Sexualized Saturdays: Ward, Fitz, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Ideal of Masculinity (source)
Fitz isn’t the only subversive take on masculinity in the MCU, either. Think about it: almost all the male heroes have some sort of vulnerability, some moment of “weakness”, that goes against the stereotype of what it is to be a tough, strong man, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t heroes. Think about it:
- Tony Stark has a drinking problem and PTSD severe enough that it nearly wrecks his relationship with Pepper.
- Steve Rogers is chosen as Captain America for his compassion and intelligence.
- Phil Coulson is a dweeby little bureaucrat in a tailored gray suit.
- Thor loves his brother so dearly that he pleads with him to come home even after Loki invades Earth.
- Bruce Banner despises the violence in his heart that allows him to become the Hulk, and becomes a freelance healer to compensate.
- Sam Wilson is a mental health counselor whose military service was in the pararescue corps, motto: ”So others may live.”
- Nick Fury’s three chief lieutenants are two women (Natasha Romanoff, whom he treats almost as a daughter, and Maria Hill, whom he depends on to fake his death) and one man (Phil Coulson, whom he tasks with rebuilding SHIELD from the ground up).
Almost all of these characters are seen crying or close to tears (especially Cap, who is on the verge of tears during the final combat in CA:TWS), all fight in ways that don’t have buckets of blood thrown at the screen, and all value and respect the women they love and fight beside. The most notable exception is James Rhodes, an Air Force officer, but even he is shown taking care of Tony Stark, his best friend, more often than he’s shown firing a weapon.
I think this may be why the MCU is so popular among women: the men AREN’T the stereotypical strong, silent American hero. They bleed, they cry, they let their guards down, and they treat their friends, regardless of gender, color, race, or religion, as equals. This could not be more different from the blood-soaked ideals of masculinity that have dominated the screen over the last few decades (remember Rambo?), and it’s very, very good to see.
Basically, these characters behave like actual human men; maybe the best of men, but still much more like the regular decent guys you may know in real life than fictional “Alpha Males”.
Which is probably why a certain section of men prefers gritty, grimdark anti-heroes: if Fitz and that SHIELD guy who refuses to launch Project Insight can stand up and do the right thing even when they’re terrified to the point of shaking and crying, if Antoine Triplett (in many ways, Ward’s counterpart) can be both a more “traditional” aggressive operative and quietly geeky, if Nick Fury - the ultimate pragmatist - can draw a line he’s not willing to cross, these men have no excuses left for their behaviour.
Because if these flawed characters can be decent human beings and heroes, then all men have the potential for being decent human beings and heroes. Even if not all men choose to follow that example.
(Additionally: their masculinity doesn’t depend on their ability to get a date, and the relationships are depicted as… complex. It’s almost as if these heroes saw their potential romantic partners as actual human beings with lives of their own - shocking, I know.)
SO MUCH THIS. Do read.
And then I saw that Melissa Fumero had been cast as Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I felt my guts roll up into my throat and try to escape out of my mouth. Omgomgomgomg that’s it then. There’s no way in hell a major network is gonna cast two Latina actresses in such a tight ensemble show I AM SCREWED.
And then next day my agents called and told me I’d booked it.
I couldn’t believe it. I had been saying to my boyfriend the night before how there was JUST NO WAY. Normally, The Latina is a singular element of the ensemble she is working in. She’s there to provide contrast, or sexuality, or humor. Or she’s there to clean the floors and/or steal your man. There are some serious stereotypes very much alive in film and TV today, and The Latina is one of them.
Here’s the thing though. The world is changing. Slowly but surely, television is changing. The character stereotypes are changing, or being turned inside out by some fantastic writers and actors (I’m looking at you, Orange is the New Black, Scandal, and The Mindy Project). People of color are on TV playing roles that are fleshed out, complex, human. And yes, some of those characters are maids. Some are sexy heartbreakers there to steal your man. Some own BBQ joints, while some are Chiefs of Staff. Some are prisoners, and some are cops. All are real people with hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and all the other vast human emotions and desires…
…This is important. Because young women are watching TV, and they are getting messages about who they are in the world, who the world will allow them to be. And in big important steps, television is showing a reflection back to those young women that YOU CAN BE WHATEVER THE HELL YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE, and that two Latinas on one show is NORMAL. I think that’s a win for everybody.