Comic Meta

In Defense of Sharon Carter: Where Incest, Homophobia, and Misogyny Collide

The backlash against Sharon Carter and Emily Vancamp from both fans and even members of the MCU cast, since the first trailer of Civil War has been both frustrating and confusing to witness. It is a strange sort of argument that Sharon and Steve Roger’s romantic relationship is akin to incest within the narrative of the Captain America films. This is especially confusing when both Winter Soldier and Civil War don’t support the incest assertion. The overall backlash against Sharon Carter in the name of progressivism for queer characters, incest victims, and women appears more so to support misogynistic readings of female characters whilst erasing the existence of bisexual, pansexual men and women.

Is it strange for Steve to date his ex’s grand-niece? Out of context it is a bit strange, or at least questionable. More so because the question should arise, “what is Steve doing dating an ex’s family member?” instead of, “what on earth is Sharon doing dating her Aunt’s ex boyfriend, that’s incest, how dare she?”. Especially given comic canon history that positions Steve as the more aggressive party, activity pursuing Sharon because of his lost love of Peggy. Sharon – originally Peggy’s sister, then niece, now in the films grand-niece – was more a sexist trope of a man viewing women as interchangeable than a good romantic partner for Sharon herself. Of which is why she rejects him originally. Both Winter Soldier and Civil War update the origin of Sharon and Steve’s relationship by developing Sharon separate from both Steve and Peggy Carter.

Gif credit: http://buckybarnesss.tumblr.com/
Stucky: Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan in Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger

Yet, a majority of the pushback against the “Staron” ship is directed at Sharon for seemingly standing in the way of popular male/male fandom ship Stucky (Steve/Bucky Barnes) or pursuing her Grand-Aunt’s former flame.  Something neither Captain America film supports in the least. Though the assertion that Sharon isn’t a “real” love interest of Steve’s is not helped when the directors of Civil War, the Russo brothers, are calling the two “soulmates” (which could mean platonicly that’s certainly not how fans will take it as the Russo brothers no doubt understood).

Something that is an alarmingly common practice for writers, showrunners, producers, and directors; pushing a specific and popular ship to entice fans and drum up further interest for their show or film. Whether that ship will become canon due to popularity is always an aspect that remains to be seen. It is highly unlikely for most same-sex ships which instead will rely on various forms of queerbaiting subtext meant as would-be clever acknowledgements from the minds behind the media.

BCC’s Sherlock is a prime example of the writers and showrunners knowing about the large fandom that wishes to see Johnlock romantically involved, with the various asides and questions about their relationship being more than platonic. Something that is never followed through on.

Needless to say, Stucky was never going to happen in Civil War and will never happen in any of the MCU movies no matter how long fans trend #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend (of which most options proposed by fans were overwhelmingly white men and relied on disparaging Sharon in the process).

The fact that Stucky, Stony (as these are the two main ships supported by the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend  hashtag) aren’t canon, or Steve being straight in movie canon exist isn’t the fault of Sharon Carter. This is the fault of a studio and company’s lack of interest in pursuing stories of real queer characters in their media. There exists plenty of canonical queer characters in Marvel Comics canon that aren’t owned by FOX (who won’t even acknowledge their own queer characters such as Mystique).

Steve Roger’s original best friend, Arnie Roth who is a gay man, could have been worked into any of Captain America’s three movies. Comic book films adapt and change the stories of these characters all the time (Bucky Barnes, Natasha Romanoff, Baron Zemo, Ultron, Clint Barton, and even Tony Stark are all drastically different from their comic counterparts). There’s nothing preventing the inclusion of Arnie Roth of being included in the first Captain America film as a fellow soldier who grew up with him and Bucky. There was nothing preventing the Russo’s from including Arnie as another SHIELD agent that worked alongside Sharon. Instead Arnie wasn’t included in any capacity in Captain America’s franchise even though his inclusion would give the MCU landscape some much-needed queer representation in some form.

Captain America vol 1 #275 by J.M. DeMatteis (Writer), Mike Zeck (Pencils), John Beatty (Inks), and Don Warfield (Colors)

Either way, the blame lies with the fact that a majority of western media doesn’t acknowledge the existence or importance of including queer characters. The problem doesn’t exist with the female characters who do exist. The Staron-is-incest majority isn’t focused on real cases or concern for victims of incest, so much as focused on the fact that Sharon Carter isn’t Bucky Barnes. If the fans who place themselves as concern individuals over the validity of Sharon and Steve, and Peggy and Steve’s romantic relationships, we’d see less erasure of bisexuality and misogyny directed at Sharon Carter as a character and VanCamp as an actress.

In the context of the films, Steve and Sharon isn’t incest or even incest-lite. Steve was already attracted to Sharon before he ever even knew of her distant parentage in Winter Soldier. Steve only ever knew Sharon as an adult woman, with whom he felt attraction towards. Her identity in his mind was separate from Peggy’s. It wasn’t an episode of Law and Order: SVU where Uncle Steve was preying on young Sharon from an early age, watching her grow up into a young woman before pouncing through lies and manipulation. As the foreshadowing unfolds in Winter Soldier we see two adults – with a majority of the focus on Steve’s attraction not Sharon’s making the pushback against solely Sharon even more suspect – feeling mutual consensual attraction.

Chris Evans and Emily VanCamp as Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War

It’s a failing of the narrative of Civil War that Sharon wasn’t provided a better part in the story due to the needless inclusion of Spider-man, and the over emphasis of Tony Stark’s story. Civil War should have been a Captain America movie that focused on his relationships with his team, which includes Sharon Carter. It’s an unfortunate aspect of our western media that places more importance of male characters such as Tony Stark or Peter Parker above that of a female character, in this case Sharon. Who has been a part of Captain America comics for decades and is an important figure in his mythos.

I will readily admit, I wasn’t a fan of how Steve and Sharon’s relationship developed in Civil War. I’m not a fan of their relationship in the comic books either. But I respect Sharon’s place in the comics, and I respect her place in the movies. Whatever apathy I feel towards her and Steve’s romantic relationship, it is a failing of fans and our media that she has been sequentially treated so terribly. Sharon doesn’t exist to “force heterosexuality” and to suggest so reduces her character to a prize for Steve to sleep with and removes the responsibility of failing to develop her off the writers shoulders. This line of thinking also refuses to acknowledge any positive development female characters like Sharon do get within a narrative that favors – more often than not – white male characters above all others characters presented.

Thinkpieces by fans and journalists alike that position female characters like Sharon Carter as nothing more than heterosexual symbols meant to keep white male characters in popular male/male relationships locked in are both misogynistic and erases the existence of bi and pansexuality of both male and female characters.

Steve can have a relationship with Sharon and still be attracted to Sam Wilson later down the line. Sharon herself could identify as queer because we need more queer female characters that aren’t horrendously murdered week to week. Female characters do not solely exist to be presented and seen as sexual objects for male characters locking them into heterosexuality. Ignoring a female characters positive development and traits in favor of viewing them as only “heterosexual love interests” ignores the existence of queer women and reduces female characters to sexual objects.

Captain America Volume 5 #1, Ed Brubaker (W), Steve Epting (Pencils), Frank D’Armata (Colors)
Captain America Volume 5 #1, Ed Brubaker (W), Steve Epting (Pencils), Frank D’Armata (Colors)

Sharon Carter was a SHIELD agent, and then a spy who fought on the side of Steve Rogers without question. She did so because she felt it was the right thing to do and held fast in her own morals even in the face of HYDRA and the American government. It’s unfortunate that Civil War gave her so little to do, but the film still positioned her as a strong ally for Steve, Bucky, and Sam. It is a failing of the writing that she wasn’t included as a more active participant in the narrative but Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and Spider-man were.

This conversation isn’t a simple one. There is a problem in western media that presents female characters as sexual objects and only sexual objects. Prizes for the Indiana Jones, and James Bonds to ride off into the sunset with. There is a huge problem with the erasure of queer identities in movies and television (especially queer women) as something other than violently murdered martyrs, or tragic lesson pieces. There’s the entire erasure of people of color from the conversation period.

Steve Rogers hooking up with Bucky Barnes doesn’t solve any of these aspects of the conversation. If anything, the conversation pushing for Stucky often contributes to the continuing problems our media has regarding these marginalized groups.

This isn’t to say Stucky would be a bad thing if it were to happen in the MCU films. It wouldn’t be necessarily. But the conversation surrounding Stucky and as such surrounding Sharon Carter, does contribute to many of the problems that already exist in western media when it comes to queer identity, erasure, and women. Overall, the conversation surrounding Staron – as far as the MCU goes – is riddled with various isms.

Sharon Carter isn’t to blame for why Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes aren’t together. Sharon Carter isn’t to blame for why Steve Rogers isn’t gay or an out bisexual male character. Sharon Carter isn’t trying to spit on the memory of her Aunt Peggy. Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers aren’t an incestuous relationship. Sharon Carter is a character that wasn’t given a fully fair shake by the minds behind Civil War, and next to none whatsoever by fans.

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