The Black Widow that I saw in the theater

I’m not female.

There, the cat is out of the bag. In all things, my perceptions are filtered through the eyes of a man. Keep that in mind as you read this. I’m not an expert on these subjects, and often find myself completely mystified when strong opinions swirl around particular subjects. I listen as best I can, try to understand and empathize, but I can’t actually know what it’s like to be female.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has been quite the hot topic as of late. In particular, some people are upset with the portrayal of the character Black Widow. I’ve read a bunch of write-ups on this to a) try and understand the various viewpoints, and b) as a creator of fiction, when the Internet goes off on another creator I want to see what landmines have been stepped upon.

Because if Joss “Strong Female Character” Whedon* can be taken to task as a sexist, so can anyone else. So can everyone else.

Yes-yes, I know, it’s just a comic book movie. To you, perhaps, but not to everyone. AGE OF ULTRON has become a focal point in an ongoing discussion about sexism in entertainment.

Today I read a fascinating take on the situation over at NPR, written by Linda Holmes. This post had two great points. First, if you don’t get why people are fired up about each and every female role in scifi/comic-book movies, her analogy using the importance of a single MLB game vs. a single NFL game is fucking fantastic. Dead-on and I wish I’d though of it. Second, she makes a key point that if you swapped gender of any Avenger in the movie, people would still be up in arms about how that character reinforced female stereotypes or diminished women in general. Translation: sometimes creators just can’t win. Great read.

But some of the other great points in that post – just like most of the posts I’ve read on the subject — had me shaking my head and thinking either I don’t see that at all or I completely missed that when I watched the movie.

That latter bit is what I’m writing about here. If there is sexism in this movie, most of it went right over my head. I didn’t see the same Black Widow that others seemed to see. That could make me less of a sexist, because I was oblivious to it, or more of a sexist, because I was oblivious to it. That depends on the views of the person reading this, I suppose.

I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is how I felt about Black Widow while I watched the flick. I just didn’t see what many other saw. I saw an awesome, kick-ass character, my favorite in the whole movie (I’ll explain why she’s my favorite at the end of the post). She’s female? I didn’t give a shit. I also didn’t give a shit about the gender of other characters. The fact that I feel that way is, as some people see it, a key part of their point. They see blatant sexism, and I see nothing at all (well, almost nothing).

In retrospect, after seeing the points of other people, I better understand why there are cries of “sexism!” But when I watched it in real-time, here’s what I thought:

Black Widow is flat-out bad-ass:
She gots no super powers. No powered armor. Training? Sure. Swagger? Absolutely. Skills? You know it. But powers? Zero. This isn’t Wolverine: for Natasha Romanov, a bullet to the head = dead. Out of all the Avengers, Black Widow is my “everyman.” She’s the people in the seats, not someone who can single-handedly tear a tank to shreds while laughing as bullets bounce off her chest. Hawkeye has that same feel, but I don’t connect with Jeremy Renner’s performance the way I do with Scarlett Johanson’s. Renner is a fine actor, sure, but in the context of the Marvell Universe he feels wooden to me. He’s Renner playing Hawkeye, while I forget Scarlett is Scarlett and see only Black Widow. Therefore, up on the screen, she feels like my own kind, and that makes me root for her the most.

Black Widow calms down Hulk:
These scenes are viewed as sexist by some. What I saw was this: “Holy shit — is she crazy? She’s trying to calm down the Hulk by herself? No armor? No supernatural god-like powers? Did she not see Hulk randomly smash the crap out of Thor in the last flick?”

One punch like that against BW and she’s dead. She doesn’t have superpowers, remember? Yet into the breach she goes, risking her life to do something no other Avenger can do. Is this a sexist Beauty & The Beast trope? Maybe, but if so, the trope was lost on me. I saw an insane amount of courage and confidence. Unfortunately, the only ready phrase in my personal lexicon for this act is more than a bit sexist in itself: Black Widow got a pair of giant brass balls on her.

Black Widow picks up Caps shield:
Another element that some found sexist was BW scooping up Cap’s shield while riding on the back of a bitchin’ motorcycle. As in: she’s only good enough to pick up the men’s toys. Granted, her line “I’m always picking up after you boys” feeds directly into that perception, but, again, I didn’t see sexism or belittling. What I saw was one Avenger doing a sweet one-handed move off the back of a bitchin’ motorcycle going like 80 miles an hour so she could have her buddy’s back. Or, in the words of Tenacious D:

Black Widow bartending**:
Out of all the potentially sexist things in the movie, this was the only one to give me pause. At first, I assumed she was bartending because there was information to be gleaned, that someone at the party had details and Natasha was doing what Natasha does, playing possum, preparing to manipulate some evil-doer. As the scene progressed and I saw she was, indeed, just slinging drinks, I thought: Tony Stark doesn’t have enough cash to hire a freakin’ bartender? I was all, why is the only chick on the team pouring booze while everyone else gets tanked? Honestly, I still don’t get it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some deleted scene that better explains this.

Rescuing Lil’ Baby Vision
Despite having no superpowers, Black Widow rides a bitchin’ motorcycle out of a freakin’ hoverjet, hits the ground like a bat out of hell, and wreaks havoc. She’s shooting at Ultron (or one of the Ultrons, I can’t recall), winds up solo in the back of an enemy vehicle, sends it sailing to her buddy, then does some sick-ass gymkata shit to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft and land on another — even though she’s got no chute, wings, and can’t fly.

I’m pretty sure this scene hasn’t drawn any accusations of sexism. If so, I’m missing that as well. She was bad-ass.

“You think you’re the only monster on this team?”
This is the big one that anchored much of the outrage. The Internet Perception is that Natasha Romanov thinks she’s a monster because she can’t have children. As in, you wimmins are good for breedin’ and if you can’t do that, well, then you ain’t much good to this here village. I get why this has sparked some outrage — if that’s how you interpreted the scene, I see why you felt it’s a pretty fucking outrageously bad bit of writing.

But yet again, that’s not what I heard at all when I watched the movie. First of all, we’ve seen Black Widow tell people what they want to or need to hear, time and time again. She’s a master manipulator. She outsmarted smarmy Russian dudes, took a beating to get the info she wanted to get. She outsmarted the God of Mischief, for fuck’s sake. She’s an expert at reading emotions and knowing what to say to get people to do what she wants. That skill set also makes her incredibly empathetic. If she’s the one comforting you, she knows what you need to hear.

Second, we just finished listening to Bruce Banner’s anguish that he can’t have a family, and therefore has nothing to offer Natasha. Banner’s self-identity, in this instance, comes down to procreation. Them mens cain’t have babies, so they’s no good to this here village. Natasha empathizes with him in this regard, shares that she has the same issue — but when she calls herself a monster, I didn’t see infertility as the reason.

What I heard her say was this: You think you’ve got it bad? I was trained all my life to be a killer, and I killed a shit-ton of people for a cause that turned out to be bullshit. They turned me into a death machine and took away any chance at a life I don’t even know if I want, they took away my ability to choose. Yet here I am, doing the best I can — if I can do that, so can you.  

Did I mention up above I’m not female? I think I did. So maybe that’s why I missed this in theater. All I can tell you is my gut reaction to her speech: she was there for her friend, and she exposed her own vulnerabilities to try and help him deal with his shitty situation.

She’s my favorite character in the movie, and here’s why:
More than any other Avenger, I identified with Johanson’s Black Widow

• She wasn’t born rich like Tony Stark, with all the benefits that go with limitless piles of money
• She wasn’t born with crazy genetics like Steve Rogers (genetically modified, yes, but for the metaphor, he got that body without having to spend years in the gym)
• She wasn’t born a super genius like Banner or Stark
• She wasn’t born a freakin’ god.

Natasha Romanov is just a human being. She was given nothing. She had to work her ass off, had to train for years to achieve her abilities. She was a product of her environment programmed by her culture — she had to recognize that what she’s been taught was wrong, then have the brass balls (sorry) to change, to put herself at risk by following a path she thought was right. And after getting out, did she take the easy path and lead a life of safety and comfort? Nope, she decided to get up on that wall and fight to defend what she believed in.

Scarlet Witch was also bad-ass:
She’s one of my favorite characters from back in my early comic-book days. I was thrilled to see her on screen, screwing with people’s heads and dusting poorly built robots left and right. I’m not sure how that factors into the overall mix of things. Two two of the seven supers were female (not counting Ultron as “male” because aside from the voice there’s no gender, this Saturday Night Live skit notwithstanding).

Sexism is sometimes hard to see:
Aside from the bartending scene, I missed a ton of what some people found to be sexist. I get those perspectives now, but in the theater, I thought BW was a bad-ass character in a fun-but-almost-incoherent flick

So I wonder: is it good that I missed these things in the theater, is it bad, or is my individual reaction in the theater irrelevant to the larger discussion? If you have a take, let me know in the comments. And remember, on this site, we treat each other with respect — no douchbaggery permitted.

*Looking at some of the Twitter Outrage about AGE OF ULTRON, I wonder how many of these people were in pre-school when BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER finally ended. Did you know it ended thirteen years ago, and premiered eighteen years ago? Yes, you’re old. You’re welcome.

**Since posting this blog, I’ve learned that the probable reason for BW being behind a bar was that Johanson was pregnant and they had to hide the baby bump. Talk about a potential continuity error, sheesh!

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Comments

  1. Nancy

    sorry I didn’t read all the comments but as a woman who really enjoys both your writing and the avengers movie I have to completely agree with your point.

    In the movie I heard BW saying she’s a monster for all the lives she’s taken, and for her entire upbringing making her into someone she didn’t necessarily want to be – did anyone else notice all the flashbacks of her upbringing?

    I didn’t see the sexism in the movie while watching it at all. Here was a bad ass woman doing bad ass things. Period.

    On the bartending: I figured she wanted to mix her own drinks and make sure everyone is enjoying themselves – she’s Russian after all – we do that.

  2. Kristen

    Hey, after I had finished listening to Nocturnal for the second time (1st time narrated by Scott, 2nd time by Phil Gigante), I wanted to contact Scott and tell him a few things:
    – thank you for putting such good material online for free
    – thank you for making me understand that audiobooks are a fabulous thing that needs my support, and thus convincing me to subscribe to audible.com
    – hey, how about introducing a true strong kick-ass female character in a future novel of yours as the central character (I confess I have not read all — this might already be the case)?

    And before I can click the contact link, here comes the post about Black Widow. I especially agree with the quote “she makes a key point that if you swapped gender of any Avenger in the movie, people would still be up in arms about how that character reinforced female stereotypes or diminished women in general. Translation: sometimes creators just can’t win”.

    I remember watching the movie “Spring Breakers” and thinking on the one hand that the movie might be seen by some as sexist (especially the bikini parts), and on the other hand realizing that (spoiler alert) “wow, if the genders had been swapped, this would be a movie about a bunch of sheltered educated boys going on a gangster tourism spree and seducing a clueless drug baroness into dying a stupid death for their bad-ass fantasies, right before going back to school nice and happy with thrilling memories of their wild parenthesis”.

    I don’t believe one needs to be a female to write a great strong female character role. Sometimes I think the best and most realistic female characters would simply be male characters with the name, gender and pronouns just swapped by the editor right before printing — there’s simply too much baggage in our sexist culture about what women should think/be/do/want: a male character is so much freeer in what he is allowed that writing the role for a man and then changing him into a woman would make for much more complex/interesting stuff.

    So here is my 2-penny question: when will be be able to read a Scott Sigler thriller with a girl hero (ideally a team of, with a guy or two over which the girls would fantasize and drool) who does not give a shit about what women are supposed to think/be/do/want and just live her life and kick some ass?

    PS: my name’s Kristen but I am a (French) man.

  3. Marcella

    Nice post Scott. I am a woman, and I saw the movie the same way you did. BW was just making herself a drink and it was an easy way to set up a nice moment between her and Banner. She gave Cap’s shield back because that’s his schtick, not hers. It’s what teammates do for each other. If you’re a solider and your buddy drops his gun, you don’t keep it and use it, you pick it up and give it back to him. Sheesh!

    And of course she wasn’t saying she’s a monster because she was sterilized – she’s a monster because she was stripped of her humanity and turned into a weapon. To interpret it any other way is really just looking for something to be angry about. Women have enough to fight against without hyperbolic kneejerkers making the whole cause of feminism seem reactionary and silly.

    As an aside, I grew up watching Lynda Carter play Wonder Woman and I loved it! She was a very positive role model for me of a powerful woman. I don’t remember if there were any Wonder Woman action figures in the 70’s, but if I’d had one I would have played with it every day. I would have used it to beat the shit out of my brother’s action figures.

    1. scottsigler

      Marcella: Ahhh, Lynda Carter! I’m pretty sure there were Wonder Woman toys. I wanted bulletproof bracelets, man, those were the shit.

  4. M.A. Kropp

    I saw the movie today. I’m female, and frankly, I pretty much saw what you did- Black Widow being Black Widow, and pretty darn badass. I think some people are just out to find sexism and stereotyping no matter what. And they will crowbar it into everything.

    As for the bartending scene, heck, that’s where I would have been. I like being the bartender!

    I’m more pissed about the lack of Widow toys. “Because they are for boys” ???? I had 3 girls and we had a whole big pile o’action figures in our house. Different characters, of course, but all 3 of my girls played with them. So, bull on that argument.

    People have to just enjoy these movies for what they are- fun. Not deep social commentary, heavy messages, or stuff you will think about for days. (Well, except for the bit about Hawkeye being married! You broke my heart, Weedon! 😉 )

    1. scottsigler

      M.A. Kropp:
      “I think some people are just out to find sexism and stereotyping no matter what. And they will crowbar it into everything.”

      It certainly feels that way sometimes. What bothers me about this is that it diminishes public reaction to more pronounced forms of sexism. I’ve seen enough people “tune out” from these conversations, simply stop listening, because they’re exhausted by wondering what will next be decried as sexist or some other “ist.”

      And that creates a big problem: when we have so many obvious and blatant examples of sexism, losing the potential participation of people who can help be part of the solution is a significant issue.

      1. M.A. Kropp

        Yes, exactly. We were just discussing this last night. There are so many more real and worse examples of any -ist behavior you want to name. Stuff like this is not helping at all. You are right- it just makes people stop listening. And caring. Which will change nothing.

  5. ZGujral

    I get why the conversation with Banner about not being able to have kids and the monster line strike people as sexist. I took it that way originally. (That the romantic subplot Romanov and Banner comes off as “exists because we need romantic subplot” and shoe horned in doesn’t help). One way to look at that conversation is that Romanov is looking for a life beyond her job and has fallen for Banner; Banner feels the same way about her but feels like he’s supposed to be able to give her children. Let’s face it, a lot of guys probably feel this way. (I’m not a guy, so correct me if I’m wrong). When Romanov realizes this she reveals that she can’t have kids, that she doesn’t care they couldn’t have a child, all to keep from loosing the life beyond SHIELD she wants to build with him. That’s not sexist, that’s a person who wants something they’ve never had, a place to go after a mission to relax and drop their guard around someone.

    (The moviemovie’s haphazard feel doesn’t help anything.)

    1. scottsigler

      ZGurjal“Haphazard” sums it up for me, too (regarding the movie as a whole). So many things crammed into a flick filled with so many superstar actors. But that’s why I stopped watching XMen movies after FIRST CLASS — a movie will only support storylines for so many characters before you’re no longer attached to any of them.

  6. Christina Eliason

    Scott here is about as fair and sensitive as one could hope. He himself admits that as a man, he can’t know what it’s like to be female, and says that his lack of interpreting parts of the film as sexist either makes him less of a sexist or more of one, due to his obliviousness. Unfortunately, because it’s really obvious his intentions are to be fair, this does make him more of a sexist for not seeing it. What that means is that the sexism is so institutionalized, so conventional, that it takes deliberation and work to recognize it. And that is the key. Until people have deliberately separated what is the “norm” from what is right, even people who don’t want to be sexist will still be “accidentally” perpetuating sexism. My point being, his desire to understand is what sets him apart, and continuing to search and to understand is what will ultimately increase his sensitivity and awareness. This is what the world needs more of if institutionalized sexism is ever to change.

    As for the specific scene about fertility. I see it as commiseration, “you and me both, buddy.” However, the one mistake made in this article is that it’s just as bad “in this here village” for the “mens” not to be able to procreate as the “wimmins” — here’s where convention would say otherwise. It’s far worse for a woman. Look at some religions and cultures where women are beheaded for not having offspring — never the men. It’s a prevalent societal double-standard and THAT is what makes that line “I’m a monster” so sexist — because you CANNOT separate it from the societal double-standard and conventions. It’s the same kind of thing as when white people claim minorities are racist against them – whites are the ones with the institutional privilege (in America, anyway).

    It’s a good article, and there are some good comments as well. I’m a content creator and writer too, and I disagree that it’s a “can’t win” situation. That’s too easy. It takes hard work to see what is unseen and undo what is always done.

    1. scottsigler

      : Christina:
      Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

      “Unfortunately, because it’s really obvious his intentions are to be fair, this does make him more of a sexist for not seeing it.”

      Does this statement also mean the women in this very thread who did not see sexism in the movie are, by your definition, “sexist”?

      Sounds like a fait accompli argument to me (if I’m using that phrase correctly).

      It’s not “far worse for a woman” in the movie, which is what we’re discussing here (the experience of AGE OF ULTRON in the theater). In the movie, Banner and Romanov are in the same boat, comparing apples to apples. And comparing that to a discussion about racism is a false analogy, not to mention that your stated definition of racism is a newer interpretation and not the historically accepted definition of the term (for example, Merriam Webster’s definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism).

      In all of these newer interpretations, I stick to a standard rule: if it’s wrong for me to do it to you, it’s wrong for you to do it to me.

  7. DanP

    Black Widow calming down The Hulk:

    This is clearly something that the team has practiced (they refer to it as the lullaby). It seems to be similar to post-hypnotic suggestion, probably “programmed” into Bruce (and probably also partly Bruce’s idea). There is a verbal cue, “hey there big guy, the sun’s gettin real low” and a physical cue, the hand touch. And who better than Natasha to perform this technique? She has probably had that sort of subliminal brain-washy thing done to her a lot in her training in Russia, and seen it being done to her comrades, so she’s most likely very knowledgeable on the subject. Also, the amount of time and care that went into creating this method could form a believable basis for why Bruce and Natsha have grown so close. So no, I don’t think this particular example is a sexist trope of any kind.

    1. scottsigler

      DanP: Wow, never thought of that rather obvious point — when it comes to any psychology or manipulation, Natasha is clearly the team expert. From that perspective, it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with experience and training.

    2. Bryce Anderson

      I’d disagree a bit here. It’s possible that everything you say is true, and everything about that scene had a solid, in-world reason for happening. But it’s still an implementation of the “Fair Maiden Soothes the Savage Beast With the Natural Gentleness Common to the Female” trope.

      And really, what’s the harm of calling a trope a trope? Saying “there’s a sexist trope at play in this scene” doesn’t mean it has to be cut from the movie, and it doesn’t mean Joss Whedon is a Rampant Misogynist Whom We Must All Shun. Tropes happen, and rather than eliminating every identifiable trope, I think the important thing is to strive for balance. Maybe sometimes that means you let Hawkeye calm Banner down with his sultry voice and dreamboat eyes. Maybe sometimes you give the nod to Natasha anyhow, because the trope is given enough context to make it justifiable.

      It’s like the Bechdel test (the test that asks if any two female characters have a significant conversation without a man being the object of it). People sometimes gripe, “But what about a movie where all the womenfolk were killed off by space plague? You want to ban that movie?” It kind of misses the point. Saying “this is a sexist trope” or “this movie fails the Bechdel test” isn’t a call for a blacklisting. It’s an invitation for scrutiny. *Why* do so many movies fail such a simple test? *Why* are the tropes so common? To me, it’s less about pointing blame at individual instances, more about examining systemic forces that give rise to them.

  8. Andrew

    “Black Widow bartending”

    I didn’t even see her as bartending. To me, it looked like she poured herself a drink, and then poured a few for a few other people who came by — why not, she’s there and being friendly — and when Banner came over just happened to try to flirt with him for the obvious reason that she likes him.

    Backing this up for me is that she leaves the bar near the end of the bit, while Banner stays there. It struck me more as a self-service, mix your own drink type of arrangement and she just happened to make a few for some others while she was there.

    Overall, agreed, she was a kick-ass character, and damnit WHY DOESN’T SHE HAVE AN ACTION FIGURE!!! There’s your sexism at play.

    1. scottsigler

      Andrew:
      Yeah, it’s possible I misread that scene. I thought she was bartending. A lot of this discussion shows me I was probably wrong. Guess I’m as susceptible to reading in as other people are.

      No action figure = bullshit. Agreed.

  9. Demian

    I think it was important that the article questioned whether a particular scene actually involved a noticeable element of BW being belittled, degraded or being regarded as inferior because(!) of her being a woman.

    That is what any analysis of sexism should look for. “Finding sexism” should not just be a sport of “well, let’s see how many scenes in this movie could possibly be given a sexist interpretation or twisted into a sexist undertone?”

    I think it is very important to identify and point out sexism wherever it exists. But that should mean that we have to look for what’s actually there. Not more, not less. And for that we will have to rely on more than just superficial observation + creative assumptions about underlying intentions.

    It happens far too often lately that some people actually make an effort to find as many angles as possible that allow for a sexist interpretation and for others to actually congratulate them enthusiastically that the former has found an entirely new form of sexism that nobody else had detected so far. (Could it be that there actually wasn’t any in the first place then?)

    So, again, kudos to the article for pointing out that it’s the identification of actual degrading elements, that can actually be identified with some evidence/reason, which we have to look for in our analysis. It shouldn’t be a sport in “who gets to find the most potentially sexist messages”!

    1. scottsigler

      Demian:
      It’s true that some people have their guard up, and consider themselves guardians against certain societal issues. I get that. In some cases, their suspicion is well-founded. In others, sometimes people see things that aren’t there, because that’s what they have seen everywhere else, all along.

      1. Meteor Hammer

        Perhaps instead of conspiracy nuts anomaly hunting to prove their narrative, there is a sub set of people who do a similar thing while looking for sexism.
        Maybe trawling through Age of Ultron looking for sexism, shows how far we have come as a society. 40 years ago BW would have been good for screaming and being put in peril so that a big strong male superhero could save her. Now she’s a bad ass who pulls her own weight within the team, and people have to actively go looking for sexism within the film instead of it being obvious.

  10. Karen

    Part of the problem is that if she’s the only woman anything she dies is what the woman is doing. All of the others? What a man is doing. And it’s very very easy, if possibly not intended, to read that as what women do. See famous xkcd cartoon “you suck at math/girls sucks at math”.

    1. scottsigler

      Karen: Does the presence of the Scarlet Witch mitigate that at all?

      Also, for everyone else, here is the cartoon to Karen is referring to:

  11. Natasha

    Heya,

    Hopefully I can explain this a bit and the reasons why women think this movie is sexist 🙂 For the record, I love Josh Whedon and he is the most pro-female writers I know (Look to Buffy if anything). So any flak he receives he doesn’t deserve at all.

    1: Most of the toys Disney has produced do not include Black Widow. This includes the scene where Black Widow drops from the ship in the motorcycle. Captain America is on that instead. http://www.dailydot.com/geek/black-widow-toy-ultron-motorcycle-replaced-captain-america/

    2. There has been no superhero film starring woman in quite some time. Wikilinks has published an alleged e-mail from the CEO of Disney explaining that they are not successful. Keep in mind that there have been plenty of crappy marvel movies starring men.

    3. The actors playing Hawkeye calling Black Widow a ‘slut’ and Captain America agreeing with him didn’t help. The actor later apologized, then took it back.

    That’s where a good portion of the sexism brewing from different sources. Keep in mind there is plenty of sexist controversy happening in the background not connected with this movie as well. For example, a woman who wrote a Punisher Comic outlined how another marvel comic writer bullied her for years and Marvel pretty much swept it up under the rug: http://www.themarysue.com/valerie-dorazio-online-harassment-chris-sims/

    Anyway, I don’t agree with Black Widow’s ‘monster’ comment creating the sexism issues-really, I thought that was in reference to her being an assassin but whatever, but that’s where some of it is likely coming from.

    Cheers,
    Natasha

    1. scottsigler

      Natasha
      I tried to keep my post to the movie only, and the response to actual plot points in said movie. For your comments, though, a point-by-point response:

      1. Lack of BW toys is bullshit. I’ve commented on this further down the thread — bad marketing on Marvel’s part, in my opinion. If you don’t think girls want your stuff, your job as a business is to develop that market. That’s how you sell more stuff and make shareholders happier.

      2. I saw that email. I understand that movies are a multi-million-dollar game of chance, and that if you screw up one flick, you could be out of a job. That being said, they are missing a huge opportunity with Black Widow, who — as a somewhat regular person with no powers — could be put in a flick that is a quarter the budget of the big tent-pole Avengers movies. If any character/actress combo can put butts in the seats, it’s BW/ScarJo, particularly now, especially by tying it into the larger Marvel movie context. I’m mystified they don’t go for that.

      3. That was the actors’ decision to make those comments and the actors’ decision to own what they said. To me, it’s separate from the actual plot points that have some people upset. To others, they are connected.

      Cheers!

      1. Patrick

        Considering the popularity of the Agent Carter mini-series and all the people I know, male and female, who were psyched to see that we’d be getting a second season of Agent Carter, I think Marvel need to re-evaluate their ideas of what makes a successful franchise and realize that there are women characters that are just as important to their fan base and have a following that can drive a franchise.

        The lack of Black Widow toys just confuses me. Someone who is an essential and important part of the team deserves her own variety of toys. I agree with you that there should be female character toys and if Marvel thinks that there’s no market for them then they A) are completely wrong (when Star Wars came out, I wanted Luke, Leia, Vader, and a Stormtrooper, pretty much in that order. There’s a market, dammit), and B) if they aren’t completely wrong, they should still try to create a market.

        I don’t understand why Marvel is treating their female characters in the same way Agent Flynn treated Agent Carter.

  12. Dave

    What worries me is that if a character like this thought of as weak then what hope is there for a film about a female character who overcomes personal demons and weaknesses to become a stronger person in the end.
    At this rate women are going to be 2 dimensional and boring all over again.

    It’s okay for men to cry and struggle through the story of a film. If a woman does it she’s the product of misogyny.

    1. scottsigler

      Dave: It really does seem like a lose-lose option for creators. I think the NPR article I linked to in this post sums that up perfectly, by pointing out that if you gender-swap any of the other Avengers — and don’t change a single plot point or line of dialogue — people would be up in arms about how those women are “stereotypical” or “diminished.” Read it, it’s a great piece.

  13. BlixKrogg

    Amanda Marcotte, a feminist writer for Slate, didn’t see the sexism people were talking about in the film. She sees sexism in places where it’s completely absent. If she saw the same movie you did and saw the movie the way you did, you’re sympatico about it.

    I have a feeling the people who were getting excited over perceived sexism in the film went in wanting to start trouble. They went in watching the film seeking sexism where ever they could perceive it after the “[Black Widow’s] a whore” comments by Jeremy Renner. It colored their perception of what happened in the film. That’s a shame because, if it didn’t, they might have enjoyed it more.

  14. David

    I didn’t see the sexism. Am I sexist?

    I think people are all in on the fact that she is a no nonsense bad ass and this movie deviated from that slightly. But I felt that was the case for many of the Avengers in this film. I felt like BW along with Banner, Stark and Hawkeye seemed worn out. They all seemed like they needed a break. I also thought that was the purpose.

    It seems to me that the Avengers team will be evolving. New characters in, tired characters out. Need to keep things fresh. We will see them all back when the civil war starts in one form form another.

    1. Daniel Hazelton

      I think the movie covered this topic a bit. From Iron Man 1 to Age of Ultron it has only been 2 or 3 years. These people have been fighting for most of that period without rest or respite – of course they are worn out.

      This is extra true for Stark – who was nearly killed, then kidnapped, watched someone that had become a friend die so he could escape…

      For Steve Rogers – he was fighting a war before this all started. Remember, he was fighting Hydra and the Nazi’s in WW2 – and the war was still going hard – when he was frozen. This means he has more time fighting than the rest.

      For Natasha – she was abused horribly growing up in the “Red Room” training center. This was aimed at making her an amoral killer that believed the party line fully. While it failed, this has deeply impacted her.

      For Banner – he gets the Gamma Radiation exposure and becomes the Hulk. It goes on rampages and he starts hiding from people to try and control it. Then he’s pulled into the “Avengers” and they find a way to help pull him out of being the Hulk. But he’s still got the scars from all the events.

      Except for Thor – and maybe Hawkeye (since he does have a way to escape in his family) – all of them seem to be suffering an acute stress disorder – for some I’d go so far as to say PTSD – in one form or another.

      The people complaining about sexism in the movie are just looking for something to complain about – similar to those “Mens Rights Activists” that are making a stink about “Fury Road”.

      Recent comic-book movies (ignoring “Superman Returns”) have dealt with the subject matter in a relatively lifelike manner. The characters are not these shining paragons of virtue that nothing ever phases – they are human beings (mostly) doing their best to help mankind against threats that most people cannot face and survive. If you swapped the genders of, say, Tony Stark and Natasha, I’m quite sure people would still be complaining about sexism in the movie.

      The one scene that does seem sexist is there because the character is infertile (part of the graduation from the “Red Room” sees to this) and the actress was into her second or third trimester of pregnancy. Since the filming could not be delayed, the scene has her slinging drinks. This was not done out of sexism, but pragmatism.

      Natasha can do a lullaby that soothes the Hulk and causes him to transform back to Bruce? Well… Historically the Hulk has been shown to be somewhat sexist in that he does not, generally, attack or harm women. Add to that the fact that Natasha has feelings for Bruce – well… Traditionally it’s the man chasing the woman, no? In this case the roles are reversed – I don’t see how that is sexist at all.

      In my opinion the true problem, in this case, belongs with those people that are focusing on seeing sexism where it doesn’t exist. Comics – especially Marvel comics – are filled with excellent examples of strong female characters. Yes, there are problems with their graphic portrayal because most of the artists are men and the target is, generally, young men. But those are the “mass market” – ie: written in a rush to get them through to the artist, inker, colorist and finally to the printer so they can make it to the shelves each week…

      It’s when you get to other forms of them – such as the movies of the Marvel Cinamatic Universe or the standalone graphic novels – that you truly get a glimpse at the characters and settings. I do not often read comics, so I’m sorry that I don’t have any Marvel graphic novels to recommend, but three of the best that I’ve found are “Kingdom Come”, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Watchmen”. In those stories you get to see the people behind the masks and learn that they truly are just as human and fallible as you or I.

  15. James

    I think at least one reason for why people (at least I know) took the “You think you’re the only monster on this team?” part so badly was because it implied that you can only be a woman and a killer if you cannot have children. That combined with the monster in close proximity caused a lot of problems.

    I personally saw the scene much as you did, although I thought it was unnecessary and clunky.

    PS regarding the bartending, I just assumed that it was at the end of the part after the staff had left/cleaning up so she was making her own, but I did think it was a strange thing to include and seems unclear as to if that was true.

  16. Rich L

    Dear Mr FDO sir!!!
    I felt the same way, shes a bas ass charecter that happens to be female. Which in the case (i know im going to get pounded for this) makes her ever hotter and badder than ever!!
    Keep up the awesome work sir!!!!

    1. scottsigler

      Rich L.: You shouldn’t get pounded on for that. Confidence and strength are sexy, regardless of gender identity. I don’t have to be gay to look at Chris Evans in the Cap role and know that is one sexy mo-fo.

  17. Bookgal1977

    So I’m a woman and a huge fan of these comics and these films. And I have to say, while I understand why some people took issues with the way widow was shown in the movie, I disagree with it. Apparently we both did see the same movie, because I agree almost 100% with everything you say here.

    However I loved what Mark Ruffalo said in interviews about this. Basically he said he disagrees that widow is written in a sexist way, but when women have such little to choose from in their female characters in many films, and especially in comic book culture, its understandable why a lot of women are examining every single thing about her. Male characters have traditionally had much more agency in their own stories, and the abilities to be and show a range of things.

    Now I DO think this is changing, but its really really slowly changing. And that kind of forces the female characters in a franchise that’s considered “male” (action movies are generally marketed with the male viewer in mind, even though they are popular with both genders) it does end up forcing them into a sort of stand in for women in general.

    Still, I agree with you on this film, and I’m hoping as time goes on and more diversity of characters make their way into these films (we have two female avengers now!) the magnifying glass wont be automatically turned on to any female on the screen.

    1. scottsigler

      Bookgal1977: The fact that there are fewer female roles was part of why I was so shocked at the reaction to this role. As far as my memory allows, the Johanson/Whedon Black Widow is the best female super in movie history (“best” being defined as an equal player on the team, critically important to the plot, and not a delicate flower that needs protecting).

  18. Gregory Frank

    Totally agree with your post. I felt exactly the same way, didn’t really see the sexism. I just saw a Badass character doing badass things. They have a huge cast of characters so they need to find a place to put them all and give them screen time that makes sense. As for the bartending scene Sara TB might right, also maybe Black Widow makes the best drinks, or they might have switched out who bartens, she might have volunteer because as you said she can be empathic and a bartender is a shrink as well at times.

    I have been to plenty of parties where the hosts server drinks instead of hiring someone. It seemed like an Avenger party so she was being a good host that probably made the best drinks. Also they only showed part of the night, so as far as we know, she might have only been back there for like an hour, she went to make her own drink and other people asked her to make some for them.

    The downside to internet is that there are trolls everywhere and people have soapbox to complain on and get others to agree with no facts or accuracy. Also I think if someone really wants to see sexism, they can in almost anything, doesn’t mean it is actually there. For example, lots of people saw racism in Night Of the Living Dead, there are articles and essays about how the main character was black and the zombies were an allegory to racism etc.. But the fact is none of that was intended in the script or the people involved. The main actor was Black because he was the best actor for that role out of the people who auditioned. That is fact that I heard directly from one of the creators of the movie.

    1. scottsigler

      Gregory Frank:
      “If someone really wants to see sexism, they can in almost anything, doesn’t mean it is actually there.”

      This is correct. But, it also doesn’t mean it is not there (if you’ll excuse the double-negative). The older I get the more I understand that sexism is more prevalent than I once thought. Is it in this movie? I don’t think so at all, I think BW stole the show hands-down, but sometimes it is sneaky and hard to see.

  19. Meteor Hammer

    “I’m a monster” I also read this as “I’ve done stuff that would put me in prison for life or get me the death penalty. I’ve done this stuff many times over. I’m trying to do some good now, but no matter what I do, I cannot change or make up for the things that I have done in the past.”

    The shield thing. My team mate / friend is in trouble. I could throw him the shield, but that might be construed as sexist, so I won’t. Shit, thats Captain America 3 ashcanned.

    We don’t know why she was tending bar. It may just be that the character enjoys tending bar for her friends, or that she doesn’t want to be a part of a group of boozed up male superheroes at that time while they’re having a bit of a dick swinging contest.

    Soothing the Hulk. Clearly Bruce and Natasha have feelings for each other. The other male members of the team are clearly heterosexual (except maybe Cap I guess). I also read that the fact that she is vulnerable is part of what calmed the Hulk. The other supers on the team can take a punch from Hulk, Black Widow can’t. That changes the dynamic when she comes to calm him down. There has clearly been a lot that has happened between the end of Winter Soldier and the start of Age of Ultron that we are not privy to, and during that time they must have tried various ways to calm Hulk, but we don’t get to see him punch Thor into orbit when Thor tries to calm him down for example. The fact that Veronica exists shows that they have a contingency for making the Hulk calm down (and an excuse to see Hulkbuster Iron Man and Hulk demolish a city).

    1. scottsigler

      Meteor Hammer:
      “The fact that Veronica exists shows that they have a contingency for making the Hulk calm down.”

      Excellent point.

  20. B Poland

    I agree with the whole “monster” scene. She’s a monster because of her training not her sterility. The only aspect of the franchise I find sexist is the lack of BW merch. My 12 year old daughter adores her but all the good swag is of the men.

    1. scottsigler

      B Poland:
      “The only aspect of the franchise I find sexist is the lack of BW merch.”

      And that is an incredibly sexist issue. Similar things happened for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. C’mon, Marvel, if you’re making boy-only merch because you don’t think girls will buy merch, wouldn’t you want to develop girls as customers of your brand? For fuck’s sake, look at how the NFL has done it over the past 20 years, and the impact that has had on their fanbase (I’m talking smart marketing here, not the issue regarding domestic violence, which is for sure going to hurt that newly developed fan base to some extent).

  21. Teresa

    I loved your responses to this! I saw much the same movie you did, and even more into the line of logic you touched on where the program took away her ability to choose. I’ve seen some people separating the character’s actions (which they apparently see the action as okay) from Joss’ writing, where they call for his head for taking a badass character and sticking her in the romance-obsessed love interest role and taking away her importance as a standalone character and using her to prop up Bruce. To which I say “bullshit.” I think each character’s story is equally complex and will inevitably interweave and support each other BECAUSE THEY’RE A TEAM.

    I feel like a lot of people read too much in the sexist direction, and they’ll find it because that’s what they’re looking for.

    1. scottsigler

      Teresa:
      “They call for his head for taking a badass character and sticking her in the romance-obsessed love interest role and taking away her importance as a standalone character and using her to prop up Bruce.”

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Black Widow do three movies before this where she had no love interest? Cap didn’t do that. Neither did Iron Man. Or Thor. Or Wolverine. Or Spider Man. Or, I’ll bet, Ant Man.

      Granted, those guys were headliners and it’s almost impossible in modern Hollywood to have your lead do a whole movie without a romantic sub-plot, but three movies for BW where she wasn’t someone’s girlfriend? Come on. Nothing says more about her independent character in the MCU than that. But people don’t see that amazing feat, they only look at ULTRON and point the finger.

  22. Sara TB

    My thought on the bartending scene was Scarlett J. was pregnant, so good way to hide baby bump. Nothing sexist, just being practical with staging.

  23. jackie

    I think we saw the same film. As someone that chooses not to have children I really don’t get the outrage about about that whole scene because I certainly saw it more like you did and less in the way most others seemed to.

  24. James

    Completely agree on all points! She identifies as a ‘monster’ because of what she has done, and the destruction and death she has wrought. I think that Scarlett has done a fantastic job of brining Natasha to life.

    Haters are going to hate; and people with agendas are going to see things how they want to push their agenda.

  25. Jeff Hicks

    I’m with you. I didn’t understand all the commotion around the supposed sexism. Reading your commentary I have to say I saw the same movie you did. I can’t think of anything of anything sexist in the movie other than perhaps drawing attention to “attractive anatomical features” but that went both ways. I see Black Widow as a kick-ass women, who takes care of herself, her friends and doesn’t need to be saved like a freaking Disney princess. I just assumed in the bartending scene that she was taking charge and she wanted a moment with Banner.

    Frankly, I think people read *way* too much into these types of movies. This is not The Seventh Seal or La Strada.