Tag Archives: Strong Female Characters

Spotlight: X-Men – Storm/Ororo Munroe

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You may or may not remember the introduction I wrote for the Spotlight! post on Rogue, readers. I happened to find some articles about the “Strong Female Character” model Hollywood and the usual suspects have been trying to force on us lately. I have already written two posts of my own on this subject, both with the title “Strong Women,” but these other articles got me thinking harder about the subject. How can Marvel’s heroines, most of whom have superpowers, be strong women without being “SFC”s?

Well, in the case of Storm/Ororo Munroe, that question is not hard to answer. But it is a little time consuming, as I am going to give you a history of the character to deepen your understanding of her. A lot goes into making a competent heroine, while not much goes into the making of a stereotypical SFC, and the difference should be illustrated.

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One of the reasons I was disappointed by the X-Men films was Storm’s appearance. Storm had always been one of my favorite X-Men. In fact, when reading the Animorphs series, I was upset when one of the characters was compared to Storm. This character was Rachel, a blonde, blue-eyed beauty with the heart of an Amazon. I was not happy with another character choosing to compare her to Storm; the only thing Rachel and Storm had in common were their blue eyes, readers. After that, they were as different as apples and oranges.

So I thought having Storm in the films would be great. But when I saw Halle Berry playing the character, I was let down by the fact that a) she did not look like the Storm I knew, and b) she seemed to be completely watered down as a character.

If you are scratching your head and wondering why I would think this, allow me to explain. Storm is actually an African-American character, something that is never mentioned in the movies. Her mother was a Kenyan princess but her father was an American photojournalist. This is presumably where Storm gets her blue eyes; I cannot say for sure, but I think her father may have been white. I know he was American, and this is what makes her African-American.

Anyway, the couple married and moved to Cairo, Egypt, after Storm was born in New York City, New York. When Ororo was four years old, her parents’ apartment complex was accidentally bombed by a fighter jet flying overhead. Both of Ororo’s parents were killed and she herself was buried in the rubble for days. The extended confinement at this tender age left her with severe claustrophobia; even as an adult who has fought hundreds of battles against the nastiest people you can imagine, Ororo is terrified of small spaces. It is her biggest weakness, but luckily it is not always exploited by her enemies.

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After she was orphaned, Storm lived on the streets of Cairo for the next few years of her life. She made a meager living by picking pockets and stealing during this time. (That was not a very heroic start to life, huh, readers?) Finally, about the age of twelve or thirteen, Ororo did decide she had had enough of this life and left Cairo on foot.

On her way further into Africa, Storm met her future ex-husband T’Challa, who would someday become King of Wakanda and an Avenger. They did not stay together long, as Storm still did not feel at home in the area where they met. So she kept walking until she found a place that felt right to her (this place was, presumably, Kenya, her mother’s homeland). Here her mutant powers manifested and the locals worshipped her as a deity. In the X-Men: Evolution series, they gave her the name “Wind Rider.”

This village is where the Professor found and recruited Ororo into the X-Men. Partly because she had been playing goddess, partly due to her royal heritage, Storm became one of the most unflappable members of the team.

But there is more than mere instinct and training involved in Storm’s calm demeanor. You see, remaining calm is the best way for her to control her powers. Unlike Thor Odinson, Ororo cannot make a storm or even raise a wind out of thin air. This is Thor’s ability because his hammer does not need existing weather patterns to drum up wicked weather – it can create new weather patterns as instantly as Thor can think of them.

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Storm has to use existing weather patterns to create the weather she needs/wants. She has to draw moisture into one area from another or pull wind from one area to her.

In confined spaces, such as the X-Men’s Danger Room or another building, this is no real biggie as far as I know. Ororo can get the needed air and moisture from the building and nature will not become unbalanced because the internal temperature and moisture of a building is kept at a regular level by the heating/cooling systems.

This is not the case outside of this restricted environment. When she is flying above a city or a continent, if Ororo pulls too much hot air from one region and too much moisture from another, she can upset the balance of the weather in that area for a long time. She may even upset it forever, if she overdoes it.

So while Storm’s powers are fantastic and amazing, she has to be careful when she uses them. Her powers are tightly tied to her emotional state; if Ororo gets angry or becomes frightened, the weather will turn wild and ugly in response. This is the other reason for her quiet, tranquil attitude; Storm cannot lose control of herself in the smallest degree, because the effects will be far larger than a normal temper tantrum or a righteous scolding would allow. She could flood entire cities if she lost her restraint and this is why she rarely lets her temper out of the bag.

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However, this does not mean that Ororo does not have a temper. It just means that you have to work hard to get her to show it. Mystique pulled that off at the beginning of Evolution’s third season; she had kidnapped the Professor and pretended to be him for the last few episodes of season two.

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But her deception was only revealed at the end of season two, to be picked up at the beginning of season three. This was after the X-Men’s first public battle, where some of their members were captured by the government. After Nick Fury gave the X-Men information on their captured teammates, Storm began to plan the rescue operation…

…Only for Mystique to forcibly take command of the rescue mission away from her and put herself in charge. She did this, she claimed, because the Blob had been taken into custody along with the captured X-Men.

Already upset by the previous day’s chain of events, Mystique taking command of her team really got Ororo angry. Without thinking, she drummed up an instantaneous thunderstorm that might have had dire consequences for the town nearby. It took Jean Grey’s quick reminder about Mystique’s threat to the Professor’s life to make Ororo put the genie back in the bottle. The fact that she was able to “turn her powers off” so quickly is a testament to how much self-control Storm exerts over her emotions in times of stress such as this.

So how does this make Storm something other than an SFC? For one thing, Ororo is far more poised and graceful than most of the SFC characters I have seen. She is calm (usually), polite, composed, and does not think herself the better of any of the men in her life. Case in point would be the above episode I mentioned, where Storm bottled up her temper and her powers in order not to put the Professor’s life in jeopardy. It would have been far more of a struggle for Carol Danvers to do that, readers.

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Another thing which separates Ororo from the SFC model is her motherly tendencies. These first manifested in the comics when young Kitty Pryde – eventually codenamed Shadowcat – joined the team. Thirteen at the time in the comics, Kitty and her family had already been approached by a sinister telepath named Emma Frost. Kitty did not like the woman at all, but she sang a different tune when the X-Men – including Ororo – knocked on her parents’ door to ask to see her.

Kitty and Ororo apparently hit it off at once, and Storm has always been something of a “battle mother” for the younger X-Men. Shadowcat was not the last child she took a shine to; Ororo has “mothered” many other X-Men during their first days on the team, though I do not think she did it as obviously in most cases as she did with Kitty.

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The possible exception might have been in Evolution. In that series, Storm was given a sister who was married and had a son, Evan. Ororo is an only child in the original stories, but the writers for Evolution added a sister so they could bring her nephew, Evan Daniels, into the series. Codenamed Spyke, Evan’s mutant power was shooting greenish, bony spikes from his body. This meant that he had to drink a lot of milk to keep his calcium levels on a healthy plane.

But Evan was also a typical New York teen who thought he was tougher than he actually was. Ororo’s maternal inclinations were mostly directed toward him for the series’ duration as she tried to teach him that being tough meant more than talking hard and playing rough. She was also continually trying to get him to be more disciplined, as Evan had a bad penchant for fooling around or goofing off when he should have been studying – either at school or in the Mansion’s Danger Room.

This shows that, unlike the stereotypical SFC trope, Ororo has never demonstrated a dislike of motherhood. She has expressed on occasion a fondness for the role and a desire to someday be a mother, something she achieved in several alternate timeline comics with T’Challa. In two different timelines (or the same one) they had two sons; one was named after T’Challa’s father and the other was named Azari. So Ororo definitely does not check the Feminista boxes for hating children and motherhood.

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Storm and T’Challa’s son, Azari, in action.

Storm also does not have the super education the Femi-Nazis like to hold over everyone’s heads. Like Rogue, she learned most of her lessons on the streets, not in a brick and mortar school. And she actually had to learn those lessons from a younger age; Ororo was living on the streets of Cairo from the age of four. That was not easy or fun, readers.

This does not mean that Ororo is stupid or a rube. But it does mean that she is not a mechanic or super scientist. She is, as Evolution put it, a “weather witch” and a mother figure. Her interest lies in people and nature – and not in the way that the Feminists would want her to focus on these things.

I have never had any gripes with Storm prior to the X-Men film franchise. Halle Berry, most likely due to the directors’ interference, does not do the character justice, even all these long years later. My only gripe with the character in the comics was her first combat suit and a recent remake, which exposes way too much of Storm’s body. Newsflash, Marvel writers, combat includes getting shot at and having knives or other sharp objects thrown at you. The absolute LAST thing a woman – or a man, for that matter, unless he is the Hulk or someone like that – should be wearing on the battlefield is a revealing suit. It looks great on the runway but it is a bad, bad, bad idea in a fight.

As I said in my post about Rogue, I think Storm is one of the few characters who can skate by with long hair. With her powers, very few people can actually get close enough to her to grab her hair, let alone any other part of her body. And even if they do manage to tackle her out of the sky, her hair will be the absolute last thing they will reach for because they will not want to grab and hold her. They will want to knock her out as fast as possible so that they can slap an inhibitor collar around her neck.

So no, I do not want Ororo’s hair cut short, as Halle Berry has occasionally worn it. And no, I DEFINITELY DO NOT WANT STORM TO HAVE A MOHAWK. PERIOD!!!!!!!

I can also give Storm a pass on the cape she wears. Normally, I do not care too much for superhero capes. You can thank The Incredibles for this one, readers; the film made a point that capes look great but they can also be as dangerous as long hair.

In Ororo’s case, her capes have rarely been in her way. She also used her cape at one point in the book, Kidnapped in the Catacombs, to snare Callisto’s foot. (Callisto is the leader of the Morlocks, enemies of the X-Men you can learn more about in the post “Spotlight: An Introduction to Marvel’s X-Men, Part 2.”) When Storm pulled on her cape, she sent Callisto flying headfirst into a wall.

The reason she was able to do this with her cape was because it was not a full cape; it was a crescent shaped cape that connected to the back of Storm’s suit and at the cuffs of her sleeves, leaving a space in between her arms and the cape. A regular cape, I do not think, would be able to do this, but I could be wrong.

Either way, my favorite suit for Storm was the silver one we saw in the 1990s X-Men series. The one she wore in Evolution was not bad, but it was too dark for my tastes.

Well, readers, this is my take on Storm/Ororo Munroe, and these are the reasons why I cannot picture her as a Feminista. She just does not have it in her. The writers could try to add it to her character, of course, but that would go over about as well as the Mohawk they gave her did. Storm is not the modern idea of an SFC and she can never be this because she was designed to be a heroine, not a talking point on a Feminist bulletin board.

The idea that some people might put her there, for any reason, is enough to get me pretty angry. If it has not yet been made clear by my posts about Cap, Hawkeye, Gambit, and Rogue, you do not want to mess with my favorite characters.

Excelsior!

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Strong Men, Strong Women – A Retroactive Review of How to Train Your Dragon

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Yes, readers, I am coming back to the subject of strong women. One cannot fail to notice how modern movies show us women who out-men the men these days. They practically hit viewers in the face with this bull-headed idea, and it has to stop.

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At first glance, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon appears to fit this mold of “women are better than men.” Astrid, the heroine of the film and its sequel, begins the movie as the ultimate example of a girl who out-boy’s the boys. She is strong, fast, smart, and the top of her class, which is mostly made up of boys.

Now her competition is hardly the greatest; it is, in fact, a perfect example of the way Femi-Nazis want men to be perceived, by themselves and by women. Of the four boys in her class, Astrid is physically as strong as the boys. Fishlegs is a large boy and therefore relatively strong, but he is also fearful. This makes him absolutely no competition for Astrid in the arena, as he spends most of his time there running away from the dragon of the day.

Snotlout is strong, but he is so self-centered it is amazing he can even walk in a straight line. Tuffnut not only has less muscle tone than these two characters, he has lost whatever brains he had by constantly fighting with his twin sister, Ruffnut. In one of the films intriguing reversals, however, she is also no real opposition for Astrid. Ruffnut is almost as moronic as her twin brother – and in How to Train You Dragon 2, he actually shows more intelligence than she does on a couple of occasions.

As for the hero of the piece, Hiccup can barely lift an axe. He is scrawny, weak, and definitely no physical competition for Astrid, whom he adores from afar because she will not give him the time of day. So of all the young Viking warriors to whom the audience is introduced, Astrid is presented as the best, the brightest, and the strongest of the lot.Typical SFC, right?

Nope.

Things begin to change for Astrid when Hiccup secretly starts working with the Night Fury he shot down.In caring for Toothless, Hiccup learns about dragon habits, finding their weaknesses as he studies him. After a while, he outstrips Astrid in the training center by defeating the dragons sent against the trainees via his newfound knowledge. Everyone mistakes this for a sudden turn in Hicccup’s physical prowess rather than realizing he is winning these engagements through anatomical knowledge.

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Only Astrid sees how he is actually beating the dragons – and thereby her – in the training center. And she does not like it. She finally follows and confronts Hiccup in the dell where he has kept Toothless hidden, demanding answers about his sudden rise to prominence over her. This leads to her discovery of Hiccup’s secret friendship with the Night Fury.

Furious at Hiccup, but happy to be back at the top of her class, Astrid races off to tell the villagers what he has done.

Hiccup manages to derail that attempt by chasing her down on Toothless and begging her to let him explain what he has learned. Reluctantly, Astrid agrees to at least let him get her out of the tree he and the dragon set her in.

But Toothless goes further than Hiccup wanted him to go by getting Astrid to apologize for abusing his rider. When she finally does this, the dragon relents and provides her with her first real ride through the sky.

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This ride uses some of the best CGI in the film, and it is clear that Astrid is as enchanted with the beauty of the scene as the audience is. Hiccup and Toothless fly her through the clouds while the sun sets, then bring her up to see the Aurora Borealis bloom in the starry sky. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Astrid lets down the guard she has placed around her heart and wraps her arms around Hiccup’s waist – a gesture he is quick to note, though he says nothing about it.

When discussing the character, however, the critics – along with many fans and probably the actors themselves – focus not on Astrid’s reaction to this scene but on her physical skills, strength, and stamina. What most of the critics will never admit is that until Toothless gives her the first dragon ride of her life, Astrid has been living a false persona in order to get ahead.

Think about it, readers. Astrid is surrounded by fierce, resilient Vikings who have been waging a war with a local nest of dragons for three centuries. In order to fit into this world, Astrid suppresses her natural sweetness and love for beauty, focusing instead on becoming a strong, ferocious warrior in order to be the future dragon-slaying heroine of Berk.

Hiccup, who is the butt of the village jokes because he physically cannot handle a weapon, has no such recourse in his day-to-day life. He has to rely on his wits, on what he builds, to make any mark on the village – and most of those marks are more damaging than helpful. The village mantra is not eloquently spoken, but it essentially reads thus: to be accepted by the society of Berk, one has to toe the popular line. This means that the men and women of the island have to be fierce warriors with no time for, or inclination toward, study and learning.

Astrid follows this prescription from the start, more so than any of the other village children. She practices harder than they do to learn combat techniques and criticizes herself harshly when she makes the slightest mistake.

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On the other hand, though he tries time and again to fit in with the stereotype perpetuated and expected by his elders – especially his father – Hiccup cannot suppress his natural curiosity and sense of wonder. His skinny frame, lack of muscle tone, and reliance on machines to do what the other Vikings can do by hand is not accepted by the adults. His curiosity, his willingness to study and learn so he can invent a gadget to help him better his life, also marks him as different – a difference the villagers of Berk cannot accept until the end of the film.

In this way the Island of Berk in the movie serves as a microcosm of modern society. Though it is oft proclaimed that children should “be themselves” and pursue what makes them happy, there are no end of adults in official positions who will cheerfully slap down any signs of individuality and personal gifts the children under their supposed care demonstrate. Whether they realize it or not, they do this in order to maintain an expected status quo and the mantra that “girls rule while boys drool.”

Boys are routinely told through modern media that they are stupid, boorish, and disgusting. And if they are smarter than average, they mask their intelligence to avoid persecution. In How to Train Your Dragon, Snotlout exemplifies disgusting and boorish behavior with his constant passes at Astrid (who duly ignores his attempts to snare her for a date).

Tuffnut practically embodies the modern idea of the stupidity of boys. He regularly boasts about his strength, courage, and intelligence, only to be proved lacking in all of the above before the final battle. He hates learning about anything that does not involve pranking or fighting, disdains reading and other academic pursuits the way germophobes fear bacteria.

Fishlegs, meanwhile, is the trite smart boy. Bursting with facts he has memorized from the Book of Dragons, he is painted as the stereotypical geek overflowing with knowledge but who is, at the same time, short on courage. With competition like this, Astrid has no problem being the most likely to succeed at the Dragon Slaying Academy of Berk.

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Hiccup is the only boy to defy the Berkian – and therefore the modern – trope. By studying Toothless in order to help him fly again, Hiccup puts his knowledge to good use in the arena. He “defeats” dragon after dragon without killing them, and he does it so well that he unintentionally outshines all the other students for the first time in his life.

When Astrid discovers the source of his new skills and fame, Hiccup knows he has to convince her to change her mind, or Toothless will be killed. After their initial hard ride, Astrid admits Hiccup is correct about how amazing Toothless is. The three are then inadvertently drawn along with the swarm of dragons taking food to the Red Death, learning the secret of the dragon attacks as well as the location of the dragon’s nest. Upon their return, Hiccup is forced to stand up to Astrid when she asks if he is seriously prepared to forego ending the dragon war in order to protect Toothless.

In this moment, Astrid and Hiccup finally break down the barriers that Berkian society has forced on the two of them. Hiccup proves he is man enough to protect his friend at personal cost to himself. Meanwhile, Astrid takes on the proper role of the supportive friend who also happens to be developing romantic feelings for the boy she once scorned.

The scene shows the two discovering who they truly are, though perhaps only one recognizes the change in self-perception. Hiccup, distracted with his fear for Toothless’ safety and stopping a war which has lasted for three centuries, does not see in himself what Astrid now sees. Though he is skinny and not physically strong, Hiccup is strong in his will to protect his friend and to end the war. He does not know how he can do it, but he does intend to do it. While he knows it will cost him the acceptance he thought he longed for his whole life, his determination and courage do not waver in the face of that apparent loss.

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Recognizing this about him, Astrid’s hardened heart at last thaws out. Presented with a young man who says what he means and has the strength of will to see it out, she realizes that she has no need to show the perfect warrior front to him. Hiccup is already a warrior, having broken custom to discover something wonderful in the dragons all the other Vikings fear as menaces. So Astrid stops behaving like a violent-tempered Viking shieldmaiden and acts like what she really is: a girl longing for a true friend who will accept her for herself, not for her skills or her looks.

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This relationship between the two characters is expanded upon in the second film. In this story, it is Astrid who makes the mistake that leads to a deadly confrontation with the movie’s antagonist, Drago Bludvist. Her pride in Hiccup’s skills as a dragon master blinds her to the very real danger facing her and her friends. At the same time, Hiccup himself undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns that he cannot run from his responsibilities because, sooner or later, they will catch up with him and demand his attention. He becomes a “manly man” in How to Train Your Dragon 2, as Astrid embraces her femininity without losing her warrior skills.

The architects of modern society are trying desperately to prevent the children and youth of today from discovering this self-knowledge, readers. They are working hard to confuse them; they are telling boys that they must either act effeminately or behave like barbarians in order to be accepted by society. Girls are routinely told that they can do anything, that they are as good as the boys, even when it becomes manifestly obvious that they are not and cannot be a boy.

This is hurting today’s youth. The boys are growing up, avoiding college and prospective jobs and are avoiding fatherhood at an even more alarming rate. Meanwhile, the girls must juggle their natural instincts toward beauty, marriage, and motherhood with the idea that they must be something else. As a result, more young women are thrust into college, there to take courses of dubious merit, and then trying to enter a labor force with no room for expansion. At the same time more and more young men are retreating from that front because they are being precluded from doing so.

The modern world needs more Hiccups and Astrids, readers. It needs men and women who will challenge and destroy the sacred, golden cows of modern society. The world needs women who realize they will be happier when they embrace their womanhood; it needs men who will defy the stereotype that has been forced upon them. It needs men of courage, men of honor and dignity, men who recognize and love women for who they are, not for what they can or cannot do.

A woman loses nothing by being a mother, just as a man loses nothing by being a father. If anything, the roles grant them more power, prestige, and wonder than any other job in life….if only they are willing to see that truth.

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