Captain Marvel accurately depicts the reality of what being talked at by men is like.
This essay contains spoilers for “Captain Marvel”
“Captain Marvel” is an ode to the 90s, and to the power of womxn and the friendships between us. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) are pilots in the Air Force during a time when womxn are not allowed to fly missions, and they are damn good at it. The film foregoes the romantic subplots that usually populate these stories in favor of focusing on the friendship between them. There is intentional significance given to their platonic love, especially with their shared understanding of what it’s like to have to navigate the sexism and misogyny rampant in the military, and of course Maria would have also been wading through anti-Blackness and pointed misogynoir. They were each other’s support system and while they were separated, the loss was felt deeply.
Only after seeing the film did I learn that Maria’s daughter, Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar), is canonically the first womxn to become Captain Marvel in the comics. First appearing in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Rambeau gains her ability to “manipulate and transform into any form of energy across the electromagnetic spectrum” and is encouraged by Spider-Man to join the Avengers, eventually becoming the group’s leader for a time. Due to lack of interest from both Marvel Comics and its main fan base, the first Black womxn to become an Avenger and ultimately lead them never received her own series, only appearing periodically as a guest in the Avengers comics. To learn this information after watching Monica be relegated to a minor character in a story that centers Carol Danvers (known as Ms. Marvel in the comics), even if she is being presented as a potential successor, is upsetting to say the least. To position the Black character who deserves to be centered as nothing more than a likely protégé of Carol feels like an insult. It matters that Marvel decided to revise this history by effectively demoting Monica and positioning Carol as “the first,” even if the films are a separate entity from the comics.
Before learning this, I was impressed with “Captain Marvel” and I still find value I find in it, even as I acknowledge its revisionist nature. One of the most significant takeaways for me was its commentary on mansplaining. Men spend the entire movie trying to tell Carol what to do and how to feel. From the time she was a little girl and the boys told her she couldn’t play with them, the male figures in her life have always said, in one way or another, that she would never make it, that she couldn’t race Go Karts, that she would never succeed in the Air Force, that she was too weak. “Don’t be so emotional,” Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) tells her now as he trains with her and tries to help her harness her powers. According to him, she will never be able to do so if she does not learn how to properly control her emotions.
“Don’t be so emotional” is a dog-whistle aggression from misogynists that is rooted in the widely-accepted lie that men are logical, level-headed creatures and womxn are overly dramatic, irrational, and prone to hysterics. It’s used to justify ignoring womxn’s valid concerns in the doctor’s office, in the workplace, in any relationship with men imaginable. It’s a stereotype that gets intentionally deployed to devalue and silence womxn’s voices, whether in positions of authority or as victims of patriarchal violence—a gaslighting tactic with centuries of mythology written around it and in support of it, and even Captain Fucking Marvel has to hear it from a man who could never even hope to be as powerful as she is.
Men dominating conversations, speaking on the world and womxn’s experiences in it with undue authority, is indelibly linked to gendered power dynamics. In doing so, they not only position themselves as arbiters of all knowledge, but also as the ones who are owed the most space and consideration, which in turn constructs womxn and other marginalized genders as undeserving of space and as lacking any authority or knowledge, even about their own bodies and experiences. Part of gender cultivation indoctrinates us all into accepting this subliminal dehumanization as normal behavior, as normal conversational and spatial dynamics between genders, even as children. This has a tangible impact on how we move throughout this world, and the discriminations and patriarchal violences marginalized genders experience as a result of this dehumanization.
In her book, Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit writes:
“Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world.”
In each era we see Carol, she shrugs off and actively ignores the men who try to explain her own existence and abilities to her. There are even some very satisfying interruptions of men’s unnecessary pestering with Carol’s powerful photon blasts. Even so, in the moments when various men make sexist comments, talk over her, or disregard her opinions, there are times when she is silent and a familiar expression comes over her face. She doubts herself, because being constantly bulldozed and devalued takes a toll. The aggressions add up over time, over years and years, and it makes even the strongest of us sometimes question our own reality. As womxn, we receive these messages, most of us from the time we are children, that repeatedly devalue our perspectives and it skews the way we see ourselves.
For the last six years, Carol has been struggling to remember her life and who she is, but she can see only flashes. In those flashes, she sees herself falling, often getting knocked down, and being ridiculed and chastised by the male figures around her. Ultimately, it is self-actualization and confidence in her abilities that allows her to fully come into her power and harness her gifts—the initial gaining of which satisfying turns out to be the result of her act of defiance against a man’s words, and something she could never have gained without a technological marvel built by another equally defiant womxn.
She becomes the most dominating force in the universe. Now, when she sees herself falling down in the flashes of her past, she also sees herself getting back up. With each fall, she rises again to finish what she started. She keeps going. She proves them wrong. The moments that she thought were her failures were really her triumphs. “Captain Marvel” not only accurately depicts what the reality of being talked at by men is like—being condescended to, cat-called, belittled, dismissed, infantilized—but it also subverts that by allowing Carol, and the womxn around her, to be wholly unbossed, unbothered, and unstoppable.
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