Should Women be Portrayed as Superheroes? A Critique of the Worldview that says No.

Dear One-Dimensional-Mister-Centered Worldview, (or “Mr. Worldview,” for short), 

Recently, I read a post on a popular Christian ministry website decrying Captain Marvel and its effects on women, and I felt compelled to write a response. The article made me feel that you, Mr. Worldview, had completely missed the point of the movie and that you had forgotten something very important about yourself, humanity, God, and the role of fiction in the world. 

You claim that these films are affecting women negatively—that by watching women in positions of power and strength as equals with men, we are being deceived into thinking we can be as strong, as super, or can “save the day” as equally as men can. In your own words, these films are teaching us to “trade in our glass slippers and books for combat boots and bazookas” and that this is ruining society and confusing the different roles that God has given us.

I, a woman, have to disagree.

Let me flip the picture for you. You affirm that men should hold the primary “savior” role in superhero movies. Let me ask you, after watching these intrepid male heroes, did you or other men you know decide to “trade in your day job” to join the army or become a spy? Start going to the gym? Since the roles were men, did it make you believe that you could save the world? Become a hero? A god of thunder with a hammer? Did you dream of trading in your loafers for a shield with a star on it?  

Or, would you say that these movies leave you feeling inspired and empowered? Do they resonate with something deep inside you? Yes. As they should. I celebrate that. And I want you to know, Mr. Worldview, that women have that something deep inside, too.

In your letter, you admonish women to exemplify Cinderella or Belle. And if we women are Belle, who is the male hero meant to save us? Gaston? The beast? May I remind you that it was Belle who showed extreme courage and intelligence, who sacrificed herself for her father, and who ultimately tamed the beast. 

In the real world, men know they can never become a Thor or a Captain America, just as women know they can’t become Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman. But, that isn’t the point. They remind us all that sometimes impossibilities can become possible. By engaging our imaginations, they help us to believe that we don’t live in a purely physical world. And most importantly, they call on our true identity—at least, what we desperately want to be true of ourselves. We are inspired to believe we are better, stronger, and braver than we normally feel we are. We receive a fresh surge of hope to become the person we were designed to be, with all of our glory and goodness. 

Don’t believe for a second that women are any different from men in this ability to receive inspiration and encouragement from superhero movies. It is a very good and necessary thing. Around the world, women—many who have been abused, oppressed, or told that they need a man because they are incapable of strength and courage on their own—who watch these movies feel released. They begin to believe that they, too, can be powerful—not necessarily leading to taking up kick boxing or buying combat boots or “trading in their skirts”—but rather because deep down inside the soul of every women, there is a longing to be free and powerful. It demands the freedom to be inspired and to dream even bigger. Through these films, women everywhere were affirmed that they, too, were made in God’s image, to exhibit strength and power. We all know that physical strength is not where true power lies. True power comes from a much deeper place. And women have as much access to that inner source of bravery-inspired action as men do. 

Mr. Worldview, if you bemoan the liberties fiction is selling us, if you propose to put limits and boundaries on the genre of fantasy, you’ll have to condemn C.S. Lewis, as well. He claimed that fantasy and fiction are some of the greatest tools we have for teaching by helping us live experiences we might never otherwise have. In the Chronicles of Narnia, he put Lucy and Susan into the battle and equipped them with weapons—real weapons, which they used to fight with! And it was Lucy, the littlest girl, who was called to follow Aslan first and to take the greatest risks. Was it foolish for Lewis to show little girls that they can hold that much power and confidence? That they could fight side-by-side with boys? I don’t think so. He knew that it would resonate with something deep inside of all of us. 

Back to Captain Marvel. Let's review some major points that perhaps you missed: First, Carol learned to be powerful before she got her power. As a mere human, she learned to never give up, to stand up after being knocked down, to try again even though everyone tells her that she will fail. It was this lesson that eventually freed her in the end and enabled her to overcome the lies and control of Yon Rogg (her nemesis). Second, the movie contrasted a healthy female/male relationship with an unhealthy one. Consider the relationship between Nick Fury and Carol Danvers. Fury knew she was powerful, and he was not afraid of her power. He partnered with her knowing she was stronger in some areas. They respected each other. Mr. Worldview, if you properly understood your Bible, you would know why Barak is listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 (backstory for our other readers: Barak deferred to Deborah’s leadership in battle).

Then there’s Yon Rogg—the man who tried to control and limit her power. Why? Because he was afraid. He was intimidated by a woman who might be more powerful than he. Intimidation comes from fear or insecurity, which Fury didn’t have, that is why he could fight with Carol, knowing that to win they had to fight side by side. Now, I ask you Mr. Worldview, are you afraid? Intimidated by strong women? Do you think the women in your life might rise up to hurt or control you? I assure you, that is not our goal. As I said before, we’re designed just like you to be as free and as powerful as anyone else and to fight by your side.

Mr. Worldview, I’m sure you remember playing make-believe as a child, when you knew you were a hero, when impossible wasn’t an obstacle, but an invitation. Girls and boys make believe that way because it’s in our God-given DNA—both men and women—to believe beyond the impossible. God created us to win the fight on earth for his Kingdom together. We should all thank God for any means (Marvel, fairy tales, or otherwise) that speak into women’s lives that they, too, are powerful and can save the day, just as God has created them to do.

Mr. Worldview, you know this world is not merely one-dimensional. There is also spiritual dimension. People are not just physical, but spiritual, also. Surely, you know that we live side by side with another dimension that is spiritual and that does not play by the rules of this world. Does it not stand to reason that on a spiritual level, men and women can both hope for, believe for, be moved by the same things? Aren’t we meant to engage in the same spirit-level battle that we are all a part of? But if you want to keep things one-dimensional—if you want to keep measuring and controlling things from the outside, only able to see skin deep, let’s go there for a minute.

Did you know that women make up more than 70% of the global church and are leading most of the grassroots mission movements around the world? This isn’t a modern statistic; it has been like this for a long time. Women are always taking massive risks, courageously going into dangerous places to fight against spiritual evil. Every day, they load up their spiritual ammunition and storm the most neglected places on earth with love. And if there is anyone to blame for this—for women feeling and being empowered—you can blame God. 

You see, He has given us something greater than Marvel movies. He gave us the inheritance of his story in the Bible. It was given to (and speaks to) both men and women. In it, God tells us that with him, “nothing is impossible,” and that we are “more than conquerors.” And what about, “I will not fear ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side,” “even if I am attacked, I will remain confident,” “He trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle,” “with him, I can scale a wall.” Are we to believe that these verses can only resonate with a male spirit? Can spirit be divided by gender? Certainly, you wouldn’t recommend that we organize the Bible like our local department stores. Of course not. Women and men and children and elderly can all read the same Scriptural stories—fighting giants, defying fire, sneaking into enemy territory as spies, facing death head-on—and be inspired and empowered by them. I have never felt that there are certain verses only for men. As a matter of fact, God himself has deepened my faith and my self-image by what I know are not for-men’s-spirits-only truths, but truths given to all human spirits. I’m here to tell you that just as you cannot segregate the biblical record, you also cannot do that to movies. 

Dear Mr. Worldview, there is hope for you and your men-on-top ilk. As your worldview comes into more exposure to the growing light of God, it will be revealed for what it is, and slowly but surely, its black-and-whiteness will dissolve into gray and be reworked into the bright colors of his kingdom. Old and rotten things decay and become food for real life again. But I do hope that one day you will see in color, and that you will be able to truly know the value of women—their beauty and strength and heroism—and perhaps even become a voice for championing them.

Your Sister in Arms,

Mrs. S