How Green Women Have Evolved in Pop Culture, From Orion Slaves to She-Hulk

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law stars Tatiana Maslany as Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) cousin Jennifer Walter, who navigated balancing her new hulk abilities with her career as an attorney in New York City. However, after the series’ first trailer, fans were surprised by She-Hulk’s physique, which was significantly less muscular and imposing than expected. But comparing She-Hulk with one of the first green-skinned women in sci-fi television, Orion women from Star Trekillustrates how far female representation has progressed and how much further it still needs to go.

Instead of the behemoth monster audiences expected, She-Hulk gets reshaped to be more “lady-like.” It harkens to the Orion females species, which rose to prominence in the 1960s on Start Trek: The Original Series. In both cases, the women are portrayed as “empowered” but only within certain limits that studios believe would be acceptable to viewers. Women can be strong and empowered as long as that empowers gets filtered through the male gaze.

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Even though female-led superhero features have made significant progress, Marvel was initially hesitant to support women-centered projects. The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man in 2008, but it was another 11 years before the first Marvel female superhero took center stage. Captain Marvel was the first female-led solo film in the franchise, but its release was divisive among fans, and the second female outing, Black Widow got heavily delayed and released after the titular character’s death in Avengers: Infinity War.

And studios expect women to support these films but are only willing to display female power in ways that are non-threatening to men. Superheroines still fight in short skirts, a trope the DC Extended Universe film Birds of Prey highlighted when the women secured their long hair before fights. And the message getting regurgitated to viewers is that women are only allowed to be powerful if they remain sexually attractive. That’s how this reimagining of She-Hulk is similar to Star Trek’s hypersexualized Orion women.

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The cultural abuse of the entire Orion female population gets justified by the men of the Federation by explaining how the women have an “insatiable lust,” implying the victims of a sex slave trade are willing and eager participants. The insensitivity of the concept illustrates the harmful and ignorant conceptions about female sexual consent. It was also a reflection of attitudes of the time that hyper-sexualized particular ethnicities for their “foreign” and “alien” beauty. It’s even later revealed that the women are somehow the true masters of their planet, controlling the men with the power of their sex appeal.

In an attempt to rectify outdated and sexist depictions of the Orion women, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek film enrolled an Orion woman at the Starfleet Academy. However, she spends most of her screen time in sexual situations with James T. Kirk. Thankfully, a more successful example came years later with Tendi on Star Trek: Lower Deckswho actually gets to wear her uniform rather than a stringed bikini.

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Much like Tendi, in her comic portrayal, She-Hulk’s physical strength and intelligence are emphasized rather than her sex appeal. Now, that doesn’t mean she got stripped of her sexuality — instead, she owns it and is a fresh alternative to conventional lady-like superheroes. Unfortunately, that depiction doesn’t appear to have found its way to live-action. Instead, She-Hulk’s more muscular and imposing physical attributes get exchanged for features that play into the male desire, proving that studios still have a lot of work to do.

To see Jennifer Walters’ live-action debut, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law smashes its way onto Disney+ in August.


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