When Iron Manthe first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, came out in 2008, my husband and I went to see it at one of our weekly parties. We were obviously out of ideas for activities that would interest us both. I had never picked up a comic of any kind. Even so, the movie was surprisingly entertaining, and I’ve (more willingly) seen nearly every MCU offering since.
At first, Marvel movies focused mostly on white men with extreme wealth (Iron Man), superhuman strength (Thor and Hulk), or special powers (Captain America). The MCU has thankfully branched out, though, and its latest giveaway has finally provided a character I feel is related.
She-Hulk: Lawyer is a nine-episode series on Disney+. Tatiana Maslany stars as Jen Walters, a lawyer who becomes the Hulk when some of her cousin Bruce Banner/Hulk’s blood mixes with hers following a car accident. However, this show is less about a petite woman learning how and when to smash the Hulk. It is about her efforts to do her job well and to be taken seriously by her peers and the public.
My first hint that it would be a different kind of Marvel fare came in the first episode. Hulk attempts to train the yet unknown She-Hulk. Banner is known for “hulking out” and destroying anything in his reach when he gets angry, and he tells Jen that she too will have to learn to control her rage.
She responds, “Here’s the thing, Bruce. I’m good at controlling my anger. I do it all the time. When someone calls me on the street. When incompetent men explain my area of expertise to me. I do this pretty much every day, because if I don’t I will be called emotional or difficult or I could literally be murdered. So I’m an expert at controlling my anger because I do so much more than you!”
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“Being the female version of the normative male follows her through her professional life.”
As the show progresses, it becomes a light but no less real look at the lives of women, especially professional women. The superhero name Jen is given by the media, She-Hulk, is derived from the male Hulk. Being the female version of the normative male follows her into her professional life when she and several of her peers are given the title Female Lawyer of the year. (The winners are arranged on stage like in a beauty pageant and the emcee asks them what it’s like to be the lawyer of the year, a question that sounds like one that might be asked of contestants in a contest.)
In her professional life, Jen cannot win. She is fired from her job at the district attorney’s office for being a distraction after She-Hulk fights a villain in the courtroom. She is then hired by a company as a novelty and tasked only with coming to work as She-Hulk. In her personal life, Jen jumps into a dating app only to see her inbox explode once she creates a profile for She-Hulk. It’s clear from the dates she pursues that men fetishize her Hulked-out body and are otherwise not interested in Jen the person. Jen/She-Hulk’s personal life overlaps with her professional life when she is forced to use these terrible dates as legal proof that she has a legitimate claim to the She-Hulk name.
These aren’t the only dilemmas Jen/She-Hulk faces. There is constant criticism of her clothes. She can only wear men’s costumes, because no one makes professional clothing for a woman of She-Hulk’s stature. She is targeted online by detractors to death threats. She-Hulk is largely uninterested in these messages – after all, the likelihood of physical harm is negligible in her invulnerable state – until online malevolents fill the big screen behind the recipients of the lawyer of the year. very personal images obtained illegally.
While many professional women could relate to Jen/She-Hulk, as a clergyman, I winced at every slight Jen endured. Women clergy are often misrepresented, whether by pastoral peers or members of their congregations, and we have learned to respond using a limited emotional range in order to be heard. We are harassed and must make difficult choices between exposing our aggressors or keeping our positions.
We are called “lady ministers” or even “little pastors” instead of the actual titles bestowed upon us. We are told that some churches are not ready for our leadership because our physical presence distracts from the gospel message while other congregations call us just to congratulate themselves on having a woman in the pulpit.
“Our choices of clothes, shoes, hairstyle and accessories can become obsessions for parishioners.”
Our personal lives become the subject of public conversations, whether people talk about who we date or how we raise our children. Our choices of clothes, shoes, hairstyle and accessories can become obsessions among parishioners, either because that’s all they see or because they’re looking for a way to prove that we shouldn’t. not take us seriously (red nail polish on a woman of God?!).
The very fact of our right exist and serve is a regular debate on social networks. All of this prevents women clergy from fully living their callings and churches from benefiting from all that these leaders have to offer.
I have the privilege of training a number of women clergy and knowing many more. They are gifted, loyal, innovative, intelligent and compassionate leaders. I hope your church has experienced this or soon will.
Here’s what you can do to support women clergy:
Get to know them. We are in ministry because we love God, God’s people and Christ’s church. We would love to tell you what excites us about ministry and to hear your stories and interests.
Call them “pastor”. This is in a literal sense (in other words, avoid diminutive and derived terms) and in a very practical sense. Listen to our sermons. Receive the pastoral care we are eager to provide. Marvel and dream alongside us of what might be possible with God’s help.
Celebrate the range of perspectives and gifts they offer. Yes, we will probably preach in a different register than your last pastor. We could lead with a different style. These are good things. It takes all of us together to live in the full image of God in which we were created.
Respect their personal life. On the one hand, it means letting ourselves have our time rather than assuming that we are always available. (Please do this for any pastor.) On the other hand, please give us the opportunity to initiate and develop relationships of all kinds outside the confines of our pastoral roles. We are people as well as pastors.
Refrain from making comments about or about them that you would deem inappropriate for a pastor who happens to be a man. A good test is, “Would I say this about/to the pastor (insert the name of a current or former male leader in your congregation)?” Women in the clergy are often asked questions or talked about fashion, weight, motherhood and childcare in ways that men do not.
In the She-Hulk finale, Jen breaks the fourth wall to confront KEVIN, the AI version of the current architect of the MCU. Jen/She-Hulk doesn’t like how the finale reduces her to a minor character in her own story, so she demands agency and some attention to emotional stakes.
It is also what we women clergy want to be seen and appreciated for who we are and what we bring to the role of pastor. When you bless us with your trust, I hope you too will be blessed with our leadership.
Laura Stephens-Reed has been in ministry for 20 years, serving in a variety of roles and settings. His ministry now is to accompany clergy and congregations through all kinds of transitions with fidelity and curiosity. Laura is based in Northport, Alabama, but works with pastors and churches across North America and in 17 denominations.
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