Captain Carter in Marvel's 'What If?'

Why Captain Carter Leaves a Weird Taste in My Mouth

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Let me preface this by saying that I enjoy Peggy Carter. I enjoy Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. It is actually nice when the internet appreciates a female character who is defined primarily by being bold. Yet since her first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger back in 2011, Peggy seems to be the only woman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who actually gets attention on a regular basis.

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With the exception of Black Widow and Captain Marvel, we have not had female-led standalone superhero movies in the MCU. Captain Marvel was the first and Black Widow was a messy send-off for a character who was already killed off in canon. Women of color in the MCU have been supporting characters. Excellent supporting characters, but supporting none the less.

Yet Peggy Carter has remained a consistent character in the MCU. Which, again, wouldn’t be so terrible if it hadn’t led to the pushing aside of Sharon Carter, her niece, played by Emily VanCamp. Sharon, who is a huge part of Steve’s storylines in the comics and a major love interest for him, was never seen as equal to Peggy. Nor did Marvel ever take the time to try and correct that issue until Falcon and the Winter Soldier—which made her an antagonist. A badass one, but just an antagonist.

Gamora has been fridged. Doctor Strange 2 saw both Wanda and America Chavez being mostly sidelined in terms of their character development. Mantis, Nebula, and so many others exist to just fulfill functions.

As Gita Jackson wrote on Vice:

Parent-child relationships define a lot of other MCU women. Thor’s sister Hela is motivated by her father having imprisoned her in hell. Nebula and Gamora are defined by the torment they suffered at the hands of their evil adopted father Thanos. The Wasp acts largely as an instrument of her father’s will. Above all else, they’re men’s daughters.

When not defined by their roles as daughters or as people who can’t bear daughters, MCU women are often not women at all, but children. In Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the titular doctor is joined by America Chavez, a plucky teenage girl. In Hawkeye, the titular Hawkeye is joined by Kate Bishop, a plucky teenage girl. Black Panther has a sister, Shuri, who is written exactly like a plucky teenage girl despite not being a teenager. Prior to the Captain Marvel film, most of the female characters in MCU movies were love interests, leaving Captain Marvel herself as one of the few female characters who doesn’t have a plot line or character arc revolving around wanting to be a mother or otherwise settle down.

Then we have Peggy. Who has had a television series (in the pre-Disney+ days), cameos in several movies, in the Endgame AU ends up with Steve Rogers in matrimonial bliss, got a dignified death and funeral onscreen (Gamora and Natasha never got that), and in What If… and Doctor Strange 2, we get Captain Carter.

Here’s the thing: seeing a giant British woman in a Union Jack isn’t the flex people think it is. It’s giving imperialism and unquestioned imperialism. We have spent a lot of time deconstructing Captain America and dealing with the racist, imperialist issues surrounding it (and even that is mixed).

We are expected to see Captain Carter as this great “heck yeah, feminism!” girl boss moment, when it is just a lazy Easter egg made to excite fans. Plus, Peggy is plenty awesome and worthy of being on the Illuminati without needing to be an AU version of Captain America. She has value just being Peggy Carter.

Peggy keeps being brought back into the MCU as a treat for fans of the character, but unless they are going to have Hayley Atwell come back full-time as a lead character—keep it. We have too many underused female characters waiting in the wings for Marvel to think that this tease of representation is worth it.

We don’t need girl bosses. We need leaders.

(image: Disney+/Marvel Studios)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.