Alright folks, I’m wading into the deep in here. Wish me luck.
The internet has been ablaze in the last week over Marvel’s new film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Several news outlets, blogs and the unwashed masses of Twitter have gotten all bunched up over the way Black Widow, Natasha Romanov is portrayed in the film. The list of crimes accuses Marvel and Joss Whedon of giving female heroes less attention, making them secondary characters, and, in Romanov’s case, placing motherhood and monsterhood as opposite ends of the female spectrum.
I’ll admit they have some valid points on the first two criticisms. I wish there were more female heroes for my girls to look up to. I also wish comics would dress them better. I’m not of fan of how hyper-sexualized women are in comics, but at least the men are drawn with physiques just as unattainable. (For real, I have pretty muscular legs and I can’t get my quads and hamstrings to ripple through chainmail.)
I have to challenge them on the last argument though.
To set the scene for the debate: (spoilers for the movie from here on out). Black Widow is shown to have some level of control over the Hulk, a beauty and the beast dynamic. At an afterparty, Romanov and Banner (the humans behind the heroes) have a romance beginning with Romanov as the aggressor. She’s the take charge, confident one, while Banner is befuddled, shy and introverted. They’re both holding secrets. He pushed people away because of his habit of turning into a giant green rage monster. Her spy training required her to do things that would have an effect on anyone, let alone a teenage girl.
Later, she presses him. He barks that a relationship is a bad idea. He can’t give her a family, can’t ever be safe, can’t ever be in complete control of his rage. ANY father can empathize. How many times have you lost your cool? What if that meant turning into the Hulk? Yeah, not a good situation. She replies by opening herself up in a way nobody could see coming. She was trained from a very, very young age (7? 8?) to be a KGB spy. We’ve seen what the Black Widows are capable of (it ain’t pretty.) As part of her ‘graduation’, she was surgically sterilized to “make sure nothing could even come before the mission.” Banner is shocked, the audience is shocked. As a young girl, not only was she made to be a killer, but a future that many of us would call the norm, was taken away from her. She finishes by saying ‘you’re not the only monster on this team.”
Those 8 words set off the internet. The argument is that her inability to be a mother makes her a monster.
That’s a load of bull!
They took away her ability to have a child. They didn’t take away her ability to nurture, care and parent. We actually see some of this with the Hulk. Her ‘mothering’ instincts are on display with Hawkeye’s family, her relationship with Hawkeye in the first film, and I’d argue in every scene where she holds her own with the Avengers. Come on, you’ve got a literal Norse god, a super soldier, a billionaire genius playboy: it’s amazing she’s not growing a beard being around that much testosterone!!!!
They took away her ability to have a child because seduction is part of the job. You don’t want a bunch of pregnant super spies running around. You also don’t want them prioritizing the pregnancy, a birthday, a soccer game, over the next mission.
So why is she a monster?
It’s a sum of everything. It’s the psychological damage inflicted upon her as part of her training. It’s the lengths she’s willing to goto, to get what she needs. It’s the the idea that since 7 or 8 years old she was cuffed to a bed every night, trained to kill, to fight, to manipulate and lie. She wasn’t a person all this time, she was a tool of the government. She can be anything she needs to be in order to complete the mission.
We’d all love to be a Norse God, a physically perfect human, or have the genius to build a flying suit of armor. Would any of us want to cause millions in damage when we lose our temper, like Banner? Would any of us want to be Black Widow? Would any of us want to have to fight to get past that kind of baggage??? NO! No way at all! Romanov and Banner are monsters because of the monster they fight to control. His is just easier to spot when it gets out.
So in that scene, she’s letting him know that he’s not alone. He’s got someone on the team who knows exactly what he feels, and why. They’ve got more in common with one another than they have with anyone else on the team. Thor and Cap are incapable of being anything worse than insufferable good guys. Stark is a jerk, but he owns it and tries to channel it into good things. Hawkeye just wants to go home to his family and convert the dining room into an office for his wife.
These are issues Banner and Romanov WISH they had.
Agree? Disagree? Are you Joss Whedon? Let me know in the comments.