Monday, May 9, 2011

A Review of Thor, with Many Footnotes

Friday night I went to see Thor. I joked that I would turn off the feminist part of my brain for it, but it seems this has become impossible. In all fairness, it's hard to ignore ancient god-like people goading each other into berserker rage by calling them "princess." I feel like less-dedicated feminists than myself would have issues with that.

So I spent the first forty minutes of the movie rolling my eyes at the Norse god-aliens shaking weapons at each other and hollering, and then a weird thing happened: the movie suddenly became awesome. The titular Thor crash-lands on Earth, minus any special powers, and stomps around providing some delightful fish-out-of-water humor.1

Also, as my friend Megan pointed out to me 2/3 of the way through the movie, this dude-created, dude-produced, mostly dude-written, and definitely dude-marketed movie makes the completely surprising decision to objectify men instead of women. And it wastes no time doing so: while Thor lies unconscious on the ground (because while being slammed into a vehicle at tornado wind speed isn't enough to kill him, of course, it is apparently enough to render him unconscious for a short period of time) the female characters crack wise about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He then spends the next chunk of movie either shirtless or wearing a rather tight t-shirt2, while the camera lingers lovingly on his pecs and the female characters (and audience, truth be told) gape. That, my friends, is objectification.

Meanwhile (and this is the part that really boggles my mind), the laydeez are not objectified at all. They wear plenty of clothes, even warrior goddess Sif3. And the human female characters all have various academic credentials; not only is Jane Foster5 an astrophysicist6, but the movie takes the time to establish that her seemingly useless assistant/comic relief buddy Darcy is a political science major. And, incidentally, said women speak directly to each other about the wisdom of chasing cosmic tornadoes and about having their gear stolen, passing the Bechdel test.

The last third of the movie, sadly, resembles the first third, but whatever. I was so delighted to run across a film that makes the exact opposite decision of every other action movie, ever, that I didn't care. Of course the immediate reaction of dudes who don't think too much about the patriarchy is to accuse me of having a double standard. Let me straighten said dudes the hell out.

We live in a patriarchy. This patriarchy spends a lot of time objectifying women. A movie that objectifies women while expecting you to identify with the men supports the status quo. A movie that objectifies men while expecting you to identify with the women challenges it. There's a double standard at play here, sure, but it's not of my making.

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that Hollywood is pretty much full of men, so it's usually men objectifying women. In Thor, straight men7 objectified straight men. So again, you'd be out of line to blame this on the ladies.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think the answer to all social injustice is to turn that injustice back upon the aggressors, and I don't recommend that more movies objectify men for the sake of evening things out. But I feel that it is legitimate to take joy in a work that challenges the patriarchy, and to call my enjoyment a double standard ignores a great deal of cultural context.

1I firmly believe this movie would have been best as a romantic comedy. Hemsworth seems to be mediocre at "intimidating" and awesome at "hilarious". I'm envisioning it as a "Kate & Leopold" type movie, but actually funny and with a lot more beefcake.

2When I searched for pictures of "Thor Hemsworth", Google suggested that I search for "Thor Hemsworth shirtless". And so I did. Who am I to argue with Google?

3What the fuck is up with this, by the way? I assume this was a (poor) choice on the part of the comic series, but Sif has got to be the least warrior-like Norse goddess. What the hell is wrong with, say, Skade? And while I'm on the topic, I felt there was a deplorable lack of Valkyries in this movie (personal bias notwithstanding4).

4Yes, this is a footnote for a footnote, and yes, "Kyrie" is short for "Valkyrie", believe it or not.

5Which is obviously a name for a fictional primatologist, not a fictional astrophysicist, BTW.

6Yes, this may have enhanced my enjoyment of the movie. Now shut up.

7Well, Branagh seems to be straight. I didn't check out all the writers, etc.


  1. Perhaps I'll have to go see this movie, then....

    Also, I'm interested in defining the boundaries of objectification. For me, objectification tends to have a power component to it in that the viewer is invited to share the power of the framer (e.g., photographer, director, writer, etc.) over the person being objectified. As an easy example, Joe Francis in his "Girls Gone Wild" videos invites his audience to share his (often illegal) ability to get co-eds to expose themselves for his titillation. I haven't seen Thor, but is there a power dynamic between the audience and Thor? I can easily imagine Thor's depiction falling in line with 300 in terms of having a lot of beefcake but the goal of the beefcake is to glorify masculinity. I can also see the presence of Foster as audience surrogate changing that dynamic.

    I think agency is another important aspect of objectification, though it is a tricky issue -- especially when dealing with fictional characters who, ultimately, are at the whim of the author/director. In comics, there's lots of beefcake, but it's usually incidental and not constructed explicitly for objectification, while the cheesecake is decidedly for the male gaze. As a way of comparing male and female superheroes, I like this example from Wizard ( and it's inversion ( There's also a nice example of covers of comic books with female superheroes being objectified replaced with male superheroes: For more on posing:

    So for me it's not just about the existence of eye candy for non-straight men but the context and power dynamics of the representation. Perhaps I'll see Thor just to interpret it myself....

  2. My aunt's one comment on Thor: "He needed to spend more time with his shirt off."

  3. @Andrew: I judged it to be objectification because the filmmaker took great care to establish how hot Thor is while spending very little effort on establishing his character. Of course, you could argue that no-one's character was established very well, and you'd be right.

    But even if it's not a particularly egregious case of objectification, I think my point still stands. It's pretty unusual to have the men presented as sex symbols while the women are presented as sensibly-clothed academics.