is interesting as a person. This is why I think she is such an amazing role-model – in some respects – for young women.
This is a character that never sacrifices her femininity, but also never allows it to define her or her purpose. This is a character that is highly intelligent and skilled; she took on male leads as an equal, just as she provides interesting insight and contributes to group dynamics, and just as without her some of our classical heroes would never have saved the day. Think about it: Captain America could not have succeeded without her help and her presence. At not one point was she a ‘damsel in distress’ or ‘love interest’ … always one step ahead, always active … and so -?
Why wasn’t it a “Black Widow” movie and instead a “Captain America” movie?
This could easily have been her movie, in many respects it was her movie, and yet instead she’s standing behind a male lead and flipping her hair in posters, with her representation in media being sidelined to a ‘supporting character’. People will ask the male actors all sorts of deep and meaningful questions, but for her actress the questions seem to be about dieting and shallow concerns. Why? The fandom. The journalists ask what they think we care about. The film companies produce films that we want to see. What do they base these assumptions on? What we say. What we produce. What we scream out so loudly!
There are so many female leads in the comics. “Ms Marvel” is a popular one also being re-imagined at the moment, but we don’t have a Ms Marvel or a Black Widow or even a Wonder Woman (for the DC fans) leading the way yet, even though they could have easily have picked one of these for a new movie. Hell, they admit to having a script for Black Widow in the wings waiting, but they still choose to make “Guardians of the Galaxy” over a solo female lead. Don’t think I’m bashing the movie at all -! I’m just saying it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that four male leads to the one female lead is easier to ‘sell’ than a woman on her own.
This is our fault, not the film companies.
Here’s just a small anecdote … lately I’ve been super obsessed with the “Deadpool” series, for many reasons that could do with an essay in their own right, but that’s another issue entirely. I began reading the fanfictions and looking up fan-art, before coming across the inevitable ships and ‘Spideypool’ works … nothing wrong there, although I imagine that can spark a debate in itself. You know what seems to be insanely popular? The ‘super-family’ dynamic.
This means Peter will date Wade, but will also be the son of Steve and Tony, whilst having another slash-couple on the side, usually Bruce with Clint. Where is Natasha? A quirky fun ‘aunt’. Where is Pepper? She doesn’t exist. I’ve never even seen her mentioned. I mean … wow … statistically not everyone can be gay, although the fact that no one ever seems to be bisexual is another form of erasure in itself, and if everyone were gay then the world would come screaming to a halt. You guys know how procreation works, right? A sperm meets an egg -?
Okay, anyway, my point …
These fictions don’t even try to explain where Pepper is lurking, or why Tony left her to be with Steve, or what impact this has on anyone’s lives … she doesn’t matter … she’s in the way of a ship. She’s just gone. They don’t even try to have her as a fellow ‘fun aunt’, because she simply doesn’t exist. In the same way – in this specific sub-fandom – there seems to be a distinct lack of Aunt May, Gwen or Mary Jane. Let this sink in: the three most important people in Peter’s life are gone.
Aunt May doesn’t appear for him to visit at weekends, just as he doesn’t tend to date Gwen for any longer than for to be killed off … okay, I find that legitimate, due to canon, but the fictions when he’ll immediately sleep with Harry or Wade due to his ‘grief’ is absolutely ridiculous and disrespectful to both gay/bi people and those who are mourning for a loved one … hell, he doesn’t even tend to keep MJ as a friend or confidante. Three women: gone.
Let me do a search here for you guys.
On AO3 Tony Stark appears – at the time of writing this – in 31,967 works. On this same site Pepper Potts appears in 7,254 works. This means Tony is in four and a half times more works than his canon romantic partner. Okay, okay -! I hear some of you scream that Pepper is a ‘minor’ character, or that she isn’t a ‘superhero’, or any number of reasons/excuses, so let me do another search on another site.
On FF.N the Thor/Loki fanfiction – no rating limit – comes up with 2.2k works, whereas Tony/Pepper is 927 … an unofficial incestual couple gets double the works written for it than the canon couple. Natasha has 5.8k stories written about her, whereas Captain America gets 7k and Iron Man gets 10.8k. It doesn’t matter whether you search for ships or the individual characters: female characters get a fraction of the hits/works of male characters. This is ridiculous.
This also isn’t exclusive to our fandom.
Why would a ‘Supernatural’ producer keep a long-term female lead, when people were baying for the blood of the characters they had? Why would a Marvel executive green light a movie for Black Widow when she’s only half as popular as any of the male leads? We don’t exist in a vacuum. Our work isn’t read/seen only by fellow fans. This is the world wide web and everything you say is being heard.
Shall I tell you a fact?
Social media saved the show ‘Hannibal’. Its ratings were sub-par, but the massively vocal fanbase on Tumblr and Twitter and other sites gained it a renewal twice. The actors on various shows such as ‘Supernatural’ read your messages and make jokes or references to them in various conventions, with a certain angel being notorious for that. I’ve seen other actors being shown your fan-art on talk-shows too, to see what their reaction would be, with a certain Norse god doing the rounds for that a year or so ago too.
The writers read what you write. The producers see what you draw.
They see people erase the women of their shows and they think no one cares about the women of their shows. If you cared about them, you would support them, right? It stands to reason. You wouldn’t demonise Alana for breaking up your ‘Hannigram’, just as you wouldn’t forget Pepper’s existence to write your ‘super-family’, and you would have supported Jo before she was killed off. The more you pretend women don’t exist, the more the creators will do the same. The more you act as if women are unimportant, the more the creators will believe you think the same.
We need to grow as a fandom. We need to grow as fans in general.
Feel free to ship, but remember women exist.
Remember women matter.