Courtesy of ABC

February 10, 2016

Proud to Be a Woman: Agent Carter

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In an age where “difficult men” populate many television shows and female characters are often disregarded, the second season of Agent Carter makes feminism its priority.

The Marvel show (which premiered Jan. 19 on ABC) follows Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) as she fights misogyny and evil in post-World War II America. Peggy, who appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger as an Allied spy and as Captain America’s almost-girlfriend, now works for the fictional Strategic Scientific Reserve, a covert organization that was formed during the war to fight Nazis.

Despite gaining respect in the male-dominated SSR in season one by singlehandedly neutralizing a Soviet spy, Peggy must deal with continued discrimination and degrading barbs from her colleagues, who continue to view her as their physical and mental inferior.

However, this setback — like the numerous other systemic setbacks she experiences due to her gender — only strengthens Peggy’s resolve to do everything she can to ensure fairness and justice.

At the beginning of season two, Peggy heads to Hollywood at the behest of her superiors to investigate a mysterious, unusual murder. She finds herself ensnared in a web of conspiracy, teaming up with old friends and once again fighting a system that has every hope that she will fail.

The 1940s sets are unconvincing, the plot can be at times overdramatic and cheesy and the cast lacks diversity. However, these issues are mostly made up for by Atwell’s striking, honest portrayal of Peggy, who redefines “feminine” one snarky, angry comeback and unashamedly brutal fight scene at a time.

The opening scene of the season two premiere, “The Lady in the Lake,” features a ruthless battle between Peggy and Dottie Underwood, Peggy’s nemesis from season one. The show is not gratuitously violent, but the scene still flawlessly portrays that the fight’s importance is not at all diminished by the fact that not a single man appears in the shot. These two women are fighting for their lives, for causes they support and that they deem worth dying for, just as men do.

At one point, Dottie punches Peggy in the nose and slams her face into a desk. Peggy retaliates by kicking Dottie into the wall. There is hair-grabbing and gun-grabbing and a ruthlessness that is decidedly and unapologetically unladylike.

Peggy’s fighting style is brutal and efficient. Her goal seems to be to get the other person to hit the ground as quickly as possible, and she fights with everything she has. Her fighting style lacks frills or flare. She simply gives every punch as much power as possible.

This epitomizes Agent Carter’s specialty: treating women not as cogs within a patriarchal society but as people who are proud to be women. Agent Carter’s female characters refuse to let the misogynistic system determine who they are and what they can achieve.

Peggy’s fighting principles seem to apply to eating as well. She does not delicately bite into sandwiches; she stuffs them into her mouth as quickly as possible. In episode four, “Smoke and Mirrors,” she drips mayonnaise on an important document and quickly wipes it off with her finger, licking her finger clean.

Peggy takes huge bites and eats enormous quantities of food. Not only is this refreshing and relatable (who hasn’t gotten food on a rented textbook?), but it also makes sense. Peggy spends her days chasing leads, fighting assassins sent to kill her and speaking out against every injustice she notices, all while wearing a dress and t-strap heels. Of course she’s hungry and tired. So why shouldn’t she messily eat after a long day?

Peggy is not the only woman redefining gender roles. So far, a main antagonist of season two appears to be Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett),  a brilliant woman who has engineered her and her husband’s rise to affluence.

While Peggy was empowered to become a spy during the war and realized she could take control of her life, Frost was resigned to the fact that she could never become a scientist and was forced to find another way to succeed. However, both have had to stomach many degrading remarks to succeed in a male-dominated society. Like Frost, Peggy came close to marrying for the sake of propriety and expectation. Their paths diverge, but both are angry women, determined to leave their mark in a world that is dead set against their success.

Marvel has a wealth of superhero movies featuring male leads and one or two token women who play the traditional roles of caregiver or love interest. Peggy Carter is a heroine who defies female stereotypes. She is brusque, tough, unpolished and irritable, but also kind. Agent Carter is a show that stops and thinks about women and takes the time to treat each character with respect and honesty. Peggy is both an agent and a woman, but neither identity negates the other.

Agent Carter works with many larger themes: racism, sexism, a world haunted by a horrific war and the growing fear of Communism. As the show grapples with what it means to be a woman and a human being in many different contexts, it will hopefully continue to diversify its cast and handle these complicated issues with tact and honesty.

Rebecca Even is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at reven@cornellsun.com. 

One thought on “Proud to Be a Woman: Agent Carter

  1. Great write-up! The show gets better and better –so much fun and a great look w stylish sets and wardrobe, tremendous characters and casting –but sadly I read that it’s not likely to be renewed.

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