Refuting the Attack on Joss Whedon

Refuting the Attack on Joss Whedon

I usually refrain from writing on topics that typically can light the fuse, but this week that’s about to change. After last week’s release of Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, so many have taken to the popular social network Twitter to express their distaste. Their anger is towards Joss Whedon for what they deem as a “misogynistic portrayal of Black Widow.”

Spoilers Ahead, You have Been Warned

Before I start I’ll make this clear: I am a woman, a mother, a journalist, a game design student and a comic fan among other things. I’m a Marvel fan as well. As someone who has also seen the film in the heart of debate, I say to my fellow feminists…

…you are seriously reaching!

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow is an assassin, a trained killer of the K.G.B.’s The Red Room. The espionage training program’s Black Widow Ops took 28 orphaned girls to train into undetectable, lethal, deep-cover agents. We all know that Natasha is a badass. She’s smart, athletic, sexy, cunning, and lethal. Let’s recap, shall we?

During a scene in The Avengers 2012 film, we’re shown a train passing by, a room where Natasha is tied to a chair during an interrogation, the phone rings, Agent Coulson requests the General to put the woman on the phone, short conversation, she tells him “let me put you on hold,” proceeds to start kicking ass, and then returns to the phone.

black-widow-phone

Now who could pull this off other than Natasha Romanoff? No one.

Now, let’s fast forward to Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Bruce Banner aka Hulk and Natasha have been working together on a way to calm him down or as Captain America says “it’s time for a lullaby.” This reference is a technique used to put the Hulk in “sleep mode” so that he’ll transform back into Banner after a battle. Natasha approaches the Hulk and by applying certain pressure points along his arm, it allows Banner to regain control.

Throughout the film, there are conversations between the two characters that tell the audience a spark has ignited between them. During a party, while Natasha is standing near the bar, the conversation goes like this:

Bruce: “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

Natasha: “A guy did me wrong. There have been a lot of people in my life, all of them fighters. Then here comes this guy, who’s not like anyone I’ve ever met; he doesn’t want to be a fighter.”

It’s a cute play on words that results in Rogers giving Bruce some advice about Natasha. Telling Bruce that he’s never seen her look at anyone the way she looks at him–she’s not flirting.

Fast forward a bit, we then hit in the film when Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch decides to use her powers on the Avengers. This winds up bringing up a lot of deep-rooted issues in our heroes.

marvel-s-avengers-age-of-ultron-scarlet-bw

This mind game takes each hero on a ride, yet the ones most affected are Tony Stark aka Iron Man, Bruce and Natasha. Clint Barton aka Hawkeye has to take lead of the team and bring them to safety. Our heroes are on a picturesque farm surrounded by Barton’s pregnant wife and children. It’s also here that one of the most bold conversations take place.

Marvels-Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-moment2

Bruce: (looking at Barton’s home) “I can’t have this, any of this. There is no place on Earth I can go where I’m not a monster.”

Natasha: “You know what my final test was in the Red Room? They sterilized me, said it was one less thing to worry about. You think you’re the only monster on the team?”

That apparently has made many feminists very upset. They feel as if Joss Whedon has made Black Widow appear “weak.” Are you serious? Twitter went insane with the most vile posts I have seen since the whole Gamergate fiasco. Now I don’t see the problem with there being a love interest, nor do I see a problem with the conversation in question. Here’s why:

Natasha has referred to the red in her ledger on previous occasions, her reference to being a “monster” isn’t about being barren, it refers to the fact that she was made sterile to become an assassin–in her eyes, equates to being a monster. The “Graduation Ceremony” was a way to eliminate the risk of the female operatives ever becoming pregnant. Not since “Black Widow Vol. 1 Issue #2” has the Red Room been brought up, so why is it an issue that it’s brought up now? It’s an issue since many feminists are regarding it as Whedon’s attempt to “equate Hulk’s monstrosity to Black Widow’s infertility.”

What was really being said in that scene for those who don’t get it OR read too much into it:

Bruce: “I can’t have a life like this.”

Natasha: “Hey me neither, so let’s leave and be together.”

Audience: Oh snap that’s what they’re talking about!

All I saw in that scene were two individuals sharing a bonding moment in which they revealed their unfortunate circumstances that they felt kept them from having a “normal life.” The K.G.B. took away Natasha’s ability to create life, to have that biological bond that is unique to women, and instead replaced her as a killing machine. Again, in her eyes that being the monster. Making women into assassins with the inability to conceive is practically genius. You end up with gorgeous, highly intelligent, athletic, killers with no ties. In that reference, I can understand why it’s used. It’s meant to show that the female assassins had to be disconnected in every way to the automatic biological bond that makes us different from men to make us even more lethal assassins. Again, a bold and a courageous direction to take such subject material.

However, that’s not how others feel.

“It also plays into a common and negative trope that childless women are somehow less compassionate than their childbearing counterparts. Natasha says that it made everything easier, “even killing,” as if having a hysterectomy made her a sociopath. The inability to create does not pave the way towards destruction. Sterilization removed her uterus, not her empathy.”

That’s not what I’m saying, nor perhaps what was meant by Whedon. We’re all human and we all feel. Yet you cannot deny the fact there is an absolute complete difference between creating a life and taking one away. The only ones who are capable of knowing are women and most importantly, are women who HAVE created a life. I have many female friends who do not have children and they would never argue the fact that they do not understand the emotions that come with creating a life.

So, why is that those who haven’t, are arguing against a point they don’t understand? If I don’t have a cock and balls, I can’t possibly understand how sensitive they are to get kicked there.

Does that make sense? One would think, but apparently that may be too much to ask.

I find it amazing how anyone can sit through a film and TRY to find an issue. I mean I should just go to church on Sunday just to argue that the Bible is fictional story. Do I? No. Listen we should all know the timeline these comics were written, so why are you getting upset? If you liked the comics, then why are you mad at the film? I love eating steak, but I hate the murder of cows. Really?

Obviously Stan Lee didn’t have any issues with it.

Are we so blinded by our need to be heard that we result to threats?

On the AMA Reddit on Wednesday morning, I was privileged to be a part of with Mark Ruffalo, he shared his feelings when asked.

What are your thoughts on the recent outburst of criticism against Joss Whedon regarding Scarlet Johannson’s character, Black Widow?

“I think it’s sad. Because I know how Joss feels about women, and I know that he’s made it a point to create strong female characters. I think part of the problem is that people are frustrated that they want to see more women, doing more things, in superhero movies, and because we don’t have as many women as we should yet, they’re very, very sensitive to every single storyline that comes up right now. But I think what’s beautiful about what Joss did with Black Widow — I don’t think he makes her any weaker, he just brings this idea of love to a superhero, and I think that’s beautiful.”

“If anything, Black Widow is much stronger than Banner. She protects him. She does her job, and basically they begin to have a relationship as friends, and I think it’s a misplaced anger. I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women. The guys can do anything, they can have love affairs, they can be weak or strong and nobody raises an eyebrow. But when we do that with a woman, because there are so few storylines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there’s not much else to compare it to.”

“So I know Joss really well. I know what his values are. And I think it’s sad, because in a lot of ways, there haven’t been as many champions in this universe as Joss is and will continue to be. And I know it hurts him. I know it’s heavy on him. And the guy’s one of the sweetest, best guys, and I know him — as far as any man can be a champion for women, he is that.”

“So it’s been a little disheartening.”

“But I also see how much people love that aspect of it. There’s an equal amount of people who find the love interest between Banner and Black Widow to be a big standout. And it’s very satisfying to people. So it’s a movie. People are going to have their opinions. And that’s actually a great thing. The fact that this is a debate that’s coming out of this movie is probably a positive thing.”

“I just don’t think that people should get personal with Joss, because he really is – of anyone – an advocate for women. He’s a deeply committed feminist.”

Joss Whedon later told BuzzFeed News that claims of him quitting Twitter due to “militant feminists” was “horseshit.”

“Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter. That’s something I’m used to. Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because god forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause.”

“I just thought, ‘Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place,’” said Joss Whedon. “And [Twitter] is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life. … It’s like taking the bar exam at Coachella. It’s like, ‘Um, I really need to concentrate on this! Guys! Can you all just… I have to… It’s super important for my law!’”

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency is said to have been the second person to reach out to Whedon after the Twitter ordeal to see if he was okay. Whedon speaks highly of Sarkeesian:

“For someone like Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement,” says Whedon. “It’s a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it’s to be lauded. For somebody like me to argue with a bunch of people who wanted Clint and Natasha to get together [in ‘Age of Ultron’], not so much. For someone like me even to argue about feminism — it’s not a huge win. Because ultimately I’m just a rich, straight, white guy. You don’t really change people’s minds through a tweet. You change it through your actions. The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that and women like her — that says a lot.”

Now I’ll be the first one to say that the lack of Black Widow merchandise is disheartening, but let’s be honest, that has nothing to do with Whedon. That’s a Marvel-Disney issue and one that a statement of “That’s not why Disney bought us. They already have the girls’ market on lockdown” refers to.

In April Scarlet Johansson said in an interview in the LA Times:

“For so long, female superheroes have been mistreated, and I think women’s roles in general are often oversimplified and generic and saccharine […] I’ve finally been able to be a part of creating this character that is really multifaceted, and it’s fallen into what is generally a kind of male-dominated genre. To finally be sharing that with somebody else [Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch], and certainly with Lizzie, is a wonderful thing and a step in the right direction.”

Regarding the Disney Merchandise Issue:

“I see it as a vestigial remnant of this kind of sexist sort of mindset. It’s certainly nice that people are noticing and talking about it, whereas before it would just kind of be like, ‘Well, you know, it’s long pajamas and they’re for boys, so of course it’s all the guys on them.’ It’s a conversation that people are having — ‘Where’s all the girls? We want more. We want to see females in this genre who are not the stick in the mud or the damsel in distress or the girlfriend waiting by the window. We want to see characters who reflect the environment that we’re a part of.’”

“[…] Regardless of gender, characters work when they have substance and when they are grounded in something that is visceral and true. I loved that she is sort of this reluctant superhero, that she is kind of a mutant in some ways, that she didn’t really choose this path for herself … and these are things that Joss just really absorbed. When I read ‘Avengers 2,’ I was really moved by the fact that he stuck with that.”

Elizabeth Olsen had this to say about her character Scarlet Witch:

scarlet

“I hope Scarlet Witch will serve as a powerful role model. I can imagine myself during recess or before school on the playground being like, ‘I’m Scarlet Witch! Pow!’ To think of little girls being like, ‘I’m powerful and strong and tough!’ — that’s really cool.”

Now I realize it’s taking us some time to get our female heroes on film but we’re getting there. Is it fast enough? That’s debatable since Marvel’s lineup has the films laid out, and many other female characters will be heading our way on screen. Yet if you’ve been reading the comics, you’d already know that. I can’t wait to see Captain Marvel and the Inhumans, but in the meantime I do have have a shit ton of amazing female X-men to keep me company on Blu-ray while I wait.

Oh, did you all forget about them while you were bitching?

Venisia is really just a kid in adult form. She is a Published Author, Photographer, Artist, Game Design, Gamer, Geek, Nerd, Dancer, PR Coordinator, Senior Editor, Freelance Journalist, Comic & Film Aficionado, Podcaster, long time gamer of 30+ years, Activist, Singer, and Content Producer. Venisia is a fan of comics, anime, literature, various genres of gaming, horror and martial arts films, Doctor Who, Daleks and Star Wars. She also loves Monty Python, Flash Gordon and Mel Brooks.

5 Comments

  1. Excellent write-up. I honestly didn’t interpret that whole scene as anti-feminist/misogynistic and I don’t think that apparent weakness (or, rather, sign of humanity) on Natasha’s part made her any less of a strong female character. My only qualm with that scene between Nat and Bruce was that it felt like a love story had been shoehorned into the film for the sake of having one. It detracted from the action and I would have preferred to have had a couple more scenes with the Twins, who I thought were one of the best parts of the film and deserved a little more fleshing-out.

    • I’ve been hearing a lot of people complain about this same thing (forced romance) but when I watched the film, one of the things I did like about it was the development of the relationship between Banner and Romanoff…I do agree on the fact that the twins should’ve been given more time on screen (and this has nothing to do with the fact that I have a crush on Elizabeth Olsen, of course!)

    • Thank you very much. I truly appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your thoughts.

  2. I didn’t see Natasha as weak in the farmhouse scene; that came later when she was the only Avenger to be captured and then it only took non-fighter Bruce to rescue her.

    The sterilization conversation was poorly worded, or maybe some lines got cut that accidentally left sterility juxtaposed with being a monster. The place you’ve stopped the quote does the same thing. Natasha’s next line explains why they’re connected: it’s something like “I wasn’t allowed to have kids because caring about someone would make me not a monster”. But for that moment she really did seem to be saying that the hysterectomy makes her less than human.

    It’s jarring to have a badass fighter suddenly declare she wants to be pregnant. That’s what starts arguments between the feminists who think women are more than *just mothers*, versus feminists who think that women should be allowed to value whatever they want *including* motherhood.

    There are much better ways the conversation could have gone. Natasha could have mentioned that despite a lack of children she has found other people to care about (cue a meaningful look at Bruce). She could have used the “Hey me neither” attitude you suggest instead of reinforcing Bruce’s depression. Or we could have gotten any backstory about the actually monstrous things Natasha did.

    I don’t question Joss’ feminism. I question his timing for trying to jam a love scene into the regroup-after-depressing-failure portion of the plot.

    • I honestly believe when the film comes out on DVD we’ll see more in the deleted scenes when it comes to this conversation. I think the whole idea of the conversation is that it’s being interpreted in many ways and that’s okay. I honestly do feel that the idea of the word “monster” was more in line of her job not being barren. An assassin is a monster and they don’t have children. Do you see what I mean?

      I think the love dynamic was obvious from the beginning. Natasha has felt a connection to Bruce. With Scarlet’s mind game pulling into their deep-rooted memories and fears, this left a segway for this conversation to occur. They’re not just superheros, they’re also people, men and women with feelings. Each of them wanting something more than just kicking someone’s ass for all eternity.

      Even in the comics, Natasha was married, before she was lied to and told he was dead. She had many relationships, because underneath we’re human. It doesn’t make her or any other character weak, it makes them easy to identify with on that level.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

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