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I've seen a lot of posts online criticizing Marvel for their lack of strong female characters in the MCU. Some of this might be deserved due to their not yet being a female-led film released from the studio (I'm well aware that Captain Marvel will be released at some point). While this may be the case, it is certainly safe to say that the MCU has finally introduced some strong female characters. I would like to celebrate these characters by highlighting what they mean to the MCU and its fans.
Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, has been a constant in the MCU since Iron Man 2. Played by Scarlett Johansson, she first appeared as Tony Stark's latest PA after the promotion of Pepper Potts under the guise of Natalie Rushman. Later in the film, her true identity was revealed in a really quite awesome scene in which she beats up a number of Justin Hammer's lackeys with consummate ease. While this is going on, Tony's faithful bodyguard, Happy Hogan, is very pleased to see he has beaten up one man, until he sees the pile of bodies left by Natasha.
She goes on to appear in The Avengers, (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (with a different wig in each film) and plays key roles in each movie. Though she has no superpowers, she is able to hold her own against the Chitauri hordes during the Battle of New York and also against Ultron's many agents. Her skills as a spy come in handy as well, her first scene in The Avengers is a prime example. While tied to a chair, Natasha successfully interrogates a Russian general, until Phil Coulson calls her and blows her cover. At this point she is attacked and still manages to win the fight despite having her hands bound.
And then we have her role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She acts as a confidant to Captain America during the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. While everything Cap has known is falling apart around him, Natasha stays by his side and helps him find out the truth. She also briefly fights the Winter Soldier and is able to hold her own until he shoots her in the arm. This film greatly demonstrates her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D and her qualities as a spy (though it definitely contains her ridiculous wig!). Black Widow is a very prominent character in the MCU and will continue to be, as she leads the second Avengers team alongside Captain America. She will also have a large role in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.
Agent Peggy Carter is introduced as an agent of British Secret Intelligence Service who worked alongside Colonel Chester Phillips at a US Army training base. Here she meets Steve Rogers, a weak young man whose strength of heart belies his physical strength. Her role at the training base is to oversee candidates for the radical 'Project Rebirth', and she is ultimately responsible for picking Steve Rogers. Though she does seem to be the only female of note in Captain America: The First Avenger (she's not, it just SEEMS like it), she certainly makes an impression. Hayley Atwell's portrayal of the character has many different sides to it; the strong, confident agent and also the vulnerable woman. After one of the young recruits mocks her British accent, she shows that she is not to be messed with...
It is her scene towards the end of the film when she begs Steve not to drown the plane that truly shows her sensitivity. She then goes on to show her strength in the TV spin-off (Marvel's Agent Carter). I talked about Agent Carter in a previous article and I thought it was excellent. It showed a different side to the MCU as it was based in the 1940s, and it also shows how Peggy dealt with all the sexism during her career. Because of the period it was set in, Peggy was forced to do a lot of administrative work rather than the field work she longed for (and deserved). This leads to her covertly working at night to clear Howard Stark's name until she finally earns the respect of her male colleagues.
Because of the obstacles Peggy has to overcome, I feel that she is a very strong character. The initial sexism shown towards her is swiftly forgotten when she proves her worth in the field. Her lasting legacy in the MCU is also very important as she goes on to become one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Now, a quick word of warning: the next woman I will be mentioning is Jessica Jones, and there may well be spoilers here for those of you who haven't seen it yet.
Again, potential spoilers if you haven't seen the series yet (seriously, if you haven't why are you still reading?).
Jessica Jones is a reluctant hero, hell, she will categorically deny being a hero if she is given the chance. She is a Private Investigator who happens to have super strength and the ability to fly (kinda...). She suffers from PTSD due to the actions of the main antagonist, Kilgrave, a man with the ability to control minds. As a series, Jessica Jones deals with some pretty heavy subjects and portrays Jessica as a flawed hero. Initially we are led to believe that she is wasting her powers by choosing to reject them, but it is only once we discover more about Kilgrave that we learn that Jessica's problems run so much deeper.
Though she does not want to be a hero, she is adamant that she has to stop Kilgrave at any cost. She feels duty bound to prevent anyone else going through the same trauma she did. Jessica is made to kill Luke Cage's wife (or is she?) after uncovering a USB stick showing experiments on Kilgrave as a child. Throughout the series Jessica displays strong leadership and a determination to stop Kilgrave. She works with her friend Trish (who is also a pretty kick ass woman in the MCU) and ultimately stops Kilgrave.
Like all of the women I've mentioned, Jessica Jones is also not defined by the men around her. She is not there merely as a love interest, in fact she says herself she doesn't go on a lot of second dates. Yes, she does have (a LOT of) sex with Luke Cage and there is clearly a connection there. But with or without those moments, Jessica Jones would still be a very good show.
These are just 3 examples of the strong female characters in the MCU, perhaps there's some I've missed (in fact I know there is: Gamora, Nebula, Karen Page, etc).