I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Thor is officially a woman, at least in the Marvel universe. Here she is:
Having just watched the wonderful videos over at Feminist Frequency (see my previous post here), I immediately thought, “this just the Ms. Male Character trope!” Media critic Anita Sarkeesian defines The Ms. Male Character trope as:
“A female version of an already established or default male character. Ms. Male Characters are defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts via their visual properties, their narrative connection or occasionally through promotional materials.”
Batgirl and Superwoman come to mind, and female Thor appears to join the list; another female character who only exists as an extension of her male counterpart. The Marvel people disagree. As the series writer emphasizes in the press release:
“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. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”
How is this possible? Well, the Marvel people are interpreting the Norse mythology creatively, claiming that Thor-ness isn’t restricted to a single person but to the “mighty hammer, Mjölnir.” As the press release explains:
“The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription . . . this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”
Does the hammer rationale save Thor from the Ms. Male Character trope?
The Positives: The female Thor can have a narrative separate from her male predecessor, connected (presumably) only by the hammer. There is potential here, but we’ll have to wait and see if the writers follow through.
The Negatives: Thor is a very well established brand, extending from Chris Hemsworth all the way back to at least Roman times. When someone says Thor, you think big Viking thunder god. You don’t think: a person who embodies the spirit of a magic hammer. We can of course break this association, but it will take effort, especially with the visuals. An autonomous female Thor needs a very different visual presence to establish her independence. Imagine a Black, Hispanic, or Asian woman empowered by an ancient weapon to bring justice to the world. Who’d remember the old bearded guy?
Did the artists do this? No. They gave the archetypal northern European Thor huge boobs, a curvy figure, and a small delicate chin. (And the hammer seems to have very particular wardrobe preferences.)
Female Thor is a direct visual descendant of her male counterpart and this is what people notice. My first reaction was: great . . . blonde and boobs. This is where most of the news coverage stopped, for example: “the once strapping and bearded Thunder God now as a buxom blonde, clad in a caped costume.” I’m guessing everyone else stopped there as well. No one read far enough to notice the bit about the hammer, not even me.
My conclusion: Missed Opportunity! I believe you’re intentions are honorable Marvel people (if you back it up with an independent story arc), but the visuals don’t transcend the male character. All we see is She Thor.