DISCLAIMER: This is going to be a very controversial topic, especially in this crowd and with quite a few staff members. You've been warned.
Gender roles are a real thing, but I don't think most people truly understand what they really are. They think that a gender role is something you're forced into, like it's a little box that you've been imprisoned in and need to escape from. That isn't true at all, and while this article is being written taking society as a whole into account, and not every single individual in that society, it should be noted that some individuals don't fit into the same specific roles that are biologically natural for their particular gender. There are men who are much better fathers than their wives are mothers. They are more loving, more nurturing and the mothers tend to be the more disciplinarian in those households. That doesn't make their family wrong, or even unnatural, they just don't fit the stereotypes and no one is denigrating them for it. In fact, situations like that actually prove the points I am about to make, so please, keep that in mind before you scroll down to the comments and tell me that not everyone fits into gender stereotypes. I am fully aware. The purpose of this article is not to show that one gender is inherently better than another, quite the contrary, it is to show just how our differences compliment each other.
Men and women are not the same. If you think that we are, well, I'm sorry to have to be the one to burst your bubble but we are not. There are distinct biological differences between us, and I'm not just referring to the naughty bits. We have different chemistry in our brains, which causes us to act different than the members of the sex opposite our own. Many people seem to forget this when the subject of gender bending popular characters comes up, and want to unfairly label someone as misogynistic or bigoted when they oppose it. This boggles my mind because men and women aren't the same. Race is a little different. While I am (mostly) understanding of people who want to protect what they see as being the integrity of the character, and I believe most of these people have noble intentions (even though, again, some people want to unfairly label them as racist), the plain truth is that, apart from the color of their skin, there is absolutely no difference between a black man and a white man (or a black woman and a white woman). The differences are aesthetic and nothing more, and aesthetics, while they can be important depending on the character and the aesthetic, should mostly be near the bottom of the list when trying to bring a beloved character to life in movies or on television. How well the person embodies the character should be the most important thing, and it shouldn't matter if he or she "looks" the part as long as they are the part. And in some cases, going a different direction in terms of appearance or race can actually be beneficial to the character.
There are times when it could be interesting to gender bend a character, but the legitimate ones are few and far between. It is never a good reason, however, to do it just because. If there is a female Thor, it needs to be because the story you want to tell necessitates that Thor be a female. It would be a story that embraces the naturally occurring characteristics of the gender you want to make Thor and contrasts them with the characteristics of the original Thor. Marvel hasn't done this, however. The new Lady Thor is not a gender study, as it should be, but rather merely a way to shove something in the face of the readers and to push an agenda. That agenda? Men suck and need to be put in their place by women and women need to stick together, no matter what, to oppose the evil men with all of their might. This is an extremely dangerous agenda to be pushing on society, mostly because it's wrong, it's misguided, and it is every bit as sexist as chauvinism is. Here's a hint to the feminists (both men and women) who don't seem to understand how equality really works: if it is wrong for a man to do to a woman, then it is equally wrong for a woman to do it to a man. For example, in issue 5 of the Lady Thor series, after Lady Thor breaks the jaw of the Absorbing Man, after he ridicules her (actually being the voice of the writers ridiculing the fans who dared to question their obviously agenda-driven story), Absorbing Man's own spouse then knocks him unconscious and turns herself and him over to Thor for arrest, in an apparent attempt to show female solidarity, to the point that it goes against Titania's own interests, and violates her character as well. The entire theme of this scene is, essentially, Girl Power trumps everything else. That isn't storytelling, it's preaching and preaching doesn't belong in any form of entertainment medium.
In the case of Thor, the concept could have been good if the writers had legitimately wanted to tell a good story, and if the story had driven the change. That wasn't the case, however, as the change has definitely been driving the story and it has been nothing more than an outlet for pushing the writer's own politics. But it absolutely could have worked because Lady Thor is not Thor who became a woman, she is a completely different character. This could have been a great gender study, except the writer dropped the ball. However, this past year also saw another gender-bending, seemingly for the sake of it, over in Doctor Who, when it was revealed that the Master, the archenemy of the Doctor, was revealed to have regenerated into a woman. There has been a lot of talk in recent years, and a whole lot of talk leading up to the reveal of Peter Capaldi as the next actor to play the Doctor when Matt Smith stepped down after three seasons, of the Doctor actually being regenerated into a woman. There are some fans who seem to be emphatically for it, just as there are some who are emphatically against it. A lot of people are using the new Master, or Missy as she is being called (short for Mistress), as proof that the Doctor could be done as a woman successfully, but this argument fails because they are missing two major flaws that actually prove the opposite argument.
I have long said that a female Doctor would completely change the dynamic of the series. Good or bad, the series will be completely different. The Doctor is a fatherly (or grandfatherly, or in some cases a crazy uncle) character. He is the leader, the protector, the mentor, to his companions. And it doesn't matter if his companions are male or female, the Doctor is always the same and he always performs the same role. His look may change, to an extent his personality may change, his wardrobe will absolutely change, but in every single case the Doctor is the Doctor. Missy is not the Master. She's just not. She's an interesting character, she's crafty and she's sinister, but she isn't the Master. In the same way, a female Doctor could be an interesting character, she could be a fantastic hero, but she wouldn't be the Doctor. And that would change the entire show. It would cease to be Doctor Who and it would end up being something completely different. Just as the Master has taken on more feminine traits, and this has changed him/her into a completely different character, the Doctor would also become a different character. Masculinity and femininity are things that exist, and you can't just pretend they don't matter, they do and they are character defining traits.
This isn't to say that a female can't be masculine or a man feminine. We see it all the time. And masculine women generally end up with more feminine men, because those traits compliment each other. In a homosexual relationship, there is generally a more masculine partner and a more feminine partner. Gender roles exist, and they provide a real purpose as they are a part of who we are and how we react to certain situations. Whether we want to admit it or not, in a lot of cases the gender does make the character, and the only reason to gender-bend a character is to show how that character differs as a member of the opposite gender, and if done properly it can be an interesting concept, but you always run the risk of losing the character. While I think the female Thor was nothing more than an agenda-driving ploy to sell books and preach a point of view, I do not feel that was the purpose of gender-bending the Master, however, we can see that while Missy is an interesting character all her own, she isn't the Master. She even went so far as to change her name to reflect her new gender identity.
This isn't a new concept by any means, trying to blur the lines that blatantly exist between the sexes. As far back as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, female crewmen were referred to as mister, the same as their male counterparts. This has always bothered me. And during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation it was very common to see male crewmen walking around wearing the female uniform. And I don't mean the onesie, I'm talking full-on short sleeved miniskirt. They did these things to illustrate that gender roles wouldn't exist in the future, but it was just ridiculous. And they knew it was ridiculous, especially in TNG, because no man with a speaking role wore the miniskirt. They were all in the background. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too by making their ridiculous and silly political statement, and not have their main characters look ridiculous doing it. If Gene Roddenberry really believed the crap he was spewing, he would have gone all in. The original RoboCop did a similar thing, but Paul Verhoeven did it well. Instead of trying to do away with gender roles, he conveyed a future where men and women weren't seen as purely sexual. Male and female officers changed in the same locker room, and it wasn't even mentioned, just shown in passing. Some people didn't even pick it up that there were naked men and naked women right next to each other changing, and none of them were making come hither eyes at each other. Paul Verhoeven did it again in Starship Troopers in a shower scene, though a little more obvious than the scene in RoboCop. In these instances, never once were men and women stripped of being men and women, just the taboo of the naked body erased, and humanity shown to be able to overcome our juvenile reactions to things that should be considered natural and acceptable.
Men and women are different, and they should each be encouraged to embrace the uniqueness of their gender. There are things men can do better than women, that's a fact. There are things women can do better than men, that is also a fact. How about we stop competing for supremacy and just embrace the unique qualities of our gender, and learn to compliment each other the way nature intended? I know that's the future I want to live in.