Is Pepper Potts No Longer the “Damsel in Distress” in ‘Iron Man 3’?

First of all, this post has major SPOILERS for Iron Man 3, so if you don’t want to see spoilers, just come back after you’ve seen the movie.

Secondly, I agree with this about 90%. I definitely have some major issues with the Pepper Potts character. Can we ever see a girlfriend in a male-centered superhero movie that is not a “damsel in distress?” But my other issue with Pepper is that she is, essentially, not much better than Tony sometimes. (Spoiler: I was sort of appalled at Pepper’s reaction to a scene in Tony’s workshop in which he bares his soul to her and her response is, “I’m going to go take a shower.” -pause- “And you’re joining me.” Sexy time is fun, yes, but that may not be the most emotionally connective response to your partner when s/he is in trouble.) So, I have a lot of issue with Pepper. And I agree that just because a woman in a movie is portraying a CEO or other allegedly powerful archetype, it doesn’t mean that character has agency.

Let me be clear: I LOVE superhero movies. In fact, the Iron Man franchise in particular is my favorite. I went to see Iron Man 2 while 9 months pregnant! I don’t think every character has to be fully actualized. Flaws make people interesting to watch. Certainly seeing Tony Stark’s evolution as a character is part of what makes him fascinating. And I don’t think it’s fair or good to say that every woman in a movie be portrayed as a feminist icon. Some women are deeply flawed, too. Some women cling to sexist roles. But — and here’s the big BUT — when something is so pervasive throughout an entire genre, like it most certainly is with superhero movies, then it deserves to not only be critiqued but addressed.

We’ve seen some brilliantly entertaining, yet flawed, female superheros on TV — Buffy, Sidney Bristow, Veronica Mars (sort of detective superhero-y). So the question is, why can’t we see them up on the Big Screen? I would also point to the animated series Justice League, in which Wonder Woman and Hawk Woman are very much their own people and equals with male superheros. Perhaps we need to draft Joss Whedon to write every superhero movie? Just kidding. Maybe.

The Opinioness

Iron Man 3 poster with Pepper Potts

Originally published at Bitch Flicks.

Superhero films often exhibit assertive, outspoken female characters. Yet they often simultaneously objectify women’s bodies, reduce them to ancillary love interests or perpetuate gender stereotypes. So when I heard that Pepper Potts would have a more active role in Iron Man 3, I was excited yet remained cautiously skeptical.

Gwyneth Paltrow eagerly talked about putting on the Iron Man suit and getting tired of the “damsel in distress”:

“I was really hoping that Pepper would be more engaged in this movie…So I was really happy, not only that she was wearing the suit, but that you see her really on equal ground with Tony in their interpersonal dynamic, and as a CEO, and then she’s got all this action… I think in order to move things forward and keep it fresh, you can only be the damsel in distress for so long, and…

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