So, here’s a thing. It’s come to my attention that I’ve been liking/understanding/having resonant feelings for some problematic male characters lately. This is a bit of a shock for me because from my childhood, I’ve had zero interest in white boys with man pain. Hell, to this day I can’t tolerate Tom Paris (sorry good friends!).
And while I’ve really dug in on my attachment to Nate Ford (sense of self based on a desired ideal rather than reality) and Rumpelstiltskin (GIANT exemplification of the ills of Patriarchy and wealth inequality and abandonment issues), I haven’t been hugely critical of my love for Tony Stark. I’ve meta’d about specific scenes and interactions with other characters, but I’ve never really examined why he hits me in such a deep and specific way.
the thing about pepper potts is that she is, technically, the female love interest in a set of movies that are in significant part about the male hero’s pain, but she isn’t instrumentalized by the movies to be an aspect of that pain. tony’s not tortured about pepper; he’s tortured because he’s a fuck-up (and, across the course of three movies, (1) facing for the first time the carnage he has contributed to; (2) dying; and (3) traumatized). i look back sometimes at the first iron man in the context of, like, the superhero movie renaissance, following from raimi’s spider-man and batman begins, and like, compare not the female characters themselves but the role they play in (1) the life of the male character and (2) the context of the movie: they’re beautiful and unattainable and spend most of their scenes with the hero making him angstier. they’re a part of his burden. (especially once we hit the dark knight, lord.)
pepper is not, could not ever be, part of tony’s burden. pepper saves tony’s life in the first movie, twice. but she’s also not a vehicle for his salvation. she’s a source of stability partly because she frequently refuses to give him what he wants. he needs to change for them to be together, but she also isn’t his prize: their relationship is a blessing for him, but it’s also something he knows he needs to work at, and something we see him working at — you can tell me that saying, out loud, to pepper, “i’m a mess,” is not the actual hardest and most terrifying thing we ever see tony stark do, but i won’t believe you.
i mean: i love pepper, and septembriseur did a great job talking about why she’s so great, but i also really love their relationship and the way it’s depicted. there are so many ways, in the history of hollywood, of superhero stories, of fiction, for a relationship like this — especially given that she is technically his assistant! — to be depicted in a really hollow, sexist way, and it’s just so ??? nuanced and adult and grounded and real ?????? for a romantic relationship in a superhero movie????????????? i could cry about it basically forever, is what i’m saying.