Fandoms and Feminism: A Female Thor

I am certain the comic fans of this blog knew that this blog was going to happen. For once, I’m on trend. And of course, my monumental 50th post had to be on this. It would be a travesty if it wasn’t!

Dear readers, Marvel has announced that Thor will be a woman.

The details are sketchy at the moment. It’s unclear whether we’ll see some transformation, some effect of mysticism or something altogether more human. We’re not sure if this is Thor gender-bent or some new character. We do that this Thor will have no gendered signifier—she will not be She-Thor, Lady Thor or Thora the Explorer. She is simply Thor. We also know that, as far as the current creative team is concerned, this will not be a temporary change.

This has been a controversial announcement to say the least. The internet is divided, people are up in arms, and Marvel may have penned another civil war (don’t look at me; I’m still not over the last one). Everyone and their rude little brother seems to have an opinion on it.

My take on it? It’s about damn time.

I love Thor as he is. Whether he’s portrayed as a Shakespearean puppy or a Norse brute, he is a charming character in any medium. Thor as a woman would not change any of this. I think Gail Simone’s critically-acclaimed fan-favourite series Red Sonja has proven that woman being Brutish and interesting is possible. It’s even—dare I say it?—a good story. Red Sonja and Thor could be cut from the same cloth. Let’s get Simone as a consultant or something. That’s something I’d love to see in print.

Of course, I am but one voice amidst thousands, and the nay-sayers are notoriously loud. Many have voiced their criticisms. They seems to be the same arguments over and over, rehashed with a colourful vocabulary and a range of insults. I’d like to address the most popular of objections, giving you my views as a feminist, a comic fan and as a writer. As always, I welcome debate and invite you to leave your comments and opinion on these points. So, let’s get started.

“It’s not keeping with the mythology.”

With this being a Thor comic, this could mean of two things. The first thing they usually mean is that Thor is not a character who resides solely in the Marvel universe. He is a figure of classical Norse mythology, dating back thousands of years. And as one critic put it: “Thor was GOD of lightning, not goddess”.

Interestingly, I recall similar objections when the Thor movie cast list was released. When Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall, there was a sudden demand for the purity of Norse mythology to remain intact. It was not racist, obviously! Black people just weren’t invented yet.

The Thor comics have never been all that concerned with the mythology. They pay homage every so often, but the plots are usually of their own concoction. The mythology they are interested in is thematic. They take the feel of the myths. They use the tropes and archetypes of Epic or High Fantasy. And guess what? The gods morphed their forms all the damn time. They took for the form of creatures, and yes, they even took the form of women. There’s an entire poem called the Lokasenna which sees Loki and Odin mocking each other for being women at some point in their lives. Odin myths, if they truly existed, have been lost to time, but Loki’s times of being a woman of some description are well-documented. A female Thor keeps within this confine if this is Thor gender-bent (as some have assumed).

The second meaning of mythology is that it’s not keeping with the mythos of the comics. To that, I have only this to say:

Jane Foster disagrees. In What If? #10 (1978) Jane Foster finds Mjolnir and is decided to be worthy enough to wield the hammer. She is transformed to look like a female Thor, granted the same abilities, and takes on the name Thordis. The same thing happens to Black Widow. In fact, in a special DC/Marvel crossover, it was shown that Wonder Woman was worthy to wield the hammer of Thor. Not only are women worthy of holding Mjolnir, but they’ve been proven to be deemed worthy enough to become goddesses of their own.

Jane Foster as Thordis. Looking amazing.

Jane Foster as Thordis. Looking amazing.

So on both counts, in the realm of the Thor comics, mythology is not being upset by having a woman Thor.

“Thor is a name, not a title.”

I hear this one a lot, and I don’t understand when the two became exclusive. Thor is his name, yes, but it’s also his title. It transcends him in ways that are hard to explain. He is Thor Odinson; son of Odin and Frigga, brother of Loki, sometimes husband of Sif and love interest of Jane Foster. He is all these things and more.

But Thor is the title of the God of thunder. Mjolnir grants the powers of Thor to whomsoever wields it. With Thor-like powers, the person becomes God of thunder. I see no issue with them also taking on the mantle of being Thor. It’s the same with Kate Bishop as Hawkeye; she became the archer protector, so she took on the name. Obviously Hawkeye isn’t Clint’s real name, but that’s how a mantle works.

Whoever this (maybe) new character is, they have the right to use the name. It is a name that has recognition; it is a legacy that they should be allowed to contribute to.

“It’s pandering. Gender shouldn’t matter.”

This is an odd one for me. Gender should not matter. They’re right. But when I say it, I mean that there should be a fair representation in comics of gender across the spectrum. When this was said in the forum, it was in the context of arguing that Thor should remain a male character.

When the argument is used like this, it’s usually a safe bet to assume that it is a man saying it. It’s fine to be a man and like comics. Chances are, there’s a character for you to relate to. You are represented in comics. Women don’t have that, and lord help you if you identify outside the perceived gender binary. Women in comics are drawn and written for a man’s gaze. They may be superheroines, but they’re sex objects, either for the characters or for the readers. It’s getting better these days, but it’s also getting worse. For every Ms Marvel we get, we also get a Starfire.

If you want to call this pandering, okay. I call it equality. It’s a chance for another superheroine, one who maybe someday will have little girls wanting to grow up to be just like them. Not sex symbols, not brutalised victims, but heroes in their own right. We don’t get that a lot.

“Why did it have to be Thor?”

It didn’t have to be. I do wish it was a new heroine, mainly because I think we’re due some new heroes, but this is good enough for me. It didn’t have to be Thor. But I am damn glad that it is. Not only is Thor an interesting world to use, but he is popular. Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor is in everything these days. Most know who he is. That means everyone suddenly cares that there will be a new Thor.

It didn’t have to be Thor, but the creative team wanted it to be Thor. The executives may be concerned with sales, but ultimately artists and writers care about one thing; their craft. If it makes a good story-line, a writer doesn’t care. There have been plenty of times I’ve been writing and been told that what I’m writing isn’t marketable, or it upsets my reader. I’ve simply continued. Yes, I want people to like my work. But I know that someone will. For every offended fan boy who thinks they know better, there’s an excited fan that can’t wait to see what will happen. It’s the same with the artist. Drawing the same thing can be dull. Drawing something or someone new is fun and interesting. This is their job, but it’s also their passion. The creative team wanted to do this. I trust their judgement.

There are more arguments out there. These were just the recurring ones that irked me. What’s worse than these comments, though, are the responses I got for daring to voice my rebuttals. I got a torrent of hate, insults and threats. Naturally, this was made worse when they realised I was a woman. Suddenly the threats were more graphic and brutal. Sexual threats were made; rape threats were made.

This should not be the norm. The reaction should not be so violent. But here we are. Truthfully, this wasn’t going to be a blog post. I was going to be talking about Constantine. This just really got to me. My opinion matters less because I am a woman, and can therefore be reduced to nothing more than something that can be brutalised as punishment. Once more to Gail Simone, her women in refrigerator website proves that women, especially in comics, have it rough.

I will be buying this new Thor when it comes out. I hope you will be too. And if you don’t know how to start collecting comics, don’t worry. That has been a requested blog post from my tumblr. That is coming soon, probably after my review of Avenue Q.

And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another blog post.

Let me ask you this: what do you think of the news of a female Thor? What character would you like to see gender-bent? And why do you think this series will soar or fall?

Let me know your thoughts.

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About Stephanie Gallon

I'm 22 years old with first class honours in BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing. I'm currently studying MA English Studies. I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I write on everything from comics, to feminism, to advice on university life.
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17 Responses to Fandoms and Feminism: A Female Thor

  1. Ali Ross says:

    This is great =). If I’ve railed against social media before, it’s been because things like this happen. It’s the same as when Ben Affleck was cast– a flashmob of jerks trying to tear down something that hasn’t even been created fully, let alone completed, yet. The direct market in comics is so ensconced in preview-culture that it’s become commonplace for many potential readers to write-off a book when the only indication they have as to it’s eventual quality is the scantest few details. We’re told not to judge books by their covers, and that’s ostensibly what this is an instance of.

    You’ve said, “It didn’t have to be Thor, but the creative team wanted it to be Thor. The executives may be concerned with sales, but ultimately artists and writers care about one thing; their craft.” And that sums up my take on it so entirely. Fair representation should be an integral part of a good creator’s craft, not a symptom of it.

    There’s no excuse for “It doesn’t fit with the mythology”. Creators shouldn’t be expected to perpetually mine already existing stories in order to create new ones. And adding to the existing mythology should be encouraged, not to mention supported. Comics thrive on change, and they change whether whether we like it or not.

    There’s this quote I found from Walter Simonson, talking about creating Beta Ray Bill– “I wanted to start fresh, and I thought a new character would be the way to go on that.” And that’s what this is. Making way for new stories. I’m hopeful that the book’s going to be a massive hit for the creators and with the readers.

    Oh, and congratulations on the 50th post. Here’s hoping for another 50~

    Like

    • There are times writing a response is difficult because you’ve been so articulate and I have little to add. So allow me to try.

      The previews are a good idea for the most part. I for one use them for their intended purpose; budgeting and blogging. I have my buy list well in t October at this point, and I’m ready to work out exactly what I’ll need. I know what I’m excited for, I know what I’m giving a chance to. But the mindset of the gatekeepers is bizarre.

      “It’s different. I don’t like it. And I am willing to ruin it for everyone.”

      That’s not the way we should be viewing them. We should take it as it is: something that hasn’t been done before and something that could be amazing.

      Representation is vital. Vital enough for Gail Simone to go speak at the White House about representation. The recent story about the MP in Britain who thinks media is racist against the white man is exactly what is wrong with the media mentality right now. Things are changing.

      Fun fact: despite women being 51% of the population, studies show that anything more 33% makes men think that a situation is geared more towards women, and therefore unfair.

      I understand that it is important to keep to the rules of your universe. But there is no rule to stop what is happening in the Thor universe. It’s a load of anger over nothing.

      Though, not a new character per se. I do wish they had a new character. A new-new character. That would be excellent. But I’ll take this new Thor. I hope you join me in buying this.

      Thank you! The blog’s anniversary is very soon ❤

      Like

  2. My favorite response:
    Joss Whedon ‏@josswhedon Jul 15
    A female Thor? What the hell makes them think THAT would be cool? pic.twitter.com/Tg2Ti8PIOo

    Like

  3. L.E. Turner says:

    This is an interesting read. I’ve been offline a few days and came back to the news of this and Cap. With Captain America my thoughts were immediately clear – this is awesome news!

    With Thor they’ve been less clear. Although I’m not against the change, I’m concerned about how they might do it. My main concern is that it is well written, makes sense and isn’t shoe horned in.

    I have nothing against gender-swapping (a post I wrote on the subject last year is still very popular on my blog – http://mybrainonapage.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/man-of-steel-the-importance-of-race-and-gender-swapping/), but my deepest reaction to this news is that I wish they had created a new female character/title rather than Eve-ing someone out of Thors rib

    Like

    • Interestingly, your thoughts on female Thor mirror my thoughts on the new Captain America. I am very excited to have Sam Wilson take on the mantle, but the writer behind it is traditionally less than okay with criticism. He does a lot of problematic things (i.e aging up a 14 year-old for the sole purpose of having her sleep with Sam). They’ve since announced that we’re going to get an end to the current Thor arc and it will be explained well, so I am optimistic. I have a great deal of respect for Thor’s current creative team.

      A new female character/title is still something that is very much needed across the Big Two companies. It seems for every Gotham Academy, we have Future’s End where Black Canary’s face is stitched to Frankenstein’s chest. I’m holding out hope that they will make more announcements soon of original characters. Representation is good.

      The more I hear about female Thor and black Captain America, the more I understand why they they didn’t just create new characters. Time magazine, the Guardian and all the other news sources would not have been interested in a generic new hero. Replacing a big name gets talked about. It’s clever. But making an Eve is not enough to even out the playing field. More women is not only encouraged, but I think a necessity.

      Thank you for reading! And as a side-note, I loved About the Nature of the Creature 🙂

      Like

      • L.E. Turner says:

        Some great points 🙂

        You’re right, there is certainly a lot of merit in changing known characters rather than trying to break the big time with unknowns!

        Thank you so much for the comment about my book. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

        Like

  4. Anthea says:

    Your thoughts are very articulate. Personally, I don’t mind them changing Thor’s gender. I DO mind them eliminating Thor Odinson and replacing him with a new character’s who’s a woman. In your opinion, why is this better than simply swapping Thor’s gender?

    Like

    • Thank you very much!

      From what I’ve read, he won’t be eliminated. Since posting this, I’ve done a lot of reading around what will happen. The creative team have stated that Thor won’t be eliminated per se. They intend to full explain why he is no longer considered worthy of Mjolnir, and he will still be around. All and all, that could be worse. So worry not, the Asgardian champion will still be around.

      It is preferable for it to be a new character simply because it’s harder to change. If Thor had been gender-swapped, it would likely be because of some curse or spell. There’s an antidote to that, and it’s reversible. Female Thor becomes a plot device, and not a character in her own right. The new character gets her own arc, and a chance to make her own impact on the mythos. At the same time, Thor Odinson has the chance to quest to prove himself worthy of his old mantle.

      I think, speaking from a writing perspective, the character over gender swap idea is superior.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A.C. Smith says:

    This was a very stimulating and articulate article! I, too, think a female identifying Thor is just the ticket! I am so, so sorry you’ve recieved abuse for this post.

    Like

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to her first issue. Unfortunately, being a woman and a fan of the genre means you apparently deserve abuse for your opinions. I’ve learned just to be louder.

      Like

      • Gerald says:

        hello your article was very interesting and I gotta say out of all the responses I’ve read about this topic yours surprised me. You said that “I do wish it was a new heroine” it was like you read my mind. I do understand that women would like role models in comics like alot of men already have I just wish that marvel would try harder to make new interesting female characters instead of changing already popular male heros into female ones.

        Like

  6. Pingback: (Belated) Thorsday Review: Thor – The Serendipity Years

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  8. Fuckintian says:

    Jeg føler at endring Thor til en dame er en fornærmelse.

    Like

  9. Michael Borg says:

    Its stupid, why not make a new character would be much better and make more sense. This is norse mythology not atale made by a writer. It just shows that women want to be men and cimpete against men to prove themselves. Feminist and women talk all these ugly things about men andnlittle boys scarring them emotionally and psychologically yet their goals are to be like men or to beat men at what men do all along while trying to humiliate them and threat men like animals and nothing more than simething to destroy. Im just saying this because little boys grow up with this its alreadynhappened in school schools are highly feminist andnif a biy is too energetic they pump him up with drugs. Now they change a character who is a man boys will think hey im a boy im not good enough for anything.

    Like

    • I would have liked them to make a new characters, but realistically that would not have made so many headlines. It was a business choice to announce it, but a creative one to make it happen.

      Though the rest of your comment is totally untrue. Women by no means want to be men. Women want to be represented in the media. Comics are traditionally awful at showing women as anything more than decoration. While there are female superheroes, they are often grossly sexualised and in some cases even metaphorically Refridgerated for the advancement of a male character.

      Feminists want only for there to be gender equality, and that can only be achieved through a severe overhaul of the current system. One way to do this is for there to be more representation.

      And the schools are decidedly not feminist. You sound a little paranoid.

      This isn’t part of the grand feminist Illuminati agenda. This is a creative choice that will not have the ramifications you seem to thing. Thor is still going to be a character in the comic world, but he will wield an axe. There are still a plethora of Avengers little boys can look up to. There are a lot less women for little girls to look up to.

      I will be buying the series. I’ll even post a review. I hope you’ll reconsider your stance and give the series a chance.

      Like

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