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31 August 2016 @ 09:44 am
Black Widow and Feminism  
I woke up today with a very specific thought about Black Widow: what was REALLY so wrong with her character in Age of Ultron? (I watched several episodes of the Avengers: Assemble cartoon on Netflix before bed last night, just in case you NEED a logical reason for why I wake up thinking about superheroes and master assassins. In all honesty, though? This happens on the regular.)

Natasha's characterization in Age of Ultron was not my favorite thing ever (which is grounds for a whole other entry/essay I may write someday), but there are folks out there who were, and still are, livid about it. General consensus seems to be that Natasha's apparent feelings for a man on her team and her break-down over the fact that she can't have children are not only out of character for the super-spy, but that it somehow cheapens her by lessening the strength of her character. I've seen article after article trying to explain away her actions (it was all a play to further control the Hulk, for example) and even more condemning Joss Whedon for ruining a good character. To be blunt, there are folks out there with their feminist knickers in a knot over this, and I'm not quite sure WHY.

What's so wrong with having a mysterious and layered female character who, when she suffers a heavy blow, reflects on something she regrets? What's wrong with that same strong individual developing feelings for someone she spends a lot of time with--someone she not only respects, but also relates to? I do understand the frustration, because in one fell swoop, we see Black Widow associated with all the stereotypes women in fiction are usually reduced to: the (would-be) mother, the love interest, the damsel in distress. But in viewing these as negative, stereotypical "reductions" instead of further complications for an already-interesting and layered character, aren't we negating the possibility of a strong and layered character also being a mother? Also regretting her actions? Falling in love? Needing rescuing?

I went shopping yesterday for new work shoes and clothes. My sandals fell apart while I was out, which resulted in my buying not one pair of shoes, but three! For work, I generally hunt for dressy blouses, but in this case I happened to find two dresses, which is unusual for me. Dressing up is something I often avoid. When I got home and surveyed my haul, I shook my head, laughed, and texted a friend about it:

"I bought dresses today. And shoes. I feel too prissy."

Truth? As I typed those words out, I initially said "girly" in place of "prissy," and I did so with a curl on my lip that made me freeze. Why was I using the term "girly" in a negative light? Why did thinking of myself as girly cause my lip to curl? I changed the word to prissy, but even that doesn't sit well with me. Buying dresses and shoes are not negative things. Though they are unusual and somewhat out of character for me, sharing it should in no way cause detriment to my character. I am a complex individual, and I shouldn't be forced to avoid any activities or feel ashamed of sharing them just because they are stereotypes associated with my gender. Partaking of that stereotype doesn't erase who and what I already am.

Had we ever seen Natasha express romantic affection or regret over her inability to bear children before? No. Should she be forced to avoid those plot points in order to remain a complex and layered female character? No. And while others (including myself) may not have LOVED the path her character walked in Age of Ultron, I think we need to ask ourselves WHY we feel that way.

Take pause.

Are we just curling our lips because it's too "girly"?