What I told my son when he said Captain Marvel should be a man

Photo: Marvel Studios
Photo: Marvel Studios 

Captain Marvel opened in cinemas recently, to great enthusiasm from various sectors of the community – not least my superhero-loving children.

Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson, is a feminist dream: battling misogyny and leading an all-female team to save the world. 

My son loved the movie, but he was also confused: "Isn't Captain Marvel supposed to be a man?" he asked me after the movie.

I have to admit to knowing nothing about comic book history, so I was forced to do some quick research. It turns out there was a DC Comics Captain Marvel, who was a 10-year-old boy called Billy Batson who turned into a super hero when he said the word, "Shazam".

But Marvel later came out with their own Captain Marvel – also male. He was a soldier from another planet who became the protector of the earth. Technically, his name was Captain Mar'Vell but his name was shortened when he came to earth. 

DC sued Marvel over the name and won, so Marvel killed off their Captain Marvel, giving him terminal cancer. But not before he gives his girlfriend Carol Danvers similar powers. 

Some complicated legal to-ing and fro-ing took place which left the name "Captain Marvel" in the public domain, so Marvel Comics promoted Carol Danvers from "Ms Marvel" to "Captain Marvel", and this super hero just became a woman.

That was back in the 60s, and Captain Marvel has been a woman ever since – although other incarnations do pop up their heads from time to time.

Complicated stuff, right? 

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After I sat down and did my research, I presented it all to my son, who looked unimpressed.

"But shouldn't superheroes all be men?" he asked.

I groaned inwardly, wondering how on earth this child of mine absorbed such rot, but I leapt upon the question as an opportunity to school my son about traditional gender roles and how far we've come. 

"Well, super heroes traditionally were men," I told him. "But that comes from a time that pretty much all positions of power were held by men.

"Did you know that it used to be almost only men who got a proper education and had jobs, while women stayed at home and cleaned the house and took care of the babies?"

My son was genuinely baffled.

"People used to think being strong and being able to save the world was only something that men could do," I said. "But we know now that's not true."

We went on to discuss some women my son knows who have done incredible things. Women like Serena Williams, Jacinda Ardern and Malala Yousafzai.

And then we talked about how my ex-husband and I both work and share the care of our children 50-50.

"We've come to realise that women are just as capable as men of doing things that are tough, or that need an education – and equally we now understand that men can nurture and love their families," I said. "And they can also clean!"

I asked my son if he could imagine living in a world where women were expected to do nothing more than stay home, and men were the only ones going to work, running the country, and saving the world.

He thought for a moment. 

"It seems silly that women wouldn't go to work," he said. "And Captain Marvel was a pretty awesome superhero.

"But I don't know if we'll ever see a woman running the country."

Clearly we've still got some work to do, Australia.