“Anger and fear” capture the sentiments of feminists still fighting for equality and their opponents still fretting about emotional women.
She-Hulk first appeared at the end of feminism’s “Second Wave,” embodying an idea of the Liberated Woman – a successful professional who can, literally, do anything. But she is also the embodiment of the double-bind for women. For example, historically, women were identified by their bodies, and men by their brains. Women were emotional, men were logical. This binary extends to suggest that the thinking woman is not a sensual woman, the professional woman is not a maternal woman, and the logical woman is not an emotional woman. There is a sort of cultural assumption that these things are either/or not both/and, that one suffers so the other can thrive. She-Hulk epitomizes this, because in this character we get two versions of the same person so that the paradox can co-exist. Jennifer Walters is smart, responsible, and demure, while She-Hulk is sexy, reckless, and high-spirited.
It’s significant that Jennifer Walters can control the Hulk transformation in ways that Bruce Banner cannot. And this means that the character represents what opponents of feminism always feared the liberated woman would be – uncontrollable, noncomforming, masculinized. For traditional gender expectations, She-Hulk is too much. Too big, too sexual, too strong – or Anne Helen Petersen might say, “Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud.”
This makes She-Hulk an easy target for identity politics in review-bombing. Female, non-binary, queer, non-White, and disabled characters are now quickly criticized as “woke” tokens. This has stemmed, in part, from a history of commercial practices of false representation that haven’t meaningfully diversified media content. But, it also stems from political discourses of false outrage designed to polarize and mobilize. Research by Morten Bay has shown that political manipulation and disinformation in social media has extended into pop culture discourse, with evidence of deliberate, organized political influence masquerading as fan arguments, making the pop cultural scene the latest battleground in the culture wars.
Anger and fear aren’t merely the triggers for the Hulk transformation, but for the MCU’s fantagonism.
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