Toxic masculinity: 0. Captain Marvel: 1.
It’s a situation many women are familiar with — we’re going about our daily lives, minding our own business, when some man decides to tell us to smile.
“Cheer up and give us a smile,” he might say. Or maybe he’ll go for a variation on the classic: “Smile, you look so much prettier when you do.”
Men who tell women to smile aren’t doing it for the women’s benefit, they’re doing it for their own. It’s irritating if we’re being kind, and a display of toxic masculinity if we’re being honest — a man who presumes to tell a woman what to do is buying into the idea that men have ultimate power and can control women.
And of course, in the world of toxic masculinity, any woman that decides she won’t stand for that kind of behaviour is automatically seen as a threat.
For evidence, look no further than the reaction to a deleted scene from Captain Marvel, a film that already had Twitter trolls reaching for their vapours because it deigned to be about a female superhero, and because its star Brie Larson wasn’t afraid to speak out about the need for more inclusivity in press junkets.
In the scene, which is an extended version of one that appears in the final cut of the film, Captain Marvel is reading a map when a man on a motorcycle pulls up beside her.
“Nice Scuba suit,” he says. “You need a ride darling?”
He turns down the top of the map she’s reading and says: “How about a smile for me, huh?”
When Captain Marvel queries this, he responds: “I’m offering to help you, the least you can do is give me a smile.”
Captain Marvel counters with a handshake and introduces herself. The man tells her: “People call me… The Don.”
Releasing an unimpressed “wow”, Captain Marvel then unleashes her superhero powers on the man, sending electrical pulses through her hand, forcing the man to his knees in pain.
“Here’s a proposition for you,” she says. “You’re going to give me your jacket, your helmet and your motorcycle, and in return, I’m going to let you keep your hand.”
He quickly hands over his keys, and Captain Marvel lets go, adding: “What, no smile?”
In just a minute-long scene, Captain Marvel sums up what’s wrong with men telling women to smile, and unsurprisingly, that’s made some men angry.
Twitter user @alpacajon65 said: “Captain Marvel tortures a man, steals his motorcycle. Yikes. Movie scenes like this will definitely not help feminists causes. The man’s crime, he asked a woman to smile. Just imagine if a man treated a woman like this in our society.”
The men criticising the scene — and attacking Larson — are missing the point, and being purposefully obtuse as to its message.
Yes, it shows Captain Marvel using her powers to harm someone else, but plenty of superheroes before her have done exactly the same, and gone much further than she did. That Captain Marvel is called out for behaviour that male superheroes have got away with for decades is sexist.
And saying the scene will hurt “feminist causes” is a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is about — women want equality, and that partially means dismantling the idea that the only good women are nice women.
As for the person who’s never seen a man act like the character in the clip did towards Captain Marvel? Well, we think it’s obvious that he has no idea what he’s talking about.
Still, that this deleted scene has caused such a furore only proves just how accurate and needed it is. It’s forcing men to face up to behaviours that are, quite simply, unacceptable. And that’s a win for Captain Marvel, and for us.
Image: Chuck Zlotnick/©Marvel Studios 2019