The Problem of the Scarlet Witch: When Bad Girls Go Good, but Not for Good

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In Silver Bullet’s previous Soapbox Column, Shawn Hill asked: What was Marvel thinking when deciding that the Scarlet Witch should become a deranged villain-turned-hero-turned-villain? I’ve also wondered that same question for some time and still haven’t found an answer to justify the defacement of one of Marvel’s rare super heroines or to justify the disbanding of the Avengers.

What I have realized, however, is that Marvel was not thinking about the misogynistic messages they are distributing to readers, including the allusive female audience they so desperately seek to allure and capture. The “Disassembled” arc managed to dig up five of the oldest and most offensive anti-feminist themes, themes that apparently continue as focal points for the subsequent House of M.

All the destruction in “Disassembled” was a product of the Scarlet Witch’s resentment over the fact that she had lost her children (who never actually, really existed in the first place), and she blames the Avengers for this tragedy. Why? We’re never clearly told, though it’s indicated that she resents the Avengers for keeping the tragedy secret from her. But why, exactly, she now deems all these heroes—who she’s previously saved the world with, lived with, laughed with—worthy of death is really still a mystery. What we can see is an antiquated stereotype that a woman’s logic will always be undermined by her child-bearing nature. Here is the Scarlet Witch, a weathered warrior, a proven hero, yet she spins out of control because her innate animal instincts as a mother smother all reason. She’d rather destroy long-time friends than ask that they explain themselves. Evidently, her maternal needs outweigh all to which her life has been previously devoted—goodness, friendship, redemption, love. How does this make sense? Well, we are told by Doctor Strange that the Scarlet Witch never really had proper control over her magic and, as a result, her sanity has been slowly compromised by her unruly power. And, here, again, is two tired, misogynistic messages: that a woman can’t control herself and that a woman in a position of power always leads to disaster. You can find these themes in many pre-feminist writings, yet it was commonly thought that perhaps we had put these themes to rest, now that women hold top corporate, political, and other such powerful positions across the world. Yet, Marvel must be a few decades behind in feminist theory. More embarrassing, Marvel must also be a few decades behind in their own continuity, seeing as the Scarlet Witch has been learning and mastering her powers over the past 40 years. After all, readers actually watched her training, something rarely seen with other heroes. Yet, this woman is still out of control? What’s worse—she now needs to be de-powered, forced into her rightful place by a man, a sorcerer supreme.

This leads to a fourth historically misogynistic theme—that men are culpable for a woman’s actions. Long ago, women were treated much like children; we were too innocent, too fragile, too incompetent to run our own affairs. And if we got into trouble…well, really the men should be blamed for allowing us to run free in the first place. This is exactly the guilt that is placed upon the Avengers in “Disassembled.” (Notice that all female characters that were currently on the Avengers roster are absent at this guilty verdict).

So, the Avengers should have known better; they should have kept a tighter watch, a shorter leash on the Scarlet Witch. Though not an Avenger, even Doctor Strange admits his own guilt in this matter, and then proceeds to restore order—to assert his vastly superior magic over the Scarlet Witch, leaving her in a catatonic state (because, aren’t women so much better when we don’t talk?).

And now comes The House of M. At the end of “Disassembled,” the Avengers stand worthlessly about, mouths agape, eyes empty, brains arrested, as Magneto arrives to swoop his daughter away. He’ll take responsibility for his daughter and continues to do so, apparently, in The House of M. What, one might ask, is so offensive about a father assuming responsibility for his bad little girl? Well, if the bad little girl is a little girl—no problem. If the bad little girl is a super hero and her father is Magneto—there’s a problem.

Here, readers are led to remember that the Scarlet Witch is a mutant, a former villainous mutant whose father regularly attempts to eradicate non-mutants. Therefore, Marvel seems to imbue logic into this story; it’s logical for the Scarlet Witch to, in the end, embrace her criminal heritage. After all, she’s Magneto’s daughter! And here is the problem and the fifth way in which Marvel has resuscitated a long buried anti-feminist theme: all women are defined by her father or male guardian. The Scarlet Witch is no longer the distinctive heroine many readers once enjoyed—gone is her will to do good; gone is her desire to protect those she loves; gone is her devotion to her craft; gone is her long-sought stability. Everything is now replaced by the fact that she started off bad with a bad father. And, nothing could be more objectifying than for a woman’s accomplishments to be overshadowed—no, obliterated—by the presence of a domineering father or guardian.

I find it amazing that “Disassembled” had all five of these anti-feminist elements; and I find it even more amazing that The House of M seems to resume these themes. The Scarlet Witch continues to be a lingering problem for the Marvel Universe because she’s too feminine in her desires, too powerful, too unmanageable. Thus, she runs the risk of inspiring readers into actually believing that women can be both powerful and girly, can be both independent and loyal, can be both fragile and heroic. And rather than build upon the complexities and achievements of the character, Marvel debases her, strips her of valor. That is a very sad testament as to the lack of sensitivity and awareness of Marvel’s creators, responsible for the destruction of this character and all that she previously represented.

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