By Jennie Sekanics
Just this past Saturday, Thomas Paine Plaza was flooded with over 1,000 feminist activists and supporters for Philly’s March to End Rape Culture. Many walked around topless, some wore tight-fitting, short dresses which are the garments that rape is often blamed on, and others wore the clothes that they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted. What did I wear this weekend amongst the sea of half-naked, beautiful, powerful activists? You guessed it! A Thor costume.
It's strange to think that cosplaying Thor is a multifaceted and complex decision or functions as anything more significant than simply demonstrating an admiration for a fictional character. Thor is the god of thunder, child of Oden, heir to the throne of Asgard, and owner of a powerful hammer called Mjolnir that can both create force fields and destroy anything in its path. It's simple — Thor is kickass, who wouldn't want to dress up as this demigod? But being Thor this past weekend was as symbolic and as substantial for me as the march itself.
My choice to cosplay Thor stemmed from Marvel’s iconic decision to make Thor a woman. I wanted to embrace this notion, applaud it and encourage it, for a male dominated realm was explicitly ruptured. A space that caters to males, through continuously utilizing men as the front running protagonist superheroes, ultimately yielded to the presence of a female. This motion's power rests within the fact that Marvel acknowledged that this space was limited, divided by gender and Marvel distorted that reinforcement through altering Thor's gender. Thor, a name well-known and marveled at (no pun intended), now belongs to a woman.
Of course, Thor identifying as a woman is complicated by the fact that this space, although having gained the presence of a female figure, was established by man. As Thor was not initially a female, the credibility and distinctiveness of Thor's character was previously established through his functioning as a male superhero. The space she has been given is tainted in this manner, because it was not earned through her functioning as a female superhero but rather, granted to her after being constructed by a male. Her female agency is subtly devalued, as this echoes the idea that man must create the foundation for woman and that is the only way in which she can succeed — by building upon the successes of her forefathers. Thus, present-day Thor as a female would not exist without the initial Thor as a male superhero. This of course, also mimics the relationship of dependency reinforced by patriarchal ideology, in which a woman must and is expected to depend upon the man for the construction of her identity and success. Due to this previous establishment of Thor's regard and triumph with the American audience as a male superhero, altering Thor's gender can be viewed as merely a façade, the result of a feigned attempt to incorporate more leading, female superheroes in the comic book world.
But there is a lurking power, an overwhelming sense of liberation hidden within the decision to make Thor a female. For one, Marvel reminds us that gender should not play a factor in one’s life circumstances, meaning that experiences should not be heavily influenced by or dependent upon gender, as the baseline of Thor’s story remains the same. Essentially, the basic story of Thor has not changed even though the character’s gender has. She is the god of thunder, child of Oden, heir to the throne of Asgard, and owner of a powerful hammer called Mjolnir that can both create force fields and destroy anything in its path. She's kickass. The roots of the story, the crucial elements that ultimately define Thor as a character remain untouched. This notion, the employment of the same entities that make Thor, Thor, reestablishes the fact that gender should not affect a person’s circumstances or the manner in which a person is received or judged by society.
Marvel is saying that Thor as a male superhero is equivalent to Thor as a female superhero. They are both valuable and essentially, there is no difference — they are the same. This is specifically demonstrated in the fact that despite Thor’s change in gender, Marvel kept the title Thor and this is the name that the female superhero will identify with, be associated with, and respond to. Fox News and Friends’ anchors incredulously mocked the truth that the female superhero’s title will remain to be Thor by asking, “Why not ‘Thorita’ or ‘Thorella,’ for goodness sake?” Although the Fox News employees clearly cannot comprehend that we should and could be living in a world where gender doesn’t influence and/or police every action and reaction, they recognize the pattern of demeaning female superheroes through strongly alluding to their gender and allowing this to play a major factor in decisions, such as the title of their character. The names “Thorita,” “Thorella,” “Thorina,” “She-Thor,” and “Lady-Thor” all say that the hero’s gender is more important than her story, her character, her upholding of justice and elimination of evil. It actualizes this notion that acknowledging the character’s gender is a necessary objective, but only for women. For without its recognition, how else would we be able to demean their actions? To patronize their character? We wouldn’t.
So when Fox’s Clayton Morris says, “We’re worrying about gender equality so much and being so politically correct that this is what we’re getting,” the only logical response is YES, of course. This is what we need. We need to recognize the fact that Thor’s gender is completely irrelevant and insubstantial. That Thor as a woman, a man, trans, queer, what have you—they are still Thor, their story is still credible, the character is worthy, and we should listen to their story regardless of these identifications.
I want people to understand that I was Thor as Thor. I wasn't just the classic, Chris Hemsworth, macho man Thor. I was Thor who is now a woman. Thor who is now acknowledged as a person. Thor who demonstrates that gender does not and should not play a factor in evaluating one's credibility or drastically altering one's life circumstances. In this way, I was both the Thor many know as Chris Hemsworth and the Thor just entering this world as a powerful female superhero. The Thor who was always Thor and, the Thor who will always be Thor. Me.
A preview of Thor’s first issue can be seen here.