When "Wonder Woman" came out in 2017, I got a lot of flak from male friends when they gushed over Gal Gadot (supposedly as her superhero character?) and I didn't overwhelmingly ooze the same sentiments. "You're such a bad feminist!", I was told, for merely thinking the movie was enjoyable and a decently positive step forward rather than a life-changing poster-child feminist movie. There were things I enjoyed, and things I thought the movie could do better—but because I didn't unconditionally love "Wonder Woman," I wasn't really a feminist
Seeing "Captain Marvel" after hearing it lauded for months as a ground-breaking feminist movie, I found myself disappointed again.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie. (Every observation here is based on the film alone; I've never read the comics.) The CGI was great, the plot incorporated fun references to the MCU universe that will amuse fans, it had no more plotholes than any average superhero movie, and I did love that the main character was a woman (and a strong supporting character is an African American woman, which is wonderful: let's certainly celebrate the intersectionalism of "Captain Marvel.")
Yes, a MCU superhero who's a woman is ground-breaking—that's great. But it's okay to not unconditionally adore "Captain Marvel." We can have reservations about the movie—or even not like it—and still be a feminist.
In her article "Diamonds in the Rough," Janine Macbeth writes: "Way back in the day when the pickings were slimmer than slim, maybe, just maybe, enjoying a book like "The Five Chinese Brothers" (first published in 1938) was alright. But today […], any book that opens, "Once upon a time there were five Chinese brothers and they all looked exactly alike" is completely unacceptable."
Similarly to feminism in movies: back in the day, when "pickings were slim," it behooved feminists to support any remotely positive female representation in any film. But—even though there's still a discrepancy today—we no longer need to unquestioningly and indiscriminately accept every aspect of a women's representation.
I would posit that it's actually anti-feminist to love everything about a character simply because she's a woman, or everything about a story because it features a female lead. Should we go see the movie to support it? Sure, that's great. Should we be happy we're taking strides forward in female representation? Hell yeah.
But do we need to be happy that half a loaf is better than none? Absolutely not. We can still expect, demand, and yearn for a full loaf. We can support the movie financially as half a loaf if we choose while also acknowledging there are aspects of the film that were lacking and we wish they will be present in the next movie: insisting on, someday, a full loaf.
We don't have to lower our liking-something standards merely because the film highlights women. We don't have to happily embrace every plot-hole and trait we'd ordinarily dislike just because of that.
Case in point, I would love to see more women in political office and I'm thrilled with the current diverse representation in Congress. I love when I get to vote for a woman! But if I ran for office and someone voted for me just because I was a woman, I would be offended. Vote for me for my ideals, my principles, and my policies—be happy that I'm a woman, but don't vote for me just because I'm a woman. That's almost as offensive as not voting for me just because I'm a woman.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter why I didn't fall in love with "Captain Marvel"**. I genuinely do feel "Captain Marvel" let me down as a feminist idol. The point's not whether or not she's an amazing poster-child or a flawed one or even a bad one. The point is that feminists (or, decent humans) shouldn't feel obligated to walk on tiptoes around any valid criticisms merely because she's a woman.
Feminine representation is no longer so fragile that having reservations about a specific film will cause the whole house of cards to come tumbling down and shove women out of films forever. It's not a matter of being a "diamond in the rough": if someone loves "Captain Marvel," they should love her! And if someone doesn't, that's okay too. Feminism is broad and strong enough to encompass both perspectives.
Studios don't necessarily care about all of these nuances, they largely care about money. So sure, if you feel so drawn, go buy a ticket to show that people will watch a movie about a female superhero. However, it's worth noting that no one feels the need to support every male superhero movie out of fear that if we don't support it, studios will stop making male superhero movies. There are enough men represented in superhero movies that there can be crappy movies and amazing movies and people can dislike a particular movie without being accused of being a manhater. No, they don't hate men, they just didn't care for that particular film.
I went to see "Captain Marvel," and I'd see it again (even knowing that I felt a bit disappointed) to support the representation of women in films in general; but I'm disappointed because I expected better: I expect, someday, my full loaf. Maybe next year there will be a female superhero movie that I absolutely love; maybe someday, we won't feel we have to go see a superhero movie just because it features a woman. We can go see it just because it's awesome.
There's a great argument to support movies like "Captain Marvel." But women in movies are not diamonds in the rough anymore. We no longer have to uncritically love all film characters just because they're women. Some people may love her representation, and that's great. And some will not. (A quick Google search shows my disappointment is not unique.) The pickings aren't excessive, but neither are they non-existent. We can appraise Captain Marvel on her merit, not merely unquestioningly accept her just because she is a woman.
**Regarding the reasons: my next article is on what "Captain Marvel" got right…and where it missed the mark.