I am feeling alone, humorless and strident -- often the fate of the feminist yeti, that oft-sighted, hairy-legged, man-hating creature of legend (tragic sigh).
I have now read lots and lots of reviews of Iron Man, and many of them appear to fall into one of two categories: (1) Not a sexist movie and (2) Not any more sexist than your average summer action movie.
I still don't agree, with either! But I thought I'd broaden my scope and comment on why I think that is in more general terms.
First, to narrow down what separates a sexist movie from a movie that is just accurately reflecting the sexist aspects of our culture:
Q1: Is an action movie that has a male lead rather than a female lead sexist?
A1: No. There are roughly equal numbers of men and women in the world, and the lead role in action movies is often portrayed by a cop, a pilot, a soldier, a government agent, a superhero -- in all cases except the superhero (cause we don't actually have any running around to the best of my knowledge) in the real world, those people much more commonly are men. In the case of the fictional superhero literary personae, most of them are male as well, especially the farther back in time you go.
Q2: Is an action movie that has a female co-lead who is not physically heroic sexist?
A2: No. Most co-lead female characters who are not physically heroic are doctors, scientists, journalists, actresses, businesswomen, waitresses, hairdressers -- in real life, people in these professions often are not also superior athletes and/or have martial arts or weapons training.
Q3: Is an action movie in which some female characters are portrayed as dumb materialistic sluts or sniveling cowards sexist?
A3: No. There are sufficient numbers of women out there who are dumb, materialistic and have sex with a lot of different men, and who are afraid of their own shadow and comfortable with openly displaying it.
Q4: Is an action movie where the female co-lead must ever be rescued by the male co-lead sexist?
A4: No. People rescue each other all the time (in varying degrees of course) and as far as I know there's no gender test you have to pass first to be the rescuer or the rescuee. I personally have sort of been rescued by men before, even.
Q5: Is an action movie where a female character has sex and/or a relationship and/or wants to have sex and/or a relationship with the male lead who treats her anywhere from indifferently to disrespectfully to abusively, sexist?
A5: No. Unfortunately this happens often enough in real life.
Q6: Is an action movie that treats all the secondary female characters in it as completely one-dimensional, sexist?
A6: No, since all the male secondary characters are usually also completely one-dimensional.
Q7: Is an action movie that takes place in a historical setting and has no female characters at all other than a few non-speaking or barely speaking parts sexist?
A7: Not if there really weren't any women around during that time frame performing events significant to the plot, no (for example, a movie taking place on an 18th century British naval vessel).
Well, then, if all those don't make a movie particularly sexist, more so than just the culture it's reflecting, then what does ... ?
1. Where the majority of female characters are portrayed as physically inept and the majority of male characters are portrayed as physically adept.
2. Where the majority of female characters are portrayed as dumb materialistic sluts or sniveling cowards.
3. Where the majority of actions taken by a female co-lead result in her botching them, having to be rescued from them or couldn't have been completed without the complete and utter guidance of the male co-lead.
4. Where the sex and/or relationship and/or desire for either from a female character with the male lead who treats her indifferently, disrespectfully or abusively is portrayed favorably or humorously.
5. Where all the secondary female characters are completely one-dimensional but some secondary male characters are not.
6. When an action movie takes place in modern America in a city, town or rural countryside and there are either no female characters or a few non-speaking or barely speaking parts.
Let's see ... let's rate Iron Man!
1. Nope. Pepper Potts was a complete klutz, but Tony Stark wasn't portrayed as all that physically adept either.
5. Nope. Everyone except Tony Stark was pretty one-dimensional; the person with the next most character development was Pepper Potts.
So we have 3 out of 6 ... that's pretty high. The X-Men movies, for example, would score 0/6; the Fantastic Four movies would score 1/6; the Spiderman movies would score 1/6.
The feminist yeti rests her case!