Depictions of Women in STEM: Dr. Jane Foster

April 24, 2020

Written by: Alicen Ricard

Spoilers for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics.

With so much free time on my hands lately, I rewatched the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and as I did I found myself paying more attention to the women in STEM. Dr. Jane Foster was particularly interesting because she has a different career in both the comics and the movies, and she seems to be used as a plot device in both.  

Source: ScreenCrush

In the movies, Dr. Jane Foster, portrayed by Natalie Portman, is an astrophysicist that ends up working with Thor. She made a mathematical model about the kind of wormhole Thor uses to get to Earth. SHIELD, a spy organization that specializes in superhuman matters, confiscates her data and all her equipment. That’s about the extent of the science in the movie. It seems like she is a scientist only for the plot device of SHIELD stealing her information. Other than being a plot device, her other purpose in the first Thor movie is to be a love interest for Thor. 

In the second Thor movie, she is back investigating more portals to other worlds that have shown up. Dr. Foster ends up being sucked into one and taken to another world where she absorbs the Aether, which is a mysterious force. The rest of Thor: the Dark World is spent trying to get the force out of her, and she doesn’t end up doing any more science. 

Source: Wikipedia

In the comics, she has a different career. She starts out as a nurse, and then later becomes a doctor. Like the movies, she seems to mainly be there to be a love interest to Thor. She started out as a nurse under Dr. Blake (who was actually Thor in disguise). After they fell in love he made her a goddess, but Odin deemed her not worthy and sent her back to earth and erased her memories. She eventually got them back but only because she was dying and Thor saved her. In the early comics she had very little agency and wasn’t really her own character. 

Source: Wikipedia

Starting in 2014, a Thor series of comics started where Thor was no longer deemed worthy of being the god of thunder anymore and Jane became “the Mighty Thor”. At the same time, she was battling cancer, which using her new powers just made worse. Thor offered to heal her using magic, but she stuck to her science background and wanted to battle this herself using chemo. After she stops being Thor, she completes her chemotherapy. She then gets involved with Asgard again and becomes an Asgardian warrior called a valkyrie. At this point, she’s become a superhero and has abandoned her background as a doctor. 

In the next phase of Marvel movies, she is going to become Thor. It will be interesting to see if they will keep the same storyline that the comics did, or if she will still continue to be a scientist at the same time. Especially since the movies already changed what her career is. 



The former Obama Administration's White House fact sheet lists 3 goals for fictional representation of women in STEM. We are noticing a trend in the movies and television shows we have reviewed - they meet some of the following goals better than others.

1.  Include diverse STEM role models (past and present): Marvel is so vast, but if we're narrowing it down to just the Thor comics and movies, Jane is the only woman in STEM in the comics, and in the movies, 2 out of three people in STEM are women. The movie meets this goal and the comics don't. 

2. Highlight the breadth of STEM careers and social impacts: In the comics she is a doctor and in the movies she is an astrophysicist, which is pretty cool. Those are the only fields represented. Neither medium meets this goal. 

 3.  Debunk STEM stigmas and misconceptions: Jane is used as a love interest and her science isn't taken seriously. Both her careers aren't explained and are portrayed stereotypically. Neither medium meets this goal.

You can check out our blog post about Shuri, who is also from the MCU, here