a feminist reading of Man of Steel

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warning: this post does contain a significant amount of spoilers. do not proceed reading if you have not watched the movie. also it’s less of a review and more of a self-analysis. you do not have to agree with all the points i’m arguing towards.

firstly, Man of Steel soundtrack anyone?

genesis familiarises itself with the audience in the portrayal of one man and one woman, destruction of paradise but, alongside it, creation of hope. likewise, the guise of Man of Steel follows these guidelines.

in every scene and image, there is a symbol of paternity and maternity.


well, let’s see – take, for instance, the beginning scene of the movie in which Lara Lor-Van is giving birth to Kal. we are immediately set up with the premise of a natural birth and, from this, the image of a natural family order which balances upon the pillars of a morally just man and an equally just and loyal wife (i use the term ‘wife’ for a reason).


from this image, we are then given parallels abundant of parties with male and female representatives: Lor-Em and Ro-Zar sitting on their thrones, the two most striking villains, General Zod and Faora-Ul, the utmost of parallels, Jonathan and Martha Kent, and then there’s also General Swanwick and Major Carrie Farris, Perry White and Jenny the journalist and, last but not least, Superman and Lois Lane. oh, and not forgetting the planets of Krypton and Earth themselves. father Krypton and mother Earth. befitting, isn’t it?

if Man of Steel were Noah’s Ark, everything will definitely go neatly two by two.

and it is from these directions that we, as the audience, are conditioned to celebrate everything natural and wholesome about the family nucleus and reject any “alien” copy of it. for example, Krypton’s dystopian reproductive (and very literal) system reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World where each individual is already prescribed a position and duty for the society. it is already very “natural” for us to reject the babies growing in pod-like structures in the scene where Jor-El dives into the water for the Codex.

so let’s get more into detail, shall we? the first parallel i’d like to explore is that of Superman’s birth and Earth parents. a parallel that the movie emphasises more than once.


i think the parallel that most audience members should have been able to capture is the similar style in which Jor-El and Jonathan bite the dust (hell, they both even start with the letter ‘J’, a trademark of most comic book stories, ain’t it?) they both die a silent death. this suggests that the death of a father is like an immediate rupture of the family tree, cutting off all life attached to it for a significant amount of time, damaging emotionally the people attached to this one man …

dramatic, isn’t it? but that is what the film implies by the actions of the father figure. there is an element of sacrifice given where the father attempts to save another family member of theirs, for Jor-El it is his son, and for Jonathan it is their beloved family dog (that, come on, is so lovable – can we have a movie just on Clark Kent’s dog alone? and no, i don’t mean a remake of that terrible movie, Underdog.)


in fact, the film continuously implies, through its imagery and narrative style, that the father is a guiding figure that Superman is continuously shadowed by. Jor-El’s consciousness lives on, having direct contact with the events within the film, remind Kal-El of his roots and his meaning in life; meanwhile the memories of Jonathan Kent pepper the narrative, flashback after (almost exhausting) flashback.


even the spiritual meaning of father is taken on when Clark enters a chapel (church?) and seeks Father Leone for answers at which he prophetically tells Clark that sometimes one needs to take a leap of faith and trust will follow after.

Superman appears, in the audience’s eyes, increasingly like the little boy hiding in the closet, hiding behind his suit and cape and responsibilities. the image of Clark floating in the water after his brave act of saving the men on a wrecked oil ship, shaped like Jesus on the cross, is a telling one. it is of a boy who grew up as a symbol of hope, as a message from a father, who came to earth to help the people, yet is still world-bound.

maybe this is where Snyder’s attempts at fashioning the film more after The Dark Knight come into play – but falls short.

why? because of the confusion in the portrayal of the female image and the image of the all-powerful mother.

the female counterpart of the Krypton council, Ro-Zar, is ruthlessly eliminated by General Zod; the “motherly” elements of the Krypton planet are abused and stripped away, ‘causing the planet alongside it to implode; Lara is the epitome of Coventry Patmore’s Angel in the House and she accepts death in very much the same fashion; the image of Faora-Ul is that of a male-hating woman who ironically still follows the orders of a man, General Zod; Lana and the other girls in the bus are the more prominent images we see drowning in that bus, not the boys.


and no, we’re not done yet. Lois Lane may seek truth and knowledge as a journalist but she inevitably falls in step by the actions and words of the men around her; similarly, Martha stands as the loyal mother image in every scene she is in yet the mother is still portrayed as helpless when standing ground to the authority of a man; Mother Earth is raped by the world engine; Jenny who freezes in fear and who gets trapped in the rubble requires – surprise, surprise – the help of men to free her; Lois Lane may have an idea of how to save the world at the end of the day (God knows how, ’cause i doubt she came up with that idea on her own – how does a girl like her know about black holes and singularity?) but it takes a man to be able to figure out how to get the key into the hole (that’s what she said?); and lastly, if it wasn’t obvious enough, Major Carrie Farris gives away the stereotypes of femininity by stating that she thinks Superman is “kinda hot”.


alas, Man of Steel feels incomplete due to its attempts to create such a wholesome binary between the men and women, to blend violence and masculinity with sentimentality and femininity.

in the end the action plays out much like an angry little boy throwing a tantrum (cue scene of Superman hitting General Zod multiple times in the field after he attacks his mother). there is no intelligence from the side of Superman, just brute strength and emotion – a fight that in real life will not generally win. heck, the military even were by no means ‘intelligent’. it got frustrating seeing the soldiers try to shoot down the Kryptonian villains again and again, sending in helicopters and planes again and again. didn’t they realise from the first attempt that it just does not work?

one of the most striking scenes for me is when (and major spoiler here for the ones who decided to be rebellious and read on) Superman finally resorts to killing General Zod. he seeks the comfort of Lois Lane in a surprisingly motherly fashion. he is seen kneeling before her and hugging her waist like a little boy who can no longer take the hardships of the world.

inevitably the film reveals its own weakness, it is a film that requires growth. still stuck in the womb of its own parents, still living in the shadow and curse of its previous film adaptations, Man of Steel is a testament to little boys and their fantasies to be a hero, to be Superman – and their simultaneous lack of maturity to uphold the responsibilities that the role will finally bestow upon them. Superman may have lost the signature red underwear this time round, but he still wears very transparent diapers.

till next time!

cumuloq ❤

photo sources: www.totalfilm.com


One thought on “a feminist reading of Man of Steel

  1. Pingback: An X-Men: Days of Future Past Review | Cumuloquoise Blog

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