What is so amazing about the women in Agents of SHIELD is how real their skills in their respective fields feel. The three women of Agents SHIELD don’t have skill in place of character: they have skill as an inextricable part of character. Skye, the hacker, learned her skill out of a desire to discover the truth of her past. Jemma Simmons, the scientist, not only speaks candidly about the isolation of pursuing advanced education in science, but has the tics and social awkwardness to show for it. And Agent May, the pilot and combat specialist, pursues the honing of her skills with a dedication that has a real human cost and a profound effect on the way she interacts with others. These are characters who worked hard to gain their skills, and who had to make very real sacrifices to make it to the tops of their respective fields.
Just as importantly, all three are women. I know it seems like an obvious thing to say, but their being women is about much more than just their gender. All three women are undeniably attractive, but all three also steer well clear of the impossibly beautiful supergenius trope that plagues intelligent women on screen. Each has a distinct personal style, just like real women do, from Skye’s slightly grungy casual, to Simmons’ buttoned-up preppiness, to May’s no-nonsense black combat gear. Better still, though there’s not a push-up bra or a high-heeled shoe in sight, none of the three women deny their femininity in the way they present themselves, either. Skye curls her hair and wears eye makeup. Simmons wears clothes that are practical for a lab, but that are coordinated and full of appealing feminine details. Even May, who could easily hide her body under androgynous combat fatigues, wears clothing that contours to her shape. She doesn’t flaunt her body, certainly; but she doesn’t deny it either.
But the very best thing about the women of Agents of SHIELD? The fact that they are women at the very top of traditionally male-dominated fields isn’t even remarked upon. Should we celebrate when women make strides in fields historically closed to them? Of course. But the mark of real progress in equality in those fields is when women can succeed in them because of course they can. That’s what makes the women of Agents of SHIELD so downright remarkable.