Throughout The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, certain people complained about the show’s representation of racial inequality.
It’s so heavy-handed.
They went way too in-your-face with it.
Why does everything have to be about race?
Those people now have the same sort of gripe with the premiere of Marvel’s animated series What If. So we have the same response:
The show is illustrating the daily reality of millions of people. And, if anything, the writers downplay the struggle.
Every woman has faced a neanderthal who spews some variation of Colonel Flynn’s warning to Peggy Carter:
“This doesn’t concern you. You’re lucky to be in the room.”
We hear these words in every language, every country. We see this attitude in every industry, every lawmaking body. We feel that contempt in every objectified gaze, every cool dismissal.
Though women have made great strides in rights and representation since 1943, sometimes it feels like we’ve made none at all. And Captain Carter’s story captures this dichotomy perfectly.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Like many nine-year-old girls in the summer of 1996, the U.S. Olympic gymnasts had me mesmerized. They were everything I wasn’t, and the nation had them on a sky-high pedestal.
So when Kerri Strug performed a vault on a broken ankle to take the gold medal, I bought the “power through the pain” narrative hook, line, & sinker.
Now at 34, I look back on this moment with horror and rage.
Is that rage directed at an 18-year-old girl who was under inconceivable pressure?
No. I’m pointing the finger at the toxic institution that made her think she had to risk her body and, very possibly, her life, for a piece of metal.
Enter Simone Biles.
25 years after Strug’s infamous vault, Biles pulled out of multiple events at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health. Her courageous choice to prioritize her own well-being should be proof of the progress women have made in bodily & professional autonomy.
But the hate storm rained down upon her by men and women makes us think twice.
So what does this have to do with Captain Carter?
Like Peggy, gymnasts understand better than most that being a woman is the ultimate balancing act.
To Be, or Not to Be
In the show’s intro, Jeffrey Wright’s unseen Watcher issues an omen: “A single choice can branch out into infinite realities.” To most men, Peggy’s choice seems straightforward. She just stays in the room while technicians prepare the serum for Steve.
To women, this choice represents a common struggle for the right to exist. It shows how a single act of self-determination can radically alter a woman’s life. But just as we see with Peggy, that doesn’t mean her new path will be smooth.
An explosion sidelines cartoon Steve before he can take the serum, but live-action Steve got the full dose in Captain America: The First Avenger – and he didn’t exactly grin & bear it.
Hear more on that transformation in our CATFA episode.
Agent Carter, however, doesn’t make a peep in the chamber, and there are two reasons for this:
- Women can’t afford to show weakness in most situations.
- Women are generally tougher than men.
Later on, Peggy has to demand a promotion to Captain after mowing down countless nazis & retrieving the Tesseract from HYDRA, whereas the Army just gave Steve the rank before he’d done anything more than be.
The Collective Struggle
It’s this bittersweet duality that infuses the story with realism. On one hand, Captain Carter is empowering. She’s a woman who fought for her rights, became the world’s greatest soldier, and saved humanity from a supervillain.
On the other hand, her journey illustrates the infuriating essence of womanhood: We have to be extraordinary, seemingly superhuman, to even have a chance of men treating us as equals.
In the same vein, we’re proud that, in 2021, a 30-minute cartoon written by a woman so masterfully captures our collective experience. And we are frustrated that, in 2021, a woman had to write a 30-minute cartoon to shine a light on our collective experience.
But there is one thing we know for sure: Captain Carter will return. She won’t stop fighting.
And neither will we.