For example, female characters whose creators call them "liberated" but who are shown acting - and perhaps more obviously, posing - in ways that seem much more about the straight male readers' gaze than about what the character would want, as if they were porn stars rather than superheroines. (I suppose gay and bi women could be gazing this gaze, too, but I'd hope that most of them would feel more dismay at the women of superherodom being turned into pretty props. But then, I'd kind of hope everyone would feel more dismay about that.) Female characters who used to have substance being "rebooted" into sexy scenery. Superheroines whose roles in the new comics can be described in words like these, from a seven-year-old girl who was a fan of this character in a previous series and is now seeing the reboot:"Well she is on the beach in her bikini. But . . . she’s not relaxing or swimming. She’s just posing a lot. . . . she’s not fighting anyone. And not talking to anyone really. She’s just almost naked and posing.” And so on.
But! I am here today to talk about Darcy Lewis.
This is not because we apparently share a surname. (I didn't realize this until I went on IMDB. It's cool, though, isn't it?)
Darcy Lewis is a supporting character in the recent Thor movie. A minor character, really. But she's funny, and she's a woman of action - hard to argue otherwise about the person who tases the god of thunder. And, importantly, she's a female character whose role in the story is not defined by her gender. She's not female because our heteronormative culture dictates that she has to be, as with Thor's love interest, or because she physically has to be, as with Thor's mom (although read some Nordic myths, and you'll see some really interesting parentage going on). Nor is her sex, her sexuality, or her sexiness an Issue. Don't get me wrong, Sif's cool, but she kind of screams "token girl" - an impression reinforced by her back-and-forth with Thor to the effect that she had to prove that "a maid" could be as good a warrior as the others in Asgard.
Darcy, though, is not someone's romantic interest, someone's mom, or the leather-clad Team Chick who's Just as Bad as the Boys. She's not even blatant eye candy - she's cute, but not flashy or fanservicey. Darcy is female because sometimes people are female. Almost half the population, in fact.
If this seems like a lot of picky stuff to apply to female characters, think about how many of the male characters in the movie meet these criteria - basically, the criteria that they could have been either sex without it making a real difference. True, Thor is limited by the fact that it's working with characters from existing canon - canons, actually, as there's the comic canon and the original mythology. Still, most of the male characters are just people, while most of the female characters fall into roles that must be female, such as "mother" and "the one girl warrior" - as if the only reason you would make a character female is that you have to. Darcy's "cool character who happens to be female" status is so unusual that it actually stood out enough for me to write this whole blog post, for crying out loud.
Naturally, there's room in movies for characters who are basically someone's mom (though it's a little sad to compare the movie's portrayal of Odin, with his lines, action, and importance, to that of Thor's Mom, She Who Doesn't Get a Name in the Movie). But there's only room for those characters when there are also strong female characters - and I think Jane's actually a pretty good one in Thor, though it's hard to argue she's not basically a romantic interest when you look at whose name is in the title - and female characters, like Darcy, whose femaleness is not the point, as I would venture to say is the case for most actual women.
I have no intention of knocking Thor. I love Thor. I've seen it three times and I own the DVD. But, no lie, part of the reason I love it is because of Darcy. I know Thor is Marvel, and I've always been a DC loyalist - indoctrination by my dad plus a very early crush on Batman. (Oh come on, like you didn't have one.) But maybe this is a movie the DC peeps should take a good hard look at next time they're creating - or rebooting - female superheroes.