Our Best Girl: Marvel's Agent Carter Is Tackling Sexism Head On and That Is Making Some People Uncomfortable

http://insidetv.ew.com/2015/01/28/agent-carter-female-heroes/

"Agent Carter was perhaps not the creatively strongest example as its a period drama without a costumed hero. Perhaps Netflix’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones will fare better."

This statement annoys me. That whole article annoys me. Let me tell you why….

First of all, are stories about "costumed heroes" the only ones that fans of the genre really care about? I love stories about costumed heroes, but I also love stories about the other people that inhabit those worlds. The people without powers, without those advantages, who are also striving to make a difference in the world. Especially if those people are dealing with real-life obstacles that we can relate to. Peggy's story is Steve's story. The show, and The First Avenger, go to great lengths to emphasize that Peggy and Steve are matching bookends. Difference is, she's a woman (and not a super soldier). The last episode, The Blitzkrieg Button, had a great scene that so clearly showed why Peggy Carter's story is so important and so interesting.

Peggy is trying to get out of the SSR unnoticed (she’s just done a switcheroo in the lab with one of Stark’s toys), but she unexpectedly runs into Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray). Thompson, who appears to be a little tipsy, asks Peggy why she's there (at the SSR). Earlier in the ep Thompson, who is temporarily in charge, tells all the agents that everyone is doing overtime and putting all their attention to the Howard Stark hunt. For Peggy that means getting everyone's lunch order. Thompson refers to Peggy as "Marge" even though he obviously knows her name (newsflash:  he's an ass). Peggy, who is trying to get the hell out of there without him asking questions, gives a generic and borderline sarcastic answer that is essentially "freedom and to serve--the same reasons you're here" and Thompson tells her she's deluding herself because, "You're a woman. No man will ever consider you an equal." And Peggy looks...devastated. Like she wants to cry but will never give Thompson the satisfaction of seeing it. It's literally the worst thing anyone can say to her. All Peggy wants in the world is to be seen as an equal and given a chance to prove herself. Peggy doesn't even respond, can't. Thompson adds "It's sad but it doesn't make it any less true." The thing is, he's not sympathizing and showing understanding of the sexism she faces like Jarvis does in the previous episode:

Peggy: I will call them (the other agents) in and they will respect me.

Jarvis, in a soft voice: No, they won't. They'll just use it to tear you down.

Thompson, in contrast, is speaking with complete disregard for her feelings because HE is one of those men who won't ever consider her an equal. With a stiff and *almost* steady voice Peggy says that she can always count on him for the truth and walks out with as much dignity as she can. Hayley Atwell plays it beautifully. Your heart aches for her. You share her humiliation and hurt and anger. How is that not compelling? How is Peggy not as fascinating a hero as Steve? Peggy has to put up with this kind of humiliation and indignity every single day and act respectful to these trashy men (excepting Agent Sousa) she's superior to in every single way. But people won't watch because she doesn't have a cape? Okay.

 Now, I want to make something clear. Some folks are citing the lack of racial representation in the show as a reason why they won’t watch it, and that’s understandable. Agent Carter isn’t a perfect show. It really does need to work on incorporating some people of color (the next episode, airing on Tuesday Feb 3rd, seems to be a step towards correcting that with a mission involving the Howling Commandos and the agents) and addressing intersectionality (Peggy experiences both privilege (as a white person) and oppression (as a woman)). That said, it’s spot-on about institutionalized sexism and it’s a very good show in general. Hayley Atwell is a dream, the period details-especially the clothing-are gorgeous, the writing is very good, there are female friendships and a disabled main character who experiences ableism from the same guys Peggy experiences sexism from, and this week we’ll see a canonically queer character among the Howling Commandos. Basically, it’s almost perfect.

So why aren’t people watching? Well, the thing is, apparently they ARE. Entertainment Weekly is reporting that the ratings are steadily dropping, which makes the people who wanted the show to fail or thought there would be no interest insufferably smug, but the numbers themselves tell a different story:

http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/01/28/marvels-agent-carter-moves-abc-up-to-second-at-9pm-in-adults-18-49/356811/

According to TV By the Numbers, Agent Carter has put ABC at #2 for adults 18-49 with 4.6 million viewers and #1 in the time slot. So what gives? I think there’s a perception that the show is doing worse than it is based solely on sexist assumptions:

     1. There is no interest in Peggy Carter as a character outside of Steve’s love interest.

     2. The show is too focused on the period typical sexism.

Number 1 is totally false. The fan interest in Peggy Carter, especially after the Marvel One Shot is what directly gave rise to the series. Number 2 is ridiculous. While discussing this online, an acquaintance of mine, a guy, gave this as the reason why the show isn’t supposedly doing well:

“I think the major flaw in Agent Carter is that the show is focused too much on the battle against sexism in the work place, and less about how she is the great secret agent.”

Yes. He actually said that. Like the whole reason why Peggy can’t be a great agent out in the open isn’t sexism. Trust that I read him and read him well, me and others, but the fact is that people (read: dudes) are annoyed that a show set in 1946 about a female agent actually shows the sexism, casual and institutionalized, women experienced then AND NOW. This is not the gritty “realism” a lot of fanboys are used to. It’s too real and uncomfortable to watch a show that clearly makes the point that the real foe to be defeated isn’t Hydra, but The Patriarchy and that’s a good reason to watch Agent Carter in my opinion. That and Hayley Atwell. Because she is everything

Here's a scene of Peggy literally sticking it to the patriarchy. Enjoy!

 

Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on February 2, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.