It’s official faux-feminists. I’m-a callin’ you out. *straps on six-guns*
According to Webster.com the definition of feminism is the following:
: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests
So, therefore, explain to me how the depiction of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in Age of Ultron is being seen as sexist? Because it’s been over a week, I just came back from my second viewing of the film, and I am just not seeing it.
What I’m seeing is something else entirely.
In case you’re stumbling across this blog post with no prior knowledge of who and what I am, I’m a girl. A Black girl. A Black Girl Nerd, in fact, and I have been since I was old enough to watch television and realize that Batman is someone I wanted to emulate at the earliest possible moment. I wouldn’t call myself a full-blown kick-down-your-door-and-scream-in-your-face feminist, but I am one. I want my ladies, both in real life and in fiction, to be represented in every possible way and to have every single right that they have earned through blood, sweat, and tears. I want writers to push past the easy stereotypes and write women of every kind as long as said writing is not only realistic and reflective of women as a whole, but also as diverse and layered as the kind used for writing men.
If you want to talk about Natasha Romanoff then I’m eager to begin, because this woman has been on quite a journey from her introduction in Iron Man 2. Natasha started out getting her feet wet by being gorgeous and tight-lipped for the most part, and I actually had zero opinion of her after I saw the film. I knew of her—that she was a former assassin turned good guy thanks to Nick Fury, Clint Barton, and SHIELD and that she had some friction with Tony Stark—but otherwise she wasn’t even a blip on my radar. After all, in Iron Man 2, she didn’t get to do quite a lot other than have some really overcomplicated takedowns that looked badass and this didn’t give me much to go on other than she looks super cool beating down bad guys.
Then The Avengers came along. Holy shitsnacks. This is precisely what I had been missing from both ScarJo and Nat in general. We see beneath the hotness in a jumpsuit. We see that she has an excellent sense of humor and a wonderfully cool mask, but she also has a drive, a need, and a purpose not only with S.H.I.E.L.D., but also with the other Avengers. Furthermore, we see that Natasha is not only devoted, but cunning beyond measure. Everyone has a favorite moment from The Avengers—hell, the entire damn movie is just one continuous block of Crowning Moment of Awesome—but one of my all-time favorite scenes is still Natasha confronting Loki. It’s beautiful. How she starts off so calm and collected, and then Loki delves into her sordid, ugly past and digs up the reason why she is so determined to save her best friend, and then the entire experience is up-ended when it’s revealed that she was carefully playing on Loki’s ego and mad desire for revenge in order to find out his ultimate goal. Not one other member of that team could have done what Nat did. No one. That moment solidified the reason why Natasha is an Avenger. She may not have all the strength of Thor or Captain America, or the technological brilliance of Tony or Bruce, or the sharpshooting abilities of Hawkeye, but Nat is there for a reason. She adds something to that team, something that they most certainly needed, something that they could not have won the day without. Natasha is not a pretty accessory. Natasha has weight to her character, and that leads me into her next appearance.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the exact moment I fell in love with Natasha Romanoff. She became every single thing I’ve ever wanted in a female hero that I haven’t been able to get just yet (though I personally did really enjoy Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, and shut up, I don’t care if you don’t agree). The Avengers introduced us to Nat, but this is the film where the onion starts to peel and we see the layers beneath. I adore Nat and Steve together, as partners, as friends, and I admit I actually did see a little spark of attraction there as well, even if Nat’s intentions for Bruce come up in Age of Ultron. I love that she’s so laidback and teasing with him, but then at the same time there is real conflict beneath her seemingly easy company. The two of them have very different approaches to saving the day; Steve thinks everything is black and white while Nat sees only the grey. I especially loved the conversation they had in the truck on the way to New Jersey, where she asks what he wants from her, and he simply tells her the truth. Then there’s that incredible scene at Sam’s place where he says that he’d trust her with his life now that they’ve been through hell and back. I love that Steve could tell Nat was shaken by finding out that SHIELD was Hydra all along, and I think it adds something even deeper to what she goes through in Age of Ultron, which we’ll get to in a second. Nat’s “red in my ledger” comment is the baseline of her character development. She’s been trying so hard to wipe out that gushing red, and to discover that SHIELD, the organization that saved her life and put her on the right path, was still evil at its core, was the worst thing that could happen to her. But she puts her trust in Steve and Sam and the others and they get the work done destroying Hydra’s plan, and once again, she is shown to be beyond competent and essential to the mission, stopping Pierce and saving literally millions of lives.
Now it’s time to discuss Age of Ultron. By now, we have a glimpse of Nat’s past, what motivates her to still work for SHIELD, and that she’s perfectly comfortable with her teammates. First off, I do admit I’m not a big fan of the Nat/Bruce ship, but that’s not the fault of the writing for me. I just don’t see chemistry between ScarJo and Ruffalo, that’s all. I think she had way more heat and tension with Evans, but that might also be because the two have worked together before in the Nanny Diaries and in Winter Soldier, so keep that in mind. However, this is where my problem with the faux feminists starts.
First of all, how is it sexist that Nat has a romantic arc with Bruce when literally every single Avenger so far has a love interest BEFORE it got to her? Tony has Pepper, Steve had Peggy, Bruce had Betty, Thor had Jane, and Hawkeye had his wife. I’m not kidding. All of them have a romantic relationship BEFORE Nat does, and all of said romances were fully explored and have an impact on our heroes. So does Nat and Bruce’s relationship. I’m not understanding the claim of sexism here. Hell, let’s check Webster yet again for a definition:
Sexism (n): prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women
: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
Nope. Still not seeing it. Where is the sexism in Nat developing an attraction to Bruce, who is quiet, brilliant, kind-hearted, brave, and has shown her nothing but respect since they met? Where is the unfair treatment of this character? She is getting the same amount of attention towards romance that the other heroes received. How does it diminish who she is to want to share her feelings, both physical and emotional, with someone she likes?
Moving on; apparently the other outcry of the faux feminists is that Nat’s reveal about being sterile is also somehow sexist. Again, I’m a girl. I’ve watched this movie two separate times a week apart, and I cannot see any sexism on the part of the writers/director. Are they trying to say that dealing with her sterility is sexist? How? Men and women ARE different. Women DO have issues that men will never have to deal with. Nat’s sterility is definitely something that would impact her negatively and make her feel utterly destroyed if thrown back into her face after what we assume is probably years of repression. She was a weapon, programmed and commanded to do things against her will, and that abuse shaped how she acted for years. Furthermore, how is it sexist to write that it made her turn that negativity onto herself when Bruce brought up not being able to have a family? If it’s the way she phrased being a monster, fine, that wasn’t phrased correctly, but I don’t see how that is reinforcing a stereotype or a negative generalization about women. Infertility is an issue that affects all women, whether they want to ever bear children or not. I personally don’t really want any kids at this point in my life; I might never get to that point, and I don’t even have a boyfriend. That is a relevant issue to women. Why is Nat getting hatred, and subsequently, why is Joss Whedon and his writers getting flak for discussing a modern, relevant issue that women deal with? Wouldn’t it be sexist to gloss over it? Wouldn’t it be sexist to ignore her background and not discuss what has made her want to bond with Bruce? To make her a one dimensional character who is just a pair of tits of a punchline?
This is why I finally decided to make a blog post discussing the issue. I think that feminism has been corrupted by one specific group of women who like to take this word and warp it into an excuse to complain. Do you want proof? Fine. I’ll give you some examples.
They complain about Nat, but they ignore the fact that Darcy, the brunette from Thor, quite literally did not do ONE plot relevant thing in the entire movie. She was just there to be pretty and crack jokes and so the twenty-something boys would have someone to ogle other than Natalie Portman.
They complain about Nat, but then they scream and rage about Jane falling in love with Thor even though Thor’s entire actions in the first movie were a direct result of things that Jane helped him do, and he would not have been able to regain Mjolnir or defeat Loki without Jane’s help. It makes perfect sense that Thor fell for her because of how smart and sweet and brave and willing to learn she was, and it made sense for Jane to fall for Thor because he was a gentleman and he sacrificed himself to save a town full of people as well as her from his brother’s wrath.
They complain about Nat, but they actively worship Loki: a selfish, spoiled, entitled prick who chose to ignore years of kinship with Thor and Odin because his ego and inferiority complex took over. They constantly make excuses for him, saying it’s all Odin’s fault or all Thor’s fault, that Loki went mad with the notion that he was to be king. They say that he was just “misunderstood” when he came to earth, gleefully killing innocent people, and intending to enslave mankind not for our own good, but because he wants to be king of the mountain. They blame Thor for being a bully, and ignore the fact that Thor gave Loki chance after chance after chance to reform and do the right thing, even at the risk of his own life, and that Thor still loved Loki even at the moment of his passing.
They complain about Nat, but they try to justify the actions of Grant Ward from Agents of SHIELD, who has a boo-hoo abusive backstory that in no way justifies his constant ass-hattery and decision to be an evil, remorseless arrogant son of a bitch time and time again. He has murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and blamed everyone but himself for his own actions, and he has made it clear that his wants and needs exceed everyone else’s. He refuses to apologize to the people who he betrayed and tried to kill several times, and yet these same women create entire groups to “stand” with him and protest that he’s not a monster when we have physical evidence that he is.
So yes, I use the term “faux-feminist” with no reservations whatsoever when addressing the people who claim that Nat is a bad character written by a “sexist.” All she is as of right now is a lightning rod that they are using to do what their actual agenda is: to stomp their little feet and fight fire with fire. Feminism is NOT about bullying men, or bullying women who disagree with you. Feminism is NOT about throwing so much hatred at someone that they feel the need to remove themselves from a social media environment. Feminism is NOT about treating men like shit so that they “understand” what women go through. Feminism is about finding middle ground so that men understand that women are to be written competently and realistically instead of being objectified or ignored.
Natasha Romanoff was not being objectified or ignored. She had an actual character arc. She had a personality. She had a mission. She was relevant, three-dimensional, and realistic. Does she do things that some of us disagree with? Of course she does. But that is what makes her an actual character. Real characters make mistakes. They screw up. They have faults. That is what the end goal is for feminism. We want to see women who aren’t perfect goddesses or complete screw ups. We want to see women who are both, and every shade in between, and that is exactly what Natasha Romanoff has become from her first appearance to her current one. You don’t have to like her. But you have to appreciate her because she is a fully formed character with motivations, a fleshed out personality with layers, and a background that has been explored that affects her behavior.
You wanna complain about Age of Ultron? Be my guest. The movie is by no stretch perfect. It has flaws, and you are welcome to discuss them. But don’t you dare plant that fake-ass feminist flag and proclaim that it’s tearing down women when you have Natasha Romanoff out there kicking ass and being developed and proving that you don’t need a dick to be a fantastic hero. That ain’t feminism. That’s being a dick.
And I’m pretty sure that’s not what feminism is about.
Kyoko M is an author, a fangirl, and an avid book reader. Her debut novel, The Black Parade, made it through the first round of Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. She participated and completed the 2011 National Novel Writing Month competition. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit degree from the University of Georgia, which gave her every valid excuse to devour book after book with a concentration in Greek mythology and Christian mythology. When not working feverishly on a manuscript (or two), she can be found buried under her Dashboard on Tumblr, or chatting with fellow nerds on Twitter, or curled up with a good Harry Dresden novel on a warm central Florida night. Like any author, she wants nothing more than to contribute something great to the best profession in the world, no matter how small.