Captain Marvel, Disney Princesses, and the “Feminist Agenda,” Part 2

The response to Disney’s Captain Marvel has been fraught with controversy, even before the film was released. Greg Morse, a staff writer at Desiring God, wrote about the movie after seeing it, and his article has received a lot of criticism (rightfully so, in my opinion). Morse makes—or, at the very least, appears to make—four dangerous rhetorical errors in his piece, and in my last blog post we examined the first two: unclear language and genre confusion. Now let’s look at the other two problems: reverse chronological snobbery and a demeaning attitude toward women.

3. Reverse Chronological Snobbery

C. S. Lewis coined the term “chronological snobbery” to describe the belief that the “intellectual climate” of our own time is automatically superior to that of the past, as the beliefs and practices of previous generations are outdated and less enlightened. This is a dangerous and pernicious mindset, blocking us from learning from past eras.

Another detrimental mindset is reverse chronological snobbery. This is the belief that the intellectual climate of times past are inherently superior to those in the present. The person who holds this view practices what my friend E. Stephen Burnett has called “nostalgia-based discernment”—looking back to the good old days when times were ostensibly simpler or better or easier. In the words of author Jen Pollock Michel, it can be tempting to “decry the abasement of morality in contemporary culture…when compared (however naively) to an idyllic yesteryear.”

The wording Morse used in his piece led many readers to believe that he longed for an idyllic yesteryear—i.e., the time period of the earliest Disney princesses. A lot of people reacted strongly (and sometimes harshly) to the idea that Morse thought women were better off back in the earlier days of Disney animation.

Based on the in-depth conversation I was able to have with him after originally publishing this blog post, I discovered that many of Morse’s critics were responding based on a misperception of Morse’s intentions. He did not mean to declare—or even insinuate—a longing for the “good old days” of the 1940s. That wasn’t his point at all.

What did he mean, then? Please visit my third entry in this series to get a clearer picture of Morse’s original intentions.

4. A Demeaning Attitude Toward Women

It is true that men are generally physically stronger than women. A recent BBC article I read said that men have “40% more upper-body strength and 33% more lower body strength.” To deny differences between the sexes, or to promote the idea that one sex is better than the other, is dangerous.

Because of the wording Morse used, however, many interpreted him as going beyond cautioning against such dangers. In fact, his argument against the “myth of sameness between the sexes” seemed to communicate (inadvertently, we now know) not just that men and women are different, but that men are better than women. As an illustration, let me share just one example.

Morse wrote that the “alternative universe where an accident infuses the heroine with superhuman powers…seems to stand as a reasonable apologetic for the feminist agenda.” This language implies that Captain Marvel is basically a wish-fulfillment fantasy for women, since they have no hope of such amazing powers in our universe.

But what about all the superhero stories where men are infused with superhuman powers through an accident? Are stories about Spider-Man, The Hulk, and The Flash just wish fulfillment fantasies for men who lack a sufficient amount of masculinity? Are these comic book heroes a reasonable apologetic for the misogynist agenda? Of course, to ask such a silly question is to answer it.

A stronger point could have been made, I think, if Morse had specifically critiqued movies and TV shows featuring petite women fighting and overcoming larger, stronger men in real-world, hand-to-hand combat situations (which often are not only unrealistic, but also involve a quasi-sexual move where the woman wraps her legs around her enemy’s neck to gain the victory). Because of his unclear language, however, he seemed to be critiquing more than he actually was.

SAME BOOK, DIFFERENT PAGES

When all is said and done, if Greg Morse and I were to sit down and have an in-depth talk about our worldviews, my guess is that we would agree far more often than we disagree. I haven’t shared my thoughts here because I have an axe to grind or because I’m out for blood. It is, in fact, because of my respect for those at Desiring God that I wrote this critique. A misguided attempt of such magnitude as Morse’s, on such a public platform, is worthy of constructive criticism. My prayer is that this two-part blog series qualifies as such a response.

UPDATE: I have since had an in-depth conversation with Greg Morse, necessitating a third blog post to modify my critiques and help bring some much-needed clarity to Morse’s initial intentions. You can read that entry here: What REALLY Went Wrong with Desiring God’s Critique of CAPTAIN MARVEL

photo credit: AntMan3001 via flickr, CC (this photo has been cropped)

Comments

Charity said…
As a woman, I love all kinds of heroines. I spent the weekend not watching Captain Marvel but catching the 80th Anniversary of Gone With the Wind -- who has two strong women in it -- Scarlett O'Hara and Melanie Hamilton. They are strong in different ways. I have as much affection for Amy Dorrit in Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit as I have for Sydney Bristow in ALIAS. Good stories show us a large variety of women with all kinds of strengths. Some of them are wives and mothers. Some of them have super powers. It does not have to be all or none. It can be much like actual women are -- a blend of things. :)

Excellent blog post.