Gender 101 From Iron Man 2

It’s right there in the title: Iron MAN, not meaning human but male. As I sat watching the movie with my 13-year-old son (and cringing at the overt sexualization of females), I realized that Iron Man 2 is about the glory of males, the fact they are indeed “iron” and that, with their strength and ingenuity, the world will be saved.

A number of other significant gender lessons are imparted in the film.

First, on men and masculinity:

1. Men don’t cry, they scream, as Ivan (played by Mickey Rourke) does when his dad dies.

2. Men like power tools, technology, welding and weapons. Talking, not so much.

3. Men are big wheels and lone gunmen. They may say, “It’s not all about me,” as Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) does at the beginning of the film, but, really, it is.

4. Men need to leave a legacy and build a better future. The best way to do this is via weapons, wealth and womanizing

5. Men’s hatred of women is cute and humorous–or as one blogger puts it, “Tony Stark’s privileged sexist playboy antics are hilarious,” teaching viewers that “Men’s sexism is funny and endearing, as is their greed.”

6. Men are fabulous at business–so fabulous that they can successfully privatize world peace.

7. Real men (aka Tony Stark) think the “liberal agenda” is boring.

8. Men will always need to be in the theatre of war. As such, they might as well turn their bodies into weapons.

9. In fact, the male body is a weapon. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically. Man is iron. Or, as Andrew O’Hehir‘s naming of the Iron Man suit as “impenetrable iron-dong costume” in his Salon review suggests, the iron suit allows for the fulfillment of the male body not only as weapon but as walking erection–hard and ready all the time.

Secondly, on females and femininity (these lessons are longer, you see, because females need a lot of teaching):

1. Women are for dancing, either around poles or on stage as props. Wherever they are dancing, they should be scantily clad. Note to cameraman: Shoot women dancers from behind so as to get maximum amount of booty shots, as in the opening scene of Iron Man 2 where our gaze is directed to numerous bent-over butts in red spandex hot pants. As O’Herir points out in his Salon review, there is “no irony” in these “loving, loop-the-loop tracking shots of these dancin’ hoochie-mamas with their spray-bronzed legs and perfect Spandex asses.Rather it is, as this blogger aptly names it, “a vomit-inducingly sexist scene involving various swooping close-ups of womens’ body parts as they gyrate.”

2. Women are objects. When Tony is shown his new car, he makes a joke about the woman standing next to the vehicle: “Does she come with the car?” In other words, women, like cars, should be sleek, good looking, fast and expendable. Tony assesses new female character Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) using the same parameters: Her intelligence, multi-lingual skills and martial arts training don’t seem to matter; he uses Google to find her old modeling pictures. As Froley of ReelThinker notes, she is put “in her underwear just for the hell of it” and her character is no more than a “near-cameo.” This incites Froley to assume that director “Jon Favreau must be some kind of chauvinist dog, because he takes every opportunity to objectify women.”

3. Women need to have good make-up know-how. Both Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie are not only beautifully made-up themselves, but also have the skills to mask Tony’s various bumps and bruises with foundation. This skill, along with their ability to take precarious, mincing steps on incredibly high heels, frames femininity as a performance that benefits males.

4. Women’s most important asset is their bodies. Even when they are in full-on battle mode, they should remain hyper-vigilant about their bodily display. They don’t get to wear “iron man” suits, but really tight body suits. What fun would it be if their boobs and butts were hidden under metal?

5. Women are petty and jealous. Make fun of their jealousy by telling them “green doesn’t look good on you,” as Tony says to Pepper when his ogling of Natalie is obviously bothering her.

6. The female body is weak. Pepper, after being saved by Tony near the end of Iron Man 2, says “I quit…My body can’t take this stress.” After two hours of watching Tony’s body take bullets, bombs, electric shocks and poisoning, we hear that poor Pepper can’t take the stress–of being a CEO for a week.

7. Women are very forgiving. Ignore her, lie to her, bring her the one food she is allergic to as a gift and make it known that you are a lifelong womanizer: None of that will matter as long as you kiss her at the right moment. Or, as Kyle Smith gleefully notes, “The Gwyneth Paltrow character is comfortable with being Tony Stark’s assistant instead of judo-chopping and blasting away at bad guys herself, in the somewhat silly manner of virtually every female lead in action movies these days.” Yes, it’s soooo silly when we act as if females want to be part of the action! As one blogger put it, “If I were Gwyneth Paltrow and I just played the role of a stiletto-heel-wearing submissive secretary cleaning up after some rich white chauvinist asshole, I’d send back my Oscar.”

Finally, the film provides lessons in racism and homophobia:

1. Tony Stark explains his desire to no longer making weapons with, “I saw Americans killed by my own weapons in Afghanistan! I can’t put it better than this blogger: “Do I even need to mention how stupid and racist it is to say that he was OK with his weapons being used to kill all those other non-Americans? In this same vein, as noted in my earlier post, various Others are framed as “evil terrorists,” namely Middle Easterners and North Koreans.

2. Black actors are exchangeable. Swap Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2) for Terrence Howard (Iron Man 1). No one will notice.

3. Organizations which discriminate against homosexuals deserve huge donations. In the sequel, Tony donates a modern art collection, which Pepper has collected over 10 years, to the Boy Scouts of America.

Bonus note: The sexist message of the Iron Man films spills off the screen and into our fast-food culture, with Burger King offering four lifestyle accessories for girls and four action-packed toys for boys.” Girls, get busy accessorizing! Boys, take action!

For this feminist, one thing’s certain: I won’t be stepping out in my non-high heels in order to see the sure-to-follow Iron Man 3.


  1. Well-written post, though it makes this feminist mom sad. Your analysis reminded me of points made about male athletes in a 1990 article I used to assign undergrads when I taught a course on gender: “When bodies are weapons: Masculinity and violence in Sport” by sociologist Michael Messner…I realize that things have only gotten worse in the past 20 years when it comes to our cultural support for constructing real men’s bodies and fantasy men’s bodies as weapons.

  2. Interesting, although I read it very differently in terms of gender – that the men were killing themselves, ruining friendships, fighting with EVERY other man at some point, and in general being assholes in order to maintain this stereotypically “male” persona, whereas the women were smart, competent, and capable of getting things done much better and faster than the men because they weren’t busy being assholes.

    I also don’t quite remember what the clip from the O’Reilly factor said, but I think that brought up a lot of issues of why we don’t take women in the business world seriously (He implied that Pepper was completely unqualified as CEO, and also implied it was because she was female and only functioned as Tony’s girlfriend, even though she had basically run the company for years).

    Although, I don’t think there will be an Iron Man 3 – there’s going to be a Thor movie, a Captain America movie, and an Avengers movie (which will feature Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) in the next two years. Since Joss Whedon is currently supposed to be writing and/or directing the Avengers movie, I think it’ll be very interesting to see at least a somewhat feminist take on Iron Man…

  3. I think you offer some pretty interesting assessments about the movie. However, I do think the movie does go to lengths to show how much of a womanizer and narcissistic ass Tony Stark is. I believe that women should be treated as complete equals to men, but sometimes such high-strung characters are entertaining to watch. I believe that summer block busters should often do no more than that- entertain.

    As for claims of racism and homophobia, I think all three of your points are weaker than your points about the harsh gender roles. To address them in order:
    1. The character of Tony Stark simply reacted strongly to the idea of people from his country being killed. Later in the film, he goes back to save citizens from a unnamed middle eastern country from his weapons.
    2. Switching actors is Hollywood for you. That was not about race. See “Batman Begins” to “The Dark Knight”. Also, to say that people wouldn’t notice is ignorant to all of the reviews and news stories that highlighted the difference.
    3. The Boys Scouts of America serve much more of a purpose of than being homophobic. It is easy to throw out an organization for poor moral decisions, but I personally know a couple guys who felt that the boy scouts helped them on the right path in life.

  4. Adina,
    Great point about the link to the article “When bodies are weapons: Masculinity and violence in Sport” by Michael Messner. I sadly have to agree with you that “things have only gotten worse in the past 20 years” in terms of the male body as weapon — which is of course related to our age of hyper-militarism where Hummers have become common and camo is everywhere…

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that “the movie does go to lengths to show how much of a womanizer and narcissistic ass Tony Stark is” yet I would argue it presents this as funny and ultimately benign cuz he’s really a good guy underneath….

    You are right that my claims regarding racism and homophobia are weaker and this is at least partly due to my primary focus on gender. But, to address your points:

    “1. The character of Tony Stark simply reacted strongly to the idea of people from his country being killed. Later in the film, he goes back to save citizens from a unnamed middle eastern country from his weapons.” True — but overall the two films frame Middle Easterners as terrorists (as my review of the 1st movie linked in the above post claims). True, he does go back to do some saving, but can’t we tie this to America’s hubris as supposed savior of the world?

    “2. Switching actors is Hollywood for you. That was not about race. See “Batman Begins” to “The Dark Knight”. Also, to say that people wouldn’t notice is ignorant to all of the reviews and news stories that highlighted the difference.” True enough — perhaps my strong fondness for Terrence Howard clouded my vision here…

    “3. The Boys Scouts of America serve much more of a purpose of than being homophobic. It is easy to throw out an organization for poor moral decisions, but I personally know a couple guys who felt that the boy scouts helped them on the right path in life.” Well, the same can be said of much organized religion, but that still does not justify the homophobia, etc such institutions foster. The Boy Scouts is indeed more than homophobic — in fact it started as a way to teach white youth about their duties to empire and to inculcate them into idea colonization was both good and necessary. Guess it depends what you mean by the “right” path — in terms of a conservative path, yes, it certainly promotes this…

    Feminist Review,
    Thanks for your valuable additions!

  5. Awesome piece. I love comics, I adore graphic novels and always eagerly await comic book and action movies. I’m almost always disappointed. Iron Man 2 and everything about it made me sad.
    Great writing though!

  6. Bill Diamond says:

    I didn’t learn anything from it. It’s a fictional movie.

  7. queenrandom says:

    “In other words, women, like cars, should be sleek, good looking, fast and expendable.”

    …and available for purchase or trade.

  8. No offense, but I would not take my child to a showing of Iron Man expecting anything close to feminist values. What next, taking him to the Catholic Church to learn about sex-positive behavior?

    You’re allowed your indignation, but be reasonable! When stepping into the lion’s den, expect the lion. 😉

    This is no defense of the movie’s values, of course. Stark is a pompous, capitalist prick whose solution to evidence of violent corruption is, well, violent superhero dominance. He’s not *my* type of hero in real life (having just seen Kick-Ass, I clearly prefer superheroic 11-year old girls wielding swords and automatics). But the first movie entertained me (sucker for special effects and cheesy dialog) and I’ll see this one.

    All that aside, oooooh, come on, Terence Howard is nice, but we’ve got DON CHEADLE in IM2. Luv luv luv me some Cheadle!

  9. Kandela says:

    I think you are being a little unfair on the movie by saying there is a lesson to be learned on Tony Stark giving away the art collection to the Boy Scouts. I would posit that the Boy Scouts was just the first organisation that popped into the head of a writer as being one that (a) is charitable, and (b) wouldn’t really have a use for an art collection, so that the donation was made to look ridiculous. The Girl Guides would probably have been an equally likely choice, though perhaps they would make better use of an art collection. It seemed to me the whole idea of that bit was to make Stark appear self destructive of his relationship with Potts and at the same time out of touch with reality in a ‘Let them eat cake,’ kind of way.

    As far as Stark as a character and role model, well he’s seriously flawed. He wouldn’t let anyone else have the suit (not just women), so aside from being chauvinistic and self destructive he’s also selfish. But people like that can have redeeming features. He happens to be brilliant and he’s an action hero. Sometimes the people who come to our rescue aren’t those we would choose as heroes.

    In many ways what makes Downey Jr. perfect in this role is that he embodies a lot of the traits that Stark does. He’s been in trouble with the law, he’s lead an extravagant lifestyle, he’s had problems with drugs – he’s not a good role model – but he’s a damn good actor.

    I think we as an audience can appreciate Downey Jr.’s acting without endorsing his past. I also think we can cheer for Stark in the movie while still recognising he’s a sucky role model. Sometimes in life bad people do good things or get things they don’t deserve and don’t even notice. I’m ok with movies about such people. Not every story should be a lesson. In fact I’d like it if there was less moralising in films, TV, etc. Perhaps then we wouldn’t be trying to work out what lesson we should be taking away from them.

  10. I took point 6 of the female list differently–despite all his flaws, Pepper genuinely cares for Tony, and the stress of seeing him put himself in danger all the time was too much to deal with on top of having to run his company (which she’d been doing a significant part of for years).

    Natalie bugged me too. I gave her a little more leeway later in the movie, when her full role was revealed, as her looks were an asset to her job of keeping an eye on Tony.

    Just once, though, I want to see a woman pull her hair back before running into a fight.

  11. Came here from Sex and the 405, just FYI.

    First off, let me say that you should dislike the movie because it’s a poor film, not because it’s [anything]ist.

    I think you’re stretching with a lot of these points. I can look at a picture of a woman nude and think it shows the beauty of the female form while others proclaim it it objectifies them for their body. I think you’re too quick to place overly-complex blame on what is little more than a cliche action flick. And remember that superhero stories are *supposed* to be cliche.

    On Men:

    1: His father died at the hands of someone whom he considers an enemy and his entire essence for being is a perpetual stage 3 of grief – anger. I don’t fault the movie for thinking a man crying is the best genesis for an arch villian who has lightning whips for hands. Seriously, that’s all we need to know about this man – “lightning whips for hands”. His entire genesis took, what, 5 minutes?

    2: It seems curious that you object to the movie being about men who like weapons when the movie is about men who make weapons.

    3: Rephrasing this point makes your objection seem less clear: “The character may have said [exactly the opposite of what I’m proposing], but [what I am proposing].” While I do agree with you somewhat, isn’t the point of the movie that Tony Stark eventually overcomes this, at the end acknowledging both his sidekick and romantic interest?

    4: See point 2.

    5: Tony Stark’s privileged sexist, playboy antics are hilarious – that’s what Tony Stark is. Why does this have to be sexist and not, say, classist? He’s a contradiction in terms – a completely narcissistic (even self-acknowledged) superhero. He’s supposed to be to asshole womanizers what Dexter is to serial killers, and I think his persona comes off quite well. I will admit, however, that of all your points re: men this is likely the strongest.

    6: The entire point of the movie is that a weapons maker makes the ultimate weapon. I think the movie also elegantly displays that his idea that he ‘privatized world peace’ was anything but true.

    7: This is a pretty far fetched attempt at extrapolating meaning from what was a glib joke. Would it have been better if he had said, “Conservative Agenda”?

    8: Let me repeat for emphasis: this is a movie whose entire plot revolves around the world’s pre-eminent weapons maker being hounded by the army and other weapons makers. It’s also an action film. I don’t know what setting you want. I’ll also point out that there was a (disappointingly) severe lack of actual suit time fisticuffs.

    9: I suppose Batman is also about how men think their bodies are lithe, or how we’re night creatures, or what have you? The movie is a metal weaponized suit. Why does this have to necessarily reflect some subconscious desire to “be a weapon”. I like movies about writers, too, does this somehow reflect some artificial construct of masculinity as well? And are you *seriously* telling me you wouldn’t want to fly in that mechanical suit?


    I’m going to refrain from commenting on the “lessons for women” for fear of this getting too long – perhaps I’ll come back. However, the ones about homophobia and racism are absurd:

    1: He changed his mind after seeing his weapons used first hand when breaking out of captivity in Iron Man 1. The transformation was trite and ham-fisted, complete with the bad guy’s tired line of “it was YOUR weapons Tony Stark!” or whatever the heck was said, but he stopped after seeing his weapons used first hand which just happened to be in the situation you describe. If you’re looking for racism you’re reaching for a phantom. It was situational, not race related.

    2: Someone else mentioned how much this change has been talked about, and none of us know the exact circumstances, thoughts, money offered, etc. Most every person on the planet is unqualified to talk about the “real” reasons. And why does it have to be a black actor that was replaced and not just “an actor”? Your focus on race seems to be your doing. Mountains out of mole hills and all that.

    3: This is the most fair non-sexist criticism you raise but even then it’s only halfway so. I guarantee that any organization that was picked would have offended SOMEONE – heck, a lot of someones. This isn’t evidence of homophobia, but it certainly is evidence of your desire to find it.

  12. cortney says:

    well, the upside down triangle on his chest was pretty awesome–it seemed prideful.

  13. supersarah says:

    I actually came away from IR2 pleasantly surprised. It seemed like Favreau and the screenwriters, after rightly taking flack for the swaggering sexism of IR1, made an effort to do right by the female characters. Natasha/Black Widow is serious, capable, and kicks major butt. She does endure a fair amount of ogling, but she lets it roll right off her back and there’s none of that tired “using her sexuality as a weapon” nonsense. And Pepper’s promotion to CEO is meant to put her in a position of power, so she can go toe-to-toe with Tony on a level field. Comic book properties are always problematic when it comes to gender politics — it’s not ideal, but you’ve got to be prepared for it if you’re going to go see one of these movies. As a die-hard fangirl, I try to look for the positive elements, and give the creators credit where it’s due. Call it positive reinforcement.

  14. Hi! Great column. When I saw the first movie, I also noticed the point that Stark made about his weapons killing “young Americans” and his apparent disregard for the many, many non-Americans that his weapons were killing.

    I agree with most of your points, though I’m not so sure that we are meant to see Stark’s traits in a positive way – or, more accurately, we are expected to have it both ways – we recognize that he is a sexist pig who is a “fun guy” that “the women” love. But he is also a pretty miserable guy (in the first film, for example, his Arab friend tells him not to waste his life; in the comics, Stark frequently struggles with alcoholism). Stark is a narcissistic selfish jerk, but he is also capable of redemption and being a bit more.

    Re: sexism specifically: the most sexist part of the IM franchise so far was a scene that was cut from the first movie, but was present on the DVD. The early scene where Stark and Rhodes fly to Afghanistan while being entertained by three beautiful flight attendants – who are later seen stripping on a stripper pole aboard Stark’s private jet – strongly implies that Stark has a personal harem. The DVD makes this absolutely clear – Stark leaves to have sex with one of the women while the other two stay to “talk” to Rhodes (though it is never clear that Rhodes has sex with them – he may just be too drunk). Putting aside the obvious sexual harassment possibilities that are rife in this scenario, the whole thing is really distasteful and it’s not surprising it was cut (though the implications of the scene that was kept are quite clear).

    I am curious as to what you thought about the Natalie Rushmore/Romanov character (The Black Widow). You do disapprove of a lot of her presentation, but you don’t say anything about the character’s obvious competence, intelligence, and killer fighting skills. The scene where she takes out an entire security detail without working up a sweat, while Stark’s bodyguard practically exhausts himself fighting one guard seems in the same vein as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.

  15. “2. Black actors are exchangeable. Swap Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2) for Terrence Howard (Iron Man 1). No one will notice.”

    Terrence Howard left the franchise due to a contract/pay dispute. What were they supposed to do, eliminate the character rather than recast it?

  16. While there are certainly some legitimate complaints one can make about sexism and Iron Man 2, you also ignore several important points of the movie. You claim, “Men need to leave a legacy and build a better future. The best way to do this is via weapons, wealth and womanizing,” yet in an important moment in the movie, Tony Stark’s father says that he, Tony, was his most important creation and not the weapons or wealth.” But perhaps more important, is that the only person Tony Stark trusts to run his company is Pepper Potts. Given how many women assistants do much of the day-to-day work required to run a company, I would think it a positive that a movie acknowledges it and rewards a character for it. Similarly, you read racism into the movie if you want but isn’t the fact that Tony’s most trusted friend in the military is black, as well as the fact that Nick Fury (originally depicted as white in the comics and portrayed by David Hasselhoff in the 1998 “Nick Fury: Agent of Shield”) is black, send the opposite message?

  17. I kind of like how you completely glazed over the fact that Johannsen’s character is an ass-kicking machine herself in this movie, and doesn’t need a super tech suit to be one. Also how Paltrow, Cheadle(who is in the movie because Howard decided to back out, it’s not as if they told him to fuck off), Samuel Jackson, and Johannsen, play the bravest and smartest characters in the film apart from Stark himself. While pretty much every other white man is seen as a weak bumbling idiot.

    It’s just a fun action movie centering around a guy who has a little too much fun for your taste I guess, don’t take it so seriously.

  18. I find your race argument to be weak at best. As has been said, there was drama in the change from Howard to Cheadle. (I thought Terrence Howard was better in that role) The character of Rhodes itself, however, is probably the strongest and most together person in the movie. While Stark is brilliant, and he is the star of the movie, he is also obviously troubled, narcissistic, chauvinistic, etc. Rhodes is the most consistent and unwavering character. Rhodes was the one to stand up to Tony and tell him that he is out of line. To ignore this while claiming that the movie is racist is biased at best. Also, Nick Fury, who is played by Samuel L. Jackson, was white in the comics. I believe we will be seeing him again in both The Avengers, as well as his own movie.

  19. I was bothered by the Boy Scouts too, but I took that as Tony being entirely careless about what he was giving his money to. After all, the Mormons didn’t start ruining the Boy Scouts until 1980 or so. Both Captain America and Superman have been called “Boy Scout” from time to time, and it’s not because either of them have anything against homosexuals or Atheists. (Well, Millar’s Captain America is probably a raging bigot, but that’s Millar for you)

  20. I have to agree with Kyle Smith. As if there aren’t multitudes of shows and movies out there with a formula involving a woman protagonist, often diminutive, who can physically kick the butt of any man. A few examples: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles; Bones; Alias; Battlestar Galactica; Firefly/Serenity; the Dollhouse; Fringe; Eureka; Dark Angel. And those are just ones I happen to know about. Third wave feminism has permeated the entertainment industry, so relax.

  21. Wow… complaining that men don’t cry they scream is really desperate, isn’t it? The whole scene leading up to that was suffused with expressive emotion. Not good enough?

    If a person *wanted* to, she could watch Iron Man and make a list just as long about all the positive feminist values. Tony Stark is a self-absorbed jerk… this is not presented as a good thing. The villains, all of them, are men. Sexual harassment is portrayed harshly in a way that anyone can see how it’s not right. Ms. Potts has to do her job in an atmosphere of obvious disrespect as no one seems to trust that she got the job on merit, but we know she got the job on merit.

    I would think that a person who went to this movie and didn’t manage to see how unambiguously it presented work-place harassment and chauvinism simply can’t be pleased.

    And not all women want to be shoved into a box demanding a particular ideology either. Gender politics? Like my plumbing has anything to do with that.

  22. Well the first Iron Man sucked in my opinion. So it wouldn’t really surprise me if this one wasn’t good either. Also i have no intention of seeing this or any future Iron Man installment ever.

  23. I’m only going to comment on one thing seeing as how many people here have already stated what I would have said, but I disagree with your point on exchangeable black actors. Nobody accused Chris Columbus of being racist against whites when Richard Harries died.

    However I really disagree with the commenters who say “it’s just a movie” or “don’t take it so seriously.” Pop culture plays a HUGE role in socialization, and values expressed in movies more often than not are carried away by the people who see them. Yeah yeah, I know, YOU weren’t affected, so obviously no one else was, right? *eyeroll* Her point was that people, probably kids, will see this movie and idolize the main character, or look up to who he is in some way and take away aspects of his personality. These kinds of things are what worries feminists.

    Honestly I don’t know why people defend womanizing roles, even if it is “comic book stereotype.”

  24. Thanks for this. I guess I’m not the only one – at least that’s my first thought when I read this. I am tired with the useless portrayal of women, which is ridiculous given our so-called modern society. Thank you for giving me the chance to read a review not written by society at large, and one that makes sense to me as a woman, or as I prefer, a thinking progressive human being. I’m being too serious? Well, just try the reverse scenario in the film – switch the roles of men and women… and then tell me that.
    As for me, my last thought is it’s going to be a decade before my son is the same age, and I hope this kind of social activism means we won’t be having that conversation, or such loaded female roles at that stage.
    Thanks again Natalie.

  25. I am pleased this post has hit a vein…

    To respond to some of the recurring themes in comments:

    I would firstly emphasize that the idea we can’t learn from fiction or that I am taking popular culture “too seriously” is a point I vehemently disagree with. Popular culture is not “just entertainment” but frames how we view gender, class, race, and so many other important aspects of identity and existence. That is like saying oxygen is just the air we breathe.

    I did expect the lion, so to speak, but I did not go into the film expecting to dislike so many aspects of it, especially as I quite liked the first one and am a fan of many of the actors. As per not taking my son to such a movie – well, if I didn’t take my kids to movies that are likely to have sexist, etc strands we would never be able to go! The key, it seems to me, is to ensure that they become savvy media critics as they will undoubtedly be exposed to all kinds of nasty –isms in films and other popular media.

    I take the point that I may be “stretching” my arguments in some regards but, to be fair, that is the nature of blogging. The brevity of this genre lends itself towards controversy as well as to writing that cannot cover every single aspect of a topic – hence my failure to examine the more positive aspects of Natalie’s character and to fully flesh out my arguments regarding racism and homophobia.

    I agree that my point about the Howard/Cheadle switch was faulty and admit I didn’t know, as one commenter pointed out, that “Terrence Howard left the franchise due to a contract/pay dispute.” I also admit I have a particular fondness for Howard and that likely clouded my judgement.

    I stick by my critique of the Boy Scout point though – they are not a benign institution that only became bad in the 80s (as one person suggests above) – in fact they were founded originally in Britain as a way to inculcate boys into colonization, white supremacy, and a general love of empire.

    As per the claim that there are “multitudes of shows and movies out there with a formula involving a woman protagonist, often diminutive, who can physically kick the butt of any man” – yes, true enough. And most of these also sexualize the women in ways male characters are rarely sexualized. They may be strong, but they had better be “hot” as well – and this is a key aspect for female characters generally. Males may be “hot” too, but this is a bonus rather than a requirement. So, I disagree that “Third wave feminism has permeated the entertainment industry.” In fact, the “just relax” directive seems to me indicative of this – if feminism had indeed “permeated the entertainment industry” analysis like the above would not be framed as man-hating nor “indignant” but as to be expected …

  26. Melanie says:

    1. Men don’t cry, they scream, as Ivan (played by Mickey Rourke) does when his dad dies

    I’m sorry. I didn’t even make it past this point. Did you see the movie or just listen to it? How did you miss the tears in Mickey Rourke’s eyes? Or the tears in Robert Downey, Jr’s eyes when watching the old film of his father? I mean, they didn’t sob or anything. But the emotion certainly wasn’t subtle.

    As for the rest…. First off, it’s a movie. And a superhero movie at that. Why does every freaking piece of entertainment have to be examined for sexism and racism today? Incidentally, Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard isn’t the first time a character has been replaced in superhero films. Maggie Gyllenhaal for Katie Holmes? Val Kilmer for Michael Keaton, George Clooney for Val Kilmer, Christian Bale for George Clooney? Did you want an acknowledgment of the fact that Rhodey was thinner and his skin was darker all of a sudden? Yeah, ’cause that wouldn’t be racist at all.

    Tony Stark is SUPPOSED to be narcissistic and a womanizer. These are his weaknesses! And neither Natalie/Natasha or Pepper is charmed by those traits. And they were really the only female characters that counted. Of course he would have scantily clad dancers for his intro at the Stark Expo. Of course he would get served a subpoena by a hot girl. Of course he fell for the obvious beauty of Scarlett Johansson and hired her for his assistant. These last two, again, just point out his weaknesses. Whoever was ‘after’ him in those instances knew how to get to him.

    On the other hand, he trusts Pepper with his company when he thinks he’s dying. Because he knows her. In spite of the fact that he takes her for granted, he has respect for her and believes she would be the best person for the job. And he actually has serious feelings for her. Something which is clearly new to him. And, I’m guessing, something that is going to take him time to get adjusted to.

    I’m stopping now because, frankly, this is a ridiculous argument I’m getting into over a bunch of fictional characters. And I know I’ll never change your mind and I’m positive you won’t change mine.

  27. Natalie- I think your post was great and I give you a ton of credit for answering the many comments. I agree with you and find the notion that pop culture is not worthy of analysis absurd. How can something so mass-consumed not be mass-influential? Kudos for sharing your pov with us.

    However, I have to add, for the record, that Terrence Howard is a total misogynist, and seems like a pretty big d-bag, I don’t care if he was in Crash. I wouldn’t spend a dime to finance anything that risks getting him another interview.

  28. Annie,
    I didn’t know about Howard. Thanks for the head’s up!

  29. i havent seen either of the movies so i can’t speak directly to their content, but i can say with confidence that your points are applicable to a majority of pop culture representations of men and women. sure, it’s fiction and escapism, but it’s important to have conversations about the kinds of problematic tropes we (as a society) prefer to escape to. it’s better to have conversations with our children about them than it is to pretend that they don’t exist. in my opinion, that’s what pop culture does, it forces us to look at mediated mirror images of ourselves and decide what is and is not going to be acceptable.

  30. Interesting article. Not sure if I agree with all your points, but I see where you are coming from. Views of women in cinema too often result in objectifying them.


  31. “3. The Boys Scouts of America serve much more of a purpose of than being homophobic. It is easy to throw out an organization for poor moral decisions, but I personally know a couple guys who felt that the boy scouts helped them on the right path in life.” Well, the same can be said of much organized religion, but that still does not justify the homophobia, etc such institutions foster. The Boy Scouts is indeed more than homophobic — in fact it started as a way to teach white youth about their duties to empire and to inculcate them into idea colonization was both good and necessary.”
    There are many organizations out there that support homophobia, but I’m sure most of them focus on much greater things than that and actually DO try to be helpful to the community. I have friends in The Boy Scouts of America who are not homophobic and learn about things and do community service in their troops.
    “Guess it depends what you mean by the “right” path — in terms of a conservative path, yes, it certainly promotes this…” Going back to Iron Man 2–yes, this is obviously a conservative movie that promotes conservative institutions such as The Boy Scouts. But they have a right to. Just because this movie promotes conservative institutions, it doesn’t mean that they are supporting homophobia. A recent movie that I am aware of that is homophobic is Kickass, but that’s another story…

  32. Carolyn says:

    Ever notice how when a feminist criticizes a male-oriented film, certain males come from some unusual sites (like sex and the 405, which I checked out and it has a scantily clad woman in black nylon, including Strippers Fund School, Playboy Real Estate, Pop Porn and My Sex Professor, among other sexual content), ostensibly to “explain” to all us “uneducated” feminists, how wrong we are on this particular issue?????

    Just saying…

  33. TJ Hoosh says:

    Two things that were forgotten in the article:

    1) Hollywood is in business to make money. This movie was adapted from a 40-year-old comic book and made into something buzz-worthy and dazzling to the eye to sell tickets and put butts in seats. Analyzing Hollywood for anything other than business strategies seems absurd.

    2) …but if we choose to ignore the first point and take the article’s bait, I couldn’t help but think about one thing the entire time: I look forward to Natalie’s analysis of the Sex In The City sequel and how it portrays the interpersonal relationships between and the gender roles of men and women.

  34. Caitlin says:

    Okay, a lot of your points come across to me as misinformed horrendously, but seeing as how I’m cut for time right now, I will only address one point that stuck out the most to me.

    The issue of “swapping” Terrence Howard for Don Cheadle. According to Entertainment Weekly, Howard was the highest paid, MORE than the lead roles themselves. Unfortunately, he wanted MORE money for his role, but without the acting skills to provide for it. The director wasn’t happy with his performance, and Howard wasn’t content with his salary. He was not BOOTED off of the film as you so make it seem. Though it was not clarified as to who walked off first, there was obvious agreement to end the partnership on both sides. There’s no racism whatsoever involved with Terrence Howard being replaced by Don Cheadle, considering he wanted off anyway due to his lack of funds from the project. This as well refutes your ridiculous claim to “black men being interchangable”. The two came to terms with the idea, going their separate ways for their own reasons. How is that the same as kicking off Howard in an act of racism proving black men interchangable?

  35. I think this did raise some general problems with Iron Man 2 but I think the article is missing the whole basis of the character and the film. Let me put it this way – If you go to McDonalds, order a cheeseburger, eat that cheeseburger, and then complain that the cheeseburger had meat in it, I’m not going to have much sympathy for you. Same situation here. Iron Man/Tony Stark is a sexist jerk. That is who he is. He was much much more of a sexist jerk before he became Iron Man but that is part of how he acts, thinks, and relates to the world. He is a superhero who has extreme flaws, who learns from his mistakes in some cases and stubbornly refuses to change in others. That is part of the character and if the film was without these elements that depict Iron Man to be this way it just wouldn’t be Iron Man. His sexism is shown as “funny and endearing” because it is in Tony Stark’s mind.

    That being said, yes the objectification of women is a major problem in Iron Man 2. But again – Tony Stark (the flawed character) doing it and the camera/director/costume designers doing it are two different things.
    The first point about racism seems to gloss over the whole first film, where his transformation was quite largely spurred by seeing the people of (if I’m remembering correctly) Afghanistan suffering from his weapons, and included a whole scene of him flying over there to save an entire village. Also, Terrance Howard dropped out of the sequel because he wanted more money and they obviously had to cast someone for the role.

  36. Sexist movie, idiotic character, dangerous messages, sad social support of such rubbish. If it were insulting to a minority, everyone would be up in arms and politicians and institutions would be getting involved. But since it’s women that the movie disrespects, and since the messages are patriarchal, then it’s all hunky dory for society, and the whole ball of garbage is explained away as something harmless and even humorous. Patriarchy strives on the indulgence of an ignorant society.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jamiic. jamiic said: An interesting @msmagazine blog post on "Gender 101 from Iron Man 2" Came to me via @Gubanc. Stereotypes prevail […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kris Krüg. Kris Krüg said: Seems like a significant number of subtle gender lessons are imparted on us via Iron Man 2 #sex […]

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  4. […] 13 May 2010, 17:42: Also, this. (Why do I even bother reviewing anything anymore? I should just link to all the other blogs which […]

  5. […] lifelong dream is fulfilled: I’ve been attacked as sexist by Ms. Magazine! I’m honored, […]

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