Is Pepper Potts No Longer the "Damsel in Distress" in ‘Iron Man 3’?

Movie poster for Iron Man 3

Written by Megan Kearns | Warning: Lots of spoilers ahead!

Superhero films often exhibit assertive, outspoken female characters. Yet they often simultaneously objectify women’s bodies, reduce them to ancillary love interests or perpetuate gender stereotypes. So when I heard that Pepper Potts would have a more active role in Iron Man 3, I was excited yet remained cautiously skeptical.

Gwyneth Paltrow eagerly talked about putting on the Iron Man suit and getting tired of the “damsel in distress”:
“I was really hoping that Pepper would be more engaged in this movie…So I was really happy, not only that she was wearing the suit, but that you see her really on equal ground with Tony in their interpersonal dynamic, and as a CEO, and then she’s got all this action… I think in order to move things forward and keep it fresh, you can only be the damsel in distress for so long, and then it’s old.”
Producer and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige also said they wanted to “play with the convention of the damsel in distress…there is fun to be had with “Is Pepper in danger or is Pepper the savior?” over the course of this movie.” Okay, okay, this all sounds awesome to me. 
Now I’m all for subverting gender norms. But is Pepper really empowered? Or does she really remain a rearticulation of the Damsel in Distress trope?
When Pepper puts on the Iron Man suit, it’s not of her own volition. It’s not because she cleverly thought of it. Tony, who can now recall his arsenal of Iron Man suits on command, remotely puts it on Pepper to save her during an attack. Once she’s in the suit of armor, Pepper does make the most of it as she gets scientist Maya (who of course has to have had a sexual past with Tony) to safety and protects Tony from a falling ceiling as well.

Tony Stark
However, when Gwyneth Paltrow discussed putting on the suit, I envisioned an assertive move by Pepper — that she boldly decides to put on the armor so she can go out and save Tony. Not something she passively has placed on her body by a man. What could have been an interesting exploration of Pepper and gender becomes a wasted opportunity.

Just because Pepper donned the Iron Man suit for like two minutes, doesn’t mean she isn’t a “damsel in distress.” She still is for a majority of the film. Archvillian Aldrich Killian kidnaps Pepper and ties her up, using her as bait to lure Tony and blackmail him. Yep, that sounds like a passive damsel to me.

In Iron Man, Pepper is Tony’s personal assistant and according to him, his only true friend. In Iron Man 2, she becomes the CEO of Stark Industries. By The Avengers, they co-exist as a team, partners both in romance and work as Pepper helps Tony develop Stark Tower and the Arc Reactor. In each film, Pepper grows and progresses to have a more important role. So how did Pepper — Tony’s friend, partner and brilliant CEO of Stark Industries — get reduced to an objectified and victimized “damsel in distress” yet again?
Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 3

Discussing the Damsel in Distress Trope in video games, although it’s also completely applicable for film too, Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency talks about how the trope provides incentive and motivation for the male protagonist. The trope is also a form of objectification and is not synonymous with “weak” but rather a form of disempowering women, even strong ones, while empowering men:
“So the damsel trope typically makes men the “subject” of the narratives while relegating women to the “object.” This is a form of objectification because as objects, damsel’ed women are being acted upon, most often becoming or reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found or a goal to be achieved…The damsel in distress is not just a synonym for “weak,” instead it works by ripping away the power from female characters, even helpful or seemingly capable ones. No matter what we are told about their magical abilities, skills or strengths they are still ultimately captured or otherwise incapacitated and then must wait for rescue. Distilled down to its essence, the plot device works by trading the disempowerment of female characters FOR the empowerment of male characters.”

Surprisingly, as it revolves around Tony, Iron Man 3 passes the Bechdel Test. Huzzah! A brief conversation transpires between Pepper and Maya, the botanist who invented the Extremis virus. Maya laments being naïve about science, just wanting to help people and how her ideals became distorted. Pepper reassures her, telling her that Stark Industries once carried out military contracts so she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. What a nice moment. But don’t get too cozy. This moment of sisterly bonding shatters when Maya betrays Pepper. Sidebar, it’s interesting that Maya has a change of heart not after talking to Pepper but after talking to Tony later in the film.

There’s a telling exchange near the end of the film when Killian tells Tony he injected Pepper with the Extremis virus because he wanted to make Pepper perfect. Tony, ever the good boyfriend, retorts, “That’s where you’re wrong. She already was perfect.” This could have been a nice albeit clichéd message about accepting and appreciating people how they are, rather than trying to change them. But 5 minutes later, when Pepper asks if she’s going to be alright because she’s got the unstable virus in her, Tony says he’s going to “fix” her because that’s what he does, he “fixes things.” Ahhh the mechanic imagery strewn throughout the film comes full circle.

Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man suit

It’s a strange juxtaposition between “she’s perfect the way she is” and “I’ll fix you,” especially in proximity to one another. This dialogue could have easily been altered to show Pepper’s agency — that either she wanted to keep the virus and harness the superpower or have it removed. We could have seen things from her perspective. But instead, it’s all to convey how Tony is decisive and protective of his woman and how he’s grown emotionally.

Taking place after The Avengers, we see a changed Tony Stark. Due to the stress of combating aliens and traveling through worm holes, Tony suffers anxiety, insomnia and PTSD. I was pleasantly surprised at the film’s respectful depiction of mental illness. Although its treatment of people with disabilities is abhorrent. We see the weight of Tony’s obsession creating Iron Man suits straining their relationship. Pepper is frustrated that his suits come before her. But they never resolve their issues. It’s as if Pepper said, “Oh I almost died, got injected with some fiery shit and now you fixed me? Okay, we’re good now!” Um, no. 
So what’s the lesson here? Don’t worry, ladies. The right man will fix you and all your problems. 
Pepper isn’t an empowered, self-actualized character in Iron Man 3. Instead she’s used as an object for the two dudes to fight over. She’s used to show that Killian is a villain who never really loved her while she’s used as an incentive for Tony to fight and to realize what truly matters in life. Tony and Killian battle it out with Pepper as a trophy to the victor, aka the better dude. 
As film critic Scott Mendelson said: “For Potts, the movie was about other men giving her temporary agency/power and then quickly taking it away again.” Despite her intelligence and success, she possesses no agency of her own. Men bestowed power upon Pepper. Any power she appears to exert stems from men. Now some superheroes (Spiderman, Wolverine) have their powers given to them by others, either by accident or against their will. But once they have their powers, they decide what to do with them. They decide through their intelligence or cunning how best to utilize their powers. But Tony and Killian make all the decisions for Pepper. She doesn’t make any for herself. Pepper doesn’t choose to don the suit. Tony does. Killian decides to inject her with the Extremis virus that grants superhero powers. She doesn’t choose to keep the Extremis virus or have it removed. Tony decides to remove the virus. Even though she has a brief romp with superpowers and briefly kicks ass, Pepper somehow remains less empowered in Iron Man 3 than in the other films. Men decide her fate.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3
If the film really played with the conventions of a “damsel in distress,” rather than playing out every other superhero trope, Pepper wouldn’t have been kidnapped or if she had, she would have saved herself, rather than needing Tony’s rescue. At the film’s climax, we do see Pepper, injected with the Extremis virus, kick ass and save Tony. Oh and of course she does it in a skimpier, sexy outfit. So even in the shadow of empowerment, Pepper must be anchored as a sex object, intertwining power and sexuality. Again, it isn’t about Pepper’s growth and development. It’s about how Tony sees her.
While she acknowledges it “isn’t perfect on gender issues,” Alyssa Rosenberg posits that Iron Man 3’s “progressive gender play is noteworthy when you consider the kinds of roles actresses in superhero movies usually get stuck with.” But no, no it’s not progressive. Did we watch the same movie? Having women scientists and women CEOs in your film, while a good start, isn’t smashing gender stereotypes if you ultimately reinforce the same old tired gender tropes and clichés. It isn’t actually showcasing powerful women if you continually undercut women’s agency. 
While action sequences are enjoyable, fighting is probably not what audiences find empowering. It’s characters’ decisiveness, assertiveness, ingenuity, struggle to survive — all of which can be conveyed through a visual manifestation of action sequences.
Sure, it was nice to see Pepper kicking ass. But let’s be clear here. Just because a female character wields a sword or shoots a gun or uses her fists to punch a villain, doesn’t automatically make her emotionally strong or empowered. Possessing agency to speak her mind, make her own decisions, chart her own course — these are what make a character truly empowered.

The problem with the Damsel in Distress trope is that it strips women of their power and insinuates that women need men to rescue or save them. And yet again it places the focus on men, reinforcing the notion that society revolves around men, not women.

Maybe I’m a greedy feminist but four minutes of ass-kicking does not automatically make an empowered female character shattering gender tropes, nor does it satiate my desire for a depiction of a nuanced, complex, strong female character. Sigh.


  • Posted May 8, 2013 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    well, i think she definitely does her part to save the man, more s than ever before. she’s only a damsel in distress to a certain extent.

  • Posted May 8, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Yes, to all your points. Reading this I finally figure out why when I leave the theater I was thinking “I didn’t like the movie”.

  • Posted May 8, 2013 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    I agree with you here. IM3 is by no means a perfectly feminist film, but Pepper does more here than in the last 2 films. With that said, i feel like this further shows the need for a proper superheroine film. Having a female character that does something shouldn’t be a anomaly in the superpowered people genre, but yet it still is.

  • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Now just try to imagine what it is like to be a Black Male and see no positive Super hero roles. Rhodes spends most of the Iron man movies being controlled by the villains and being used against Tony or being stripped of the suit and being another useless character. Black men are almost never leading actors in a film unless they have a chip on their shoulder as in Django, the Color Purple or The Negotiator.

  • Posted May 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    You are a greedy feminist, alrighty.

  • Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    I’ve been called worse.

  • Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm…my interpretation of “I’ll fix this” was about the stability of the EXTREMIS rather than its presence. That the idea was that Stark, would stabilize EXTREMIS so that Pepper would no longer be in danger of literally exploding.

    However this may be influenced by the fact that the original comics version of the EXTREMIS story has Tony injecting himself with a modified version of the EXTREMIS to act as an improved interface for the Iron Man Armor.

    Now that obviously isn’t part of the movie’s narrative, and maybe the interpretation that Pepper will be fixed means that she’ll be purged of EXTREMIS, I don’t know. It is after all certain that regardless of wether he was sincere about abandoning armor (rather than merely destroying his existing stockpile) or not, it won’t stay that way when AVENGERS 2 comes out, so maybe he is also decieving her. I don’t know.

  • Posted May 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I actually really liked the fact that the scientist had previously had a sexual encounter with Tony back when neither had a reason not to and now, currently, didn’t care that he was in a relationship with someone else. This to me was actually a really nice from the “women are always attached after any sexings EVAR” trope without going stupidly too far. but I agree with you about the rest.

  • Posted May 15, 2013 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    okay, I’m glad you got what I meant without my putting the word a really nice departure in there. Which is what I meant-was actually a really nice departure from the trope. but yeah. obviously science. because otherwise we would have to admit that women might want different things, and that’s no good.
    This was just one of the better ways of being actually sex positive as opposed to men getting all the sex they want positive.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Yup, this (minus me knowing anything whatsoever about the comics), although the rest of the piece has many valid points. They could have done sooo much better with this, without too much effort.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Okay I definitely am over the whole damsel in distress thing as well, but this article annoyed me and I definitely consider myself a feminist. A lot of the points mentioned are such a stretch.

    The reason Tony has to put the suit on Pepper is because he links it to his DNA and he is the only one that can control where it goes.

    Also by “fixing” I think he meant the fact that she was basically a mutant and he wanted her to be safe and not have to live with that.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Great piece although I disagree with the “I’ll fix you” bit. Pepper doesn’t need perfection, but since she was obviously worried about her health she went to the smartest person she knew to ask if there was a cure. I agree with the rest though particularly because Pepper actually showed a lot of agency in the first film (in dealing with Coulson in particular towards the end).

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    really don’t think it fulfills the trope completely, and it’s also one
    that has rarely, if at all, been used in Marvel films. I think given
    typical comic book narratives, Marvel have done a pretty good job at
    keeping the films focused on broader themes. And Pepper Potts has never
    been completely helpless, either. While I too would have liked more ass
    kicking from her, I don’t think she is completely passive. I think the
    real question to propose to the minds behind the Marvel films is, why
    hasn’t Black Widow been given her own film yet?

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Agreed, the lava imploding with fire peeps didn’t seem to have a long life span.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the article, these kind of opinions are really helpfull to open people’s mind, and help recognizing these kind of things. And by the way, one little note that came to my head while reading: in the movie he may say “I’ll fix you”, but did you know that in Spanish (my mother language) “I’m going to fix myself” (voy a arreglarme) is a synonym of getting ready, getting make up and hair done, used by the women on a daily basis? It’s something quite unfair that not only we have to get our hair and make up done, but we have to do it to be fixed (we must be broken or something). It’s such a common expression that nobody even questions it.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    It does seem like a bit of a step backward for Pepper from Avengers, and the points about her having all her “empowerments” given and taken by men was something I almost missed when I saw it. I admit to getting distracted by her character stealing the spotlight and being the one to defeat the bad guy after he and Stark essentially beat their chests and tried to “come at me, bro!” I think the idea of truly empowered women and women with agency in these comic book films is coming. Seems like we’re in a painful transitional stage, though. I say “painful” because it’s like “get there already, darn it!”

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have seen and followed Iron Man 1 & 2 including the Avengers. I like Pepper but unfortunately the only time I see Pepper “in power” was in the Avengers when the movie made it seem that the two were partners and were in equal power of Stark Tower/Industries. But no matter what feminist views we have here won’t matter because the movie was written by man for men to make lots of money. I’ve been looking for a recent/new movie to watch where the protagonist is not an overly sexualized female. In the topics of super hero movies. I’m actually looking forward to Wonder Woman (if it ever happens).

    BUT. I would really like it if this movie was only written by females for females because that’s who Wonder Woman is. Her history, background, and creation was made for feminists and women. But overall Hollywood is there to make money, not a movie. But if it doesn’t happen I hope it DOES well and finally prove that you can break a trope and succeed in the industry.

    Much love.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    “We see the weight of Tony’s obsession creating Iron Man suits straining their relationship. Pepper is frustrated that his suits come before her. But they never resolve their issues.”

    I thought this was resolved when he blew up all the suits at the end? Also, he finally got surgery to remove the shrapnel, which to me indicated that he was going to start taking his health seriously. I agree the movie has a serious case of damsel-itis (although I still enjoyed it), but I didn’t think this storyline was unresolved.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    It was also nice to see that (at least after their introduction and before the betrayal… sigh) the two women did spend some time being nice to each other, helping each other, and generally being decent human beings to each other. Even though the initial meeting came with some (wholly natural) tension, there was no catfight, no raging jealousy over who’s with Tony now, vs. who he was with before. There was no threat of a love triangle. So there’s one anti-feminist trope that managed to get sidestepped there–the “lulz teh pretty girls hate each other” trope.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    Rhodes was doing a lot of great stuff during the first Avengers movie which is why he couldn’t help. He actually is a force to be reckoned with in his own right. He just doesn’t have his own movie yet. And as far as others the black Green Lantern has always been my favorite. Although this does nothing to help your point either and I agree. It could be worse though? You could be Asian and have a hard time making in the movie in the first place?

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that expression’s got anything wrong going on for it. See, I’m a native speaker living in an spanish speaking country. We use that expression regardless of gender. So it is more in the vein of being in a messy state (aesthetically speaking) and fixing yourself up. Don’t look too much into it. It is not a matter of sex.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Some of this is fair comment, but some of it isn’t. The first thing I would say is that the film is called Iron Man 3, not Iron Woman 1 (or even The Iron Lady – terrifying visions of Thatcher in an iron suit), so it was always going to be about Tony. I don’t know who you spoke to/read before you saw it but I think your expectations were too high. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Maya only changes her mind after talking to Tony. The impression I got was that both of them influenced her – maybe Pepper even more – but, much like the male characters, Maya is complex, takes time to figure things out and reacts to the situation she finds herself in – that is, she makes her own decisions. Despite being a villain of sorts, she’s probably the more interesting character of the two. What’s also notable here is that the film plays with the classic love triangle set up by having two or even four at once. I think that the Pepper-Tony-Maya dynamic is A LOT more interesting than the Tony-Pepper-Killian stuff. Granted, she does spend lots of the film waiting for rescue, but isn’t the point actually that he fails to save her? He lets her drop to her death, essentially rendering all that heroic build-up pointless. Instead, Pepper saves both herself and Tony for the second time during the film. I didn’t really think much of her outfit either, and I did cringe when Tony talked about fixing it. However, I do have a feeling that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Super-Pepper, especially since she talked about how much she enjoyed it. Finally, I think that, given how quickly it was done, the relationship issue wasn’t resolved too badly, since both partners mutually began to understand each other better and made concessions. Tony recognized the problems with his suits and how they affected the relationship, so got rid of them, while Pepper realized why he’d become so obsessed after she had a go herself.Oh yeah and you also forgot to mention that Tony fixes himself too – so it’s not like ‘I can have powers and you can’t, woman!’ It’s more like ‘Let’s both stop doing stupid, dangerous things and concentrate on living normal, happy lives by fixing our relationship.’ Anyway that’s what I think.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    It would have been nice to see Pepper but the armour on herself, and while I wouldn’t have changed the first time she got the armour (for reasons I will explain later) I would have very much liked to see her put it on herself later in the film.

    When Tony puts the armour on Pepper I think that says a lot about what he thinks about Pepper and how much he respects her ability.
    As soon as she has the armour the first thing he does is ask her to save herself and Maya. He’s not just putting it on her to protect her from the impact of the collapsing building, or not just because of that, he’s giving Pepper the armour because he has faith in her abilities and her competence, because he knows she could do just as well as him with it. Now, part of it is protecting her, definitely, but I think it was mostly because he knew Pepper could handle saving herself and Maya and I really liked that.

    But that’s not a juxtaposition at all. She was /already/ perfect, this guy alters her, alters her in a way /that might be fatal to her/, most people with the extremis virus ended up /exploding/.
    The “I’ll fix you” comment in that context is the same as saying “I’ll fix you” to somebody who needs a heart transplant or has cancer.
    However, it /does/ bring her back to being the damsel in distress and makes it into another instance where Tony has to save Pepper.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I agree with this completely. I saw Pepper as a subversion of the damsel in distress trope. For all his huffing and puffing and suits, he fails to save Pepper. So Pepper saves her damn self, and then saves tony too after his suit of power fails. His suit is a phallic symbol for him, when the shrapnel reaches his heart, he’s robbed of his agency and manhood. He’s helpless. When he dons the suit he gets that back and feels empowered. Pepper saving him when his suit fails too, illustrates show how ridiculous is that he views it that way. This helps him come to terms with his own reckless behavior. When he says he’s going to fix her, he only means that he’s going to fix the virus. Because as he has declared, she herself is perfect. This helps him get over himself, and fix his life. He destroys the suits, makes the extremis virus non-lethal (we have no idea if she still has powers or not), and then uses the virus so that he can fix himself. It is through Pepper now that he gets his agency back. He wants to be a better man for her.

    Now of course this put Pepper in the DID trope, but only as a subversion of it. She’s not helpless, the experience actually makes her stronger than either of them and she is her own hero. Yeah, in other to subvert a trope, sometimes you have to actually seemingly place the characters in the trope in the first place. But it’s hardly the same thing.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Oh yes, and Tony (if anyone) was the actual damsel in this movie. He’s literally stripped of his power (the suits) and placed into danger, and Pepper is the one that saves the day twice. He’s also saved by the little boy. His coming to terms with fixing his life is only after having been rescued three times in the movie by other people. He doesn’t even save the President, the Iron Patriot does. The fact that feels empowered without the suits but by finding his inner strength (which he had lost thanks to the events of Avengers, a pleasant consequence and continuity nod often missing in these types of films) through Pepper and the little boy is really awesome. In this movie, it’s Tony that has to be rescued both literally and from himself. And he comes away from the movie a better guy, despite the fact that he was the real DID. And yes, they were subverting the trope by leading us to think Pepper was the one, only to bring it home with some glorious ass-kicking by Pepper that Tony was the real DID of the movie.
    And what I love about it is despite the fact that Tony was the DID, and they subverted the trope and played around with it, Tony was allowed to keep his masculinity. And personality. SO often if they do the female rescuing the guy thing, they have to emasculate the guy as if female empowerment emasculates men. In this case, female empowerment actually made Tony a better man. Tony likes the powerful Pepper, her saving him didn’t emasculate him it helped him to become stronger. To recognize that his agency doesn’t lie in the overblown suits, but in his intelligence and strength of character. He’s the fixer, and he’s good at it. Yeah, they shove Pepper’s new found strength to the side at the end and focus on how Tony grew, but the movie is about him so that’s entirely appropriate.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    He definitely “fixed” the virus rather tan removed it, and the placed it in himself. I’m willing to bet that they’ll explain later that the only way he could remove the shrapnel was due to restorative powers of extremis. Pepper probably still has it as well.

    As for his suits, I’m thinking in A2 we’ll see him in the Extremis suit, which was where they were already going with Mk 42 and him being able to summon it at any time, but now he’ll be capable of combat both in his suit and out of it.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much! But Pepper doesn’t ask Tony to cure her, or to stabilize the virus, rather she asks, “Am I going to be alright?” which then prompts Tony to say that he’ll “fix” her. It puts the decision-making in Tony’s hands.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Pepper Potts is definitely not helpless. I think Marvel boasts some amazing female characters who are incredibly strong, intelligent and capable. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t fallen prey to gender tropes. The infamous Gwen Stacy storyline in ‘Spider-Man’ is one of the most infamous examples of the Women in Refrigerators trope. And yes, I’d love to see a Black Widow film. Stat.

  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink


  • Posted May 17, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the suits are synced to Tony’s DNA, which is why he tells Rhodes that he can’t put his suits on. But it would have been very different if Pepper had asked or demanded Tony put the suit on her rather than him making the decision for her.

  • Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Wow… every second character that is not Tony was in great danger and need of saving at one point in the movie and thats ok if they are male, but when its a female character, ist suddendly sexism…
    Seriously… I am for equality and stuff, but this “omg, the female character who was not the main character the story focus on get captured and need rescue, thats ooo sexims!” thing is just stupid…
    In Movies with female main protagonists (for example Resident Evil) the female main protagonists are saving males too, cause well, they are the main protagonist and the man they save is not, you hear noone complaining then, but the exactly same situation only with the gender switched is suddendly sexistic?

  • Posted May 18, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never been disgusted or really disliked the Damsel in Distress, what I really am disgusted by is “she is a girl, and can therefore not be evil because she is being used or is misunderstanding everything”. Just show the lady what a real man is and she will recall her true, harmless self. YUCK

  • Posted May 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, Tony does blow up his suits and get surgery so it’s not like that story is left hanging or unresolved. I should have explained myself better or worded it differently. The other sentences after the passage you quote is: “It’s as if Pepper said, “Oh I almost died, got
    injected with some fiery shit and now you fixed me? Okay, we’re good now!” Um,
    no.” To me the ending was too tidy, as if everything is suddenly, magically better without any discussion. So it’s not that there wasn’t a resolution but rather they didn’t resolve their issues together.

  • Posted May 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Megan, for being the kind of ‘greedy feminist’ who will not be satisfied with a few measly crumbs from the Master’s table. It’s quite telling that filmmakers and other audience members expect us to be grateful for characters like Pepper Potts and the storylines they get.

  • Posted May 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Feminism vs. Fun.

  • Posted May 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Oh I absolutely agree with the larger point. I just read “I’ll fix this” in a way where it isn’t necessarily part of the problem.

  • Posted May 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    That’s right. You nailed it. We can all breathe a sigh of relief now that you solved that mystery. We feminists don’t give a fuck about fun.

  • Posted May 21, 2013 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting that you see Maya as betraying Pepper… to me it looked pretty clearly like she was trying to figure out a reason to keep Killian from killing Pepper. (“No, we can use her as a hostage! PLEASE DON’T MURDER ANYONE ELSE”)

    Otherwise, interesting commentary :)

  • Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! Yeah, at first I thought the same thing, that Maya was just placating Killian to stop him from harming Pepper. But if that were truly the case, Tony wouldn’t have had to try to convince Maya to change her ways.

  • Posted May 23, 2013 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Maya’s deception and then sudden change of heart was too unbelievable to me. I think this article hits it on the head. What if Maya had a change of heart after bonding with Pepper (makes more sense, anyway) and she and Pepper worked together to defeat Killian.
    Also, you’re right about the lack of choice for Pepper. I couldn’t put my finger on what was bugging me until I read this.

  • Posted May 23, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    The only exceptions I can readily think of are Will Smith movies.

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    I think that’s reaching just a bit. Place yourself in that situation: You’re pumped full of extremis, everyone in the world who knew about extremis are all dead now, except for Tony. You know that they thought Tony was the key to making extremis stable. And when you ask him if you’re going to be okay (asking to be cured of extremis is pretty damn implicit in that statement) he says he can fix it, going on further to say that he had it almost figured out back in 1999 when he was drunk, so he should be able to figure it out now. Knowing all of that, would you decide to seek help from someone else? I don’t really think you would. I certainly wouldn’t. Clearly using the term “fix” was some kind of trigger, but I really think it’s being taken in entirely the wrong way. Pepper has been pumped full of something that will potentially make her explode, whether she enjoyed that power or not I’m reasonably sure the last thing on her mind is getting to keep that power. She wants to live.

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Wesley Snipes, BLADE

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    You can’t be serious, can you? Every Will Smith movie. Every Samual L. Jackson movie. Every Morgan Freeman movie. Every Idris Elba movie. Shall I go on? You’re a bitching idiot without a point.

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Thank you! This is exactly what I was thinking as well. I’m fan of tons of male character, as well as female characters in lots of frenchises and movies (books, etc.)
    I really don’t understand why so many men pee their pants when we talk about having more strong and empowered female characters.

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Do you have a brain? Out of curiosity. Are people generally this dumb or does it take a lack of brain to achieve that?

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments! I’ve been mulling over what you wrote for awhile as you made some really interesting points. You mention the film isn’t called Iron Woman. You’re right, it’s called Iron Man. But one of the problems is that we don’t have a female-centric superhero film (aside from campy Super Girl and the horrendously abysmal Catwoman). Just because Pepper isn’t intended to be the star of the film doesn’t mean she can’t be a complex, intelligent and empowered character. Unfortunately, I felt she possessed far more agency in the other two Iron Man films and The Avengers. As I said in my article, my high expectations of Pepper’s role came from interviews with Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Feige.

    Perhaps you’re right that Maya needed time to ruminate over Pepper’s words. But I didn’t really get any indication from the film that Maya was a particularly complex person. And again, the movie made a choice – it could have had Pepper be the sole catalyst of her changing her mind. But instead it wanted to show that it was ultimately Tony her made her change her mind.

    I think your most interesting and compelling point is that Tony fails to save Pepper, that all his bravado and machismo is for naught. And I might agree with you if the ending as well as the rest of the film didn’t ultimately undercut Pepper’s voice and agency.

    The gender tropes in Iron Man 3 transcend this one film. Hollywood continually perpetuates objectification of women and reinforces the notion that women’s lives revolve around men. It’s not just the problem of individual films, it’s an institutional, systemic problem that we see reified over and over again. The media impacts how we see the world and ourselves.

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Spin Spin Spin. The writer leaves out some important aspects of the film that empower women, to spin the story:

    1) Both her and Tony got captured by the villains, so it’s not like she was the bait. If both characters are chained up, that’s hardly a rescue.

    2) Both her and Tony needs “fixing”, her with the virus and him with the PTSD. They help each other.

    3) Men did not empower her with super powers. The virus was invented by a woman. And she was injected against her will.

    The entire movie was about rescues. Rhodes rescues Tony, Pepper rescues Tony and the scientist, Tony rescues everyone else, etc, etc. I thought this was the right step for women’s equality in a super hero flick. If you really wanted to see all female super heroes, you will probably not find it in a film named Iron MAN. It think this film at least makes a good attempt.

  • Posted May 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Just because you disagree with me, doesn’t make it “spin.” And did you read my article? Because I wrote, “Maya, the botanist who invented the Extremis virus.” But Killian, not Maya, is the one who decides to inject Pepper. The two aspects of Pepper’s superpowers, the Iron Man suit and the Extremis virus, were both caused by men — Tony put the suit on her and Killian injected her.

    Yes, Pepper is used specifically as bait to lure Tony. Killian decides to kidnap Pepper and Maya explicitly says they need her to lure Tony.

    And as I stated in another comment, just because the film is named ‘Iron Man’ and Pepper isn’t intended to be the star of the film, doesn’t mean she (or other female characters in films) can’t be a complex, intelligent and empowered character. Even male-centric films don’t have to reinforce gender tropes and/or the idea that women’s lives revolve around men.

  • Posted May 29, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Imagine being a woman of color. Speaking of which, IM3 was incredibly ableist and I wish more there was more discussion about that as well. There always needs to be more discussion about all of those issues: representation of race, disability, women, poverty, and queerness in mainstream entertainment.

  • Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Pepper was even scared when she kicked ass. I’m pretty she even said it was ‘that was scary’. FFS

  • Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Wow. The responses your comment is getting are fucking terrible.

    Meanwhile, I agree with you completely. Rhodes was embarrassing! He was like Tony’s dog to boss around. There were a few scenes where he was allowed to a few witty retorts, but that seemed like an empty attempt to portray him as Tony’s equal, so people wouldn’t notice Rhode’s doggishness, like ‘see? Look at the banter between them! There are friends!’
    And yeah, sheesh. Being a black female just means you simply DON’T exist, I guess.

    ….. waits for a couple of white people to mention the one or two films they have seen with a black woman in it…..

  • Posted May 31, 2013 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Wow. Just wow. A feminist calling someone an idiot for believing that the ‘subservient black man’ trope is still in force. Obviously there are exceptions, he’s talking about patterns here, not hard rules.

    That’s like me saying the whole concept of the ‘damsel in distress’ is a trope invented by feminists to give them something to complain about and using Hit-Girl and Wonderwoman as my proof. It’s just silly . There isn’t a representative number of female superheroes, and there most definitely aren’t enough black male heroes either. Off the top of my head, I can think of… Power-Man? That’s about it really.

    And don’t even get me started on that shitstorm in the media which happened when they announced that Idris Elba was to be cast as a fictional Norse god.

    Heh. Racism doesn’t exist.

    Haha, good one.

    Seriously though, I think you might just be the worst feminist I’ve ever encountered. Off to Tumblr with ye.

  • Posted May 31, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Why would they need to resolve their issues together? Tony was being a dick not because their relationship was breaking down but due to very internal issues. He got over them, and Pepper was happy to have him back.

  • Posted May 31, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I specifically pointed out some sections where I disagreed with you. Of course I didn’t read your article! /rolls eyes.

    You may be correct that Pepper didn’t get enough awesomeness in this movie, but you have to keep it in perspective. This was an action packed super hero movie. And it follows the reoccurring theme that men usually have to drag their female counterparts with them to see this movie. Just because it only gives a little, and not enough for your tastes, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make the effort.

    Now if you want to watch a series where women kick butt, I suggest you subscribe to HBO and watch Game of Thrones. I’d like you to write an article about the lack of women owning everything there. No, I really am curious if you could spin Game of Thrones into a sort of Game of Men only theme.

  • Posted June 11, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I doubt you have a brain to understand this but I’m gonna say it anyways:

    There are more movies with important and empowered black men than there are movies about and with important and EMPOWERED women (black, white, green, yellow, pink, colour doesn’t fucking matter)

    Other than that you should stop smoking weed or at least try to see the world from a different perspective than your own. You’re the very example what’s wrong with this world and if it weren’t for people like you this species and this time could actually be pretty good.

    That is all.

  • Posted June 12, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I would of like to see her in total control while she was kicking ass with that virus. And not ‘theres something wrong with me tony fix me!’ or ‘it was my woman craziness’. Also that guy thought he could win he over with his brain Lol. But it would be good to see her using the virus as a super hero when tony tries to fix her.

  • Posted June 15, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    Can we please actually look at Pepper as a character, however?

    Pepper Potts, both in the comics and in the movies, dislikes violence heartily. She only engages in it when absolutely necessary, when it’s needed to save someone she cares about (like Tony at the end of the movie). Pepper doesn’t want Extremis. Pepper doesn’t want the suits. It isn’t about a man giving her power and then snatching it away: Pepper is perfectly at ease in her job as CEO, loves the power in that job, loves what she does, loves that playing field. Tony is the one with the suits and the battles; Pepper doesn’t like that scene. Hell, in the comics, when she does get her own suit, she only uses it to rescue other people rather than fight; her superhero name is just that. Rescue.

    So Pepper didn’t WANT any of that. This wasn’t about Tony fixing her or taking something away or any of that; as a character, she didn’t want that. She wanted normality, she wanted stability. And from another plot and character standpoint, Tony absolutely needed to fix the virus otherwise she was in danger of literally overheating and exploding. And that wouldn’t have been good for anyone.

    Pepper is empowered in this film because she turns everything on its side. Even Tony, who usually has a wisecrack for every little action, says that he has nothing as he sees Pepper come and save his life. But she saves it out of necessity, saves it because she wants to make sure Tony’s okay. Once that task is done, she wants it gone. It isn’t about a man taking something away; it’s that she, as a woman and as a person, doesn’t want any of that.

    At the end of the day, what I loved about this film was that, yes, Pepper Potts started out the film as a damsel in distress. I won’t try to play that down: She was taken as bait for Tony, to try and lure him in. But she didn’t just sit there and take it all. She, at the end of it all, was the one that ended up killing the bad guy, she was the one that ended up saving Iron Man, she was the one that ended it all and made sure that no one else got killed. It’s a huge contrast to the Marvel movies of yesteryear, where Mary Jane Watson in the Spiderman trilogy was literally getting kidnapped/mugged/dropped off buildings or bridges at every possible moment. I understand wanting more out of it, but this movie was a huge step in showing Hollywood and showing moviegoers that no, female characters in superhero movies don’t have to just be pretty things to stare at.

  • Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Did you perhaps consider that the discussion might have happened in the 1-3 months that would have been necessary to prepare for surgery? They probably just couldn’t fit it in. Although I will agree that the “fix you” line is a bit DID. Hopefully that’s still ambiguous enough for pepper to keep her powers and kick ass in the next movie (hopefully with better clothes!)

  • Posted July 7, 2013 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    Yes. Yes. Yes. This was a great review that expressed my dissatisfaction with Iron Man 3 and the progression of Pepper Potts’ character precisely.

  • Posted July 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Thank you :)

  • sophie9709
    Posted October 12, 2013 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    How come everybody has not noticed that the Extremitst virus was not perfect? It has an odd habit of blowing a person up and produce enough heat to kill everybody within a ’30 mile radius’. Even the biologist Maya warned Killean that he will overheat sooner or later and die. This is what Tony has to fix. Killean has basically anybody with the virus (including himself) into a ticking time bomb. This is what Stark is trying to fix. He wants the virus to be more stable so that it doesn’t blow up anybody he loves. This does not always mean Pepper loses her awesome regeneration powers though.

  • Mandolin
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    THANK YOU! Thats EXACTLY how I feel!

    • jag
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      great perspective. This is how people should look at characters and humans in general.

  • Mandolin
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    “Maybe I’m a greedy feminist but four minutes of ass-kicking does not automatically make an empowered female character shattering gender tropes, nor does it satiate my desire for a depiction of a nuanced, complex, strong female character. Sigh.”


    Just because a woman is a feminist does not mean she has to be some masculine version of herself. Pepper Potts is amazing, because she is who she is, and she is strong in so many ways. She doesn’t like violence. But when something needs to be done she does it. She is herself. Making her into some supped up sexy catwoman would be the same thing as making her a damsel.

  • Guest
    Posted April 18, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I certainly agree Tony went though a lot in this movie, and more than one character in a movie can certainly need rescuing. However DID is more of a specific trope; it’s when a women loses her power in the rescuing.- which as you said Tony didn’t have happen (he wasn’t emasculated).

    I would disagree that Pepper’s (seemingly) losing her powers so abruptly was ‘appropriate’. There’s no reason it needed to happen for the story to conclude. Though I’m hoping they meant that as a cliffhanger, like “are they really gone?” I’m also hoping they imply in Avengers too that Tony is still seeing a psychology (aka Bruce). PTSD doesn’t just go far as I know anyway. It doesn’t have to be in the forefront but even a brief mention about an appt time by Bruce would be appreciated.

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