(cross-posted at the Ms. Magazine blog here)
It’s right there in the title – Iron MAN- not man in terms of the (supposedly neutral) term meaning “human,” but man meaning male. As I sat watching the movie with my thirteen year old son (and cringing at all the overt sexualization of females), I came to the conclusion that Iron Man 2 is really about the glory of males, the fact they are indeed “iron,” that with their strength and ingenuity, the world will be saved.
Along with this key lesson, a number of other gender lessons are imparted in the film:
On men and masculinity:
- Men don’t cry, they scream – as Ivan (played by Mickey Rourke) does when his dad dies.
- Men like power tools, technology, welding and weapons. Talking, not so much.
- Men are “big wheels” and “lone gunman.” They may say “It’s not all about me” – as Tony Stark (played Robert Downey Jr) does at the beginning of the film – but, really, it is.
- Men need to leave a “legacy” and build a better future. The best way to do this is via weapons, wealth, and womanizing
- Men are fabulous businessmen – so fabulous they can successfully privatize world peace.
- “Real men” (aka Tony Stark) think the “liberal agenda” is “boring.”
- Men will always need to be in “the theatre of war.” As such, they might as well turn their bodies into weapons.
- Men’s hatred of women is cute and humorous – or as one blogger puts it, “Tony stark’s privileged sexist playboy antics are hilarious” teaching viewers that “Men’s sexism is funny and endearing, as is their greed.”
- The male body is a weapon. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically. Man is iron. Or, as Andrew O’Hehir naming of the Iron Man suit as “impenetrable iron-dong costume” in his Salonreview suggests, the iron suit allows for the fulfillment of the male body not only as weapon, but as walking erection – hard and ready all the time.
On females and femininity (these lessons are longer, you see, because females need a lot of teaching):
- Women are for dancing – either around poles (as in Iron Man 1) or on stage as props for Tony Stark at the Stark Expo (in Iron Man 1). Wherever they are dancing, they should be scantily clad. And a note to cameramen – shoot them from behind so as to get maximum amount of booty shots – as in the opening scene of Iron Man 2 where our gaze is directed to numerous bent over butts in tight red spandex hot pants. As O’Herir points out in his Salon review, there is “no irony” in these “loving, loop-the-loop tracking shots of these dancin’ hoochie-mamas with their spray-bronzed legs and perfect Spandex asses.” Rather it is, as this blogger aptly names it, “a vomit-inducingly sexist scene involving various swooping close-ups of womens’ body parts as they gyrate.”
- Women are objects to be ogled and joked about. This lesson permeates both films. In the sequel, when Tony is shown his new car and “the new model” is ready, he makes a joke about the woman standing next to the vehicle: “Does she come with the car?” Or, in other words, women, like cars, should be sleek, good looking, fast, and expendable. Tony assesses the new female character Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) using the same parameters – her intelligence, multi-lingual skills, and martial arts training don’t seem to matter as he uses Google to find her old modeling pictures. As Froley of ReelThinker notes, she is put “in her underwear just for the hell of it” and her character is no more than a “near-cameo.” This incites Froley to assume that director “Jon Favreau must be some kind of chauvinist dog, because he takes every opportunity to objectify women.”
- Women need to have good make-up know how. Both Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie are not only beautifully made up themselves, but also have the foundation skills to mask Tony’s various bumps and bruises. This skill, along with their ability to take precarious, mincing steps on incredibly high heels, frames femininity as a performance that benefits males (whether via hiding their bruises for press junkets, wiggling their butts for the male gaze, or spreading their bodies for male pleasure – as the female reporter, later referred to as “garbage,’ does for Stark).
- Womens most important asset is their body. Even when they are in full-on battle mode (as Natalie is near the end of the sequel) they should remain hyper-vigilant about their bodily display. They don’t get to wear “iron man” suits – only really tight body suits. What fun would it be if their boobs and butts were hidden under metal?
- Women are petty and jealous – as when Pepper refers to Tony’s reporter liaison as “garbage”. Make fun of their jealousy by telling them “green doesn’t look good on you” (as Tony says to Pepper when his ogling of Natalie is obviously bothering her).
- The female body is weak. Pepper, after being saved by Tony near the end of Iron Man 2, says “I quit…My body can’t take this stress.” So, after two hours of watching Tony’s body take bullets, bombs, electric shocks, and Palladium poisoning, we hear poor Pepper can’t take “the stress” of being CEO for a week.
- Women are very forgiving – ignore her, lie to her, bring her the one food she is allergic to as a gift (strawberries), and generally make it known that you are a lifelong womanizer – none of that will matter as long as you kiss her at the right moment. Or as Kyle Smith gleefully notes, “the Gwyneth Paltrow character is comfortable with being Tony Stark’s assistant instead of judo-chopping and blasting away at bad guys herself, in the somewhat silly manner of virtually every female lead in action movies these days.” Yes, it’s soooo silly when we act as if females want to be part of the action! Instead, as noted by Lou Lumenick at the New York Post, “Paltrow is reduced to mothering our hero.” Or, as another blogger more caustically puts it, “if I were Gwyneth Paltrow and I just played the role of a stiletto-heel-wearing submissive secretary cleaning up after some rich white chauvinist asshole, I’d send back my Oscar.”
In case these gender lessons are not enough backlash for you, the film also provides some lessons in racism, homophobia, and the wonders of militarized capitalism as follows:
- Tony Stark explains his desire to no longer making weapons with “I saw Americans killed by my own weapons in Afghanistan!” I can’t put it better than this blogger: “do I even need to mention how stupid and racist it is to say that he was ok with his weapons being used to kill all those other non-Americans?” In this same vein, as noted in my earlier post, various Others are framed as “evil terrorists,” namely Middle Easterners and North Koreans.
- Black actors are exchangeable. Swap Don Cheadle for Terrence Howard. No one will notice.
- Organizations which discriminate against homosexuals deserve huge donations. (In the sequel, Tony donates a modern art collection, which Pepper has collected over 10 years, to the Boy Scouts of America).
- The government is made up of almost entirely of white males. As is the military. This is a good thing. As is capitalism. Or, as O’Hehir argues, the films takes the superhero genre and “embraces its most militaristic, fascistic, ultra-individualist ideology. “
And, that’s not all, the message of the films are spilling-over into our fast food culture with Burger King offering “four lifestyle accessories for girls and four action-packed toys for boys.” Yeah, now those kiddos that may not get to see the film can still learn important gender lessons. Girls, get busy accessorizing! Boys, take action!
As for this feminist, I won’t be stepping out in my non-high heels in any hurry to see the sure-to-follow Iron Man 3, that’s for sure.