Spoilers ahead for Hawkeye, episode 5, and most MCU films!
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I will talk about it to anybody and everybody; in fact, I am such a huge fan that I managed to cinch my first job out of university because of my adoration for the films. I emphasise this because what I’m about to write pains me somewhat and I need to make it clear that any criticism of the MCU comes from a place of deep, nerdy love.
I recently watched the fifth episode of Hawkeye and one of the stand-out moments, for me, was when Yelena Belova (an expert assassin and sister to Black Widow/ Natasha Romanoff) sat down and had a passive-aggressive chat with superhero wannabe, Kate Bishop. It was incredible television with both actors completely inhabiting their characters and made me hope that one day these two will become an MCU version of BFFs. My second thought was then ‘Hey, why aren’t there many female BFFs in the MCU? The blokes have loads!’
Marvel has several prominent platonic male relationships across their films and television series; Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes (and later Sam Wilson), Tony Stark and Rhodey, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (the famous #ScienceBros), Peter Parker and Ned, as well as plenty of others. In each example, these friendships allow the characters to develop, showing how they relate to the people closest to them on a personal level, as well as how they use their combined skills to fight the bad guys. Admittedly, in the superhero genre there is always a hero/sidekick dynamic but the love and respect these characters have for each other is abundantly clear. When Rhodey is injured in Iron Man 3, the anger on Tony’s face is clear; he cannot imagine being without his best friend. Even after Steve discovers that Bucky is the Winter Solider, he’s still determined to help him overcome his trauma and so sets off the sub-plot of Captain America: Civil War. The memes, GIFs and think-pieces that are spawned by these characters is monumental.
But where are the women?
Captain Marvel brought us a long-awaited female centred MCU film and, with it, the friendship between Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau. We see them train for the Air Force together in a male-dominated environment, pushing them closer together, as well as Carol’s surrogate aunty role to Maria’s daughter, Monica. Both women are forces in their own right but their bond means that the other feels supported and ready to take on whatever superhero antics are required. The internet also fell in love with them and there were instant calls for them to be a romantic couple, which for the record I am not against as the MCU desperately needs more LGBTQ+ representation, but I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just be friends. Why does the central relationship have to be romantic when a platonic one can be just as powerful, if not more so, on screen?
The only other female pairings are two sets of adopted sisters; Gamora and Nebula and Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova. Their stories are tied up with the stereotypical competitiveness often assigned to females but, ultimately, result in support and love. It’s great to see these pairings but we need more of them, especially those that aren’t already tied through family. Women rely on same-sex friendships just as much as men do to navigate life and, I imagine, that’s especially true if you’re a superhero.
Of course, part of the problem is that there just aren’t enough MCU stories focused on women. In recent years we’ve had Captain Marvel, WandaVision and now, Hawkeye, but it’s taken a while to get here. That moment in Avengers: Endgame when all the female characters came together was iconic, but I’m not sure if it was deserved when only one of those characters had headlined their own film.
It’s been ingrained into women for centuries that other females are competition and, while most of us have known for a long time this is bullshit, it seems like the world is only starting to wake up to this. If we want children of all genders to grow up and respect women then we need our media to show every side to us. We need female focused stories; we need multiple portrayals of their existence and we need them to have friends who will yell about how great they are, even after they’ve left the room.