So there’s been a lot flying around the internet recently. There’s always something, be it cop shootings, terrorist attacks and retribution, or unbalanced representation of minorities and/or sexes.
A recent powder keg was Beyonce’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl. Now, I’ve heard reactions on both sides of the board. And, dare I say it, both sides have some valid points.
Which got me thinking.
Why are some activist groups more acceptable than others? How can the same word, for example, feminism, have such a positive and a negative connotation?
Now, there’s not much I find more pointless than getting in a political debate online. The anonymity of the web makes it far too easy to dehumanize the people involved.
Which is why I’ve avoided doing so.
Until now. Because I think I’ve found a good way to talk about this without pointing fingers or assigning blame. It struck me last night while watching the most recent episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter.
Perhaps with the exception of Loki, there’s a pretty clean line drawn between heroes and villains, especially in the Marvel universe. Specifically, the Marvel Cinematic and TV universes(DC makes everything a bit too gray for the purpose of this discussion).
First, I’d like to define the two groups I think of as positive and negative activism. These are very generalized terms. Any specific group you just thought of is on you. To define these groups, I’d like to look at the X-men.
Now, in the X-Men storyline (storylines? All that time travel and changing the future past whatever gets confusing) there are two definitive groups: humans and mutants. An ultimate majority, and an ultimate minority. The majority fears the minority because, well, people fear people who are different.
Also, someone who can get shot in the face and get back up again is kind of terrifying. But that’s beside the point.
There are two distinct camps that most mutants claim. The X-Men and Professor X, or Magneto and his band of rogue mutants.
Professor X trains young mutants and teaches them how to control their powers, in the hope that they can blend in to the real world.
He is also involved in talks to give mutants equal rights, trained a mutant senator who acts as ambassador to humanity, and formed the X-Men, an elite group of mutants formed to protect the world from major threats, mutant or otherwise.
This is positive activism. The focus is in finding common ground, as well as celebrating the differences between the people groups.
Then there’s Magneto, who also focuses largely on the differences between the people groups. Mainly the good qualities of mutants, and the bad qualities of humans.
He recruits mutants who have been mistreated and cast out by humans, and encourages their anger and hate. At one point, he plots to turn every human into a mutant, thereby cleansing the world of their filth.
Just get right to it and hang up a swastika already.
This is negative activism.
See the difference?
Another example of positive and negative activism, specifically feminism, can be seen in just about every episode of Agent Carter. Peggy Carter is everything we’ve always wanted in a strong central female character. Agent Carter doesn’t just have to battle the enemies of the US in this post-WWII espionage drama, she has to battle the chauvinistic tendencies of her workplace. She is constantly told to man the phones, or file the reports of other agents.
This to the woman who helped train Captain America. The woman who was an unnamed member of the Howling Commandos. The woman who went on to become the founder of SHIELD.
Her reaction? Fighting even harder to prove her worth, with a heaping dose of sarcasm for any coworker dumb enough to tell her she was so much better at “that sort of thing”.
Also, occasionally she’ll take advantage of the rampant misconception of feminine weakness to gather information. She’ll bring coffee to briefings she’s been shut out from, or take lunch orders for the office to do some snooping in the lab where their testing classified objects.
Instead of letting the constant derision make her bitter, Peggy lets her frustration fuel her. And she proves herself the equal (or better) of her male counterparts without sacrificing an ounce of her femininity. She uses her intelligence, quick wit, and often brute strength to get the job done.
Then she drops nuggets like this:
YES. EVERY HUMAN TAKE NOTE.
But Peggy Carter isn’t the only strong independent woman on this show. Peggy encounters women trained in the Red Room, the dubious origin of the Avengers’ Black Widow. As we’ve seen in the multiple movies Natasha Romanoff has appeared in, the fighting style and tactics of these women is much more feminine than Peggy Carter’s. She will occasionally use male expectations to her advantage, but it’s not her opening move.
Not so with Red Room operatives. There’s a reason Romanoff’s handle is Black Widow. These women use their femininity as a weapon to destroy men. On a certain level, it’s not their fault. It’s what they’ve been programmed to do. No little girl deserves to be chained to a bed and forced to kill other little girls.
Then there are women like Whitney Frost, this season’s apparent big baddie.
Miss Frost was raised by a single mother, who “entertained” men to keep afloat. Not really the best example of a feminine role model.
So Miss Frost learned to use her femininity to get what she wanted out of life. Then, when she is finally given power, she uses it to use and abuse everyone around her, especially the men. She approaches the world like it owes her something, and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt so long as she gets what she wants.
I could probably rant on and on about the beautiful character that is Peggy Carter. A better use of all of our time would be just watching the show yourselves, if you haven’t already.
I am so very far from having all the answers to the issues of racism and sexism. But I do know that we will never arrive at a solution if we can’t discuss the issues without bringing out the pointed fingers and pitchforks. If that means hiding behind superhero metaphors for now, then so be it.