The Weight of Being a Female Character

I read a very interesting article on tor.com yesterday. It’s about the double standard applied to male and female characters. In a nutshell: men can just kick ass and take names. Elements of their personality do not normally influence whether the audience continue to feel he kicks ass and take names. This does not apply to women. Women can kick ass. Or they can have feelings. They really can’t do both. Somehow, once she starts even remotely appearing female (you know, wanting kids or having icky feelings) she is no longer considered kick ass.

I couldn’t help thinking of Black Widow in Age of Ultron. If you haven’t seen it: here lie spoilers.

Black Widow is one of the very few female superheros in film (there are many in X-Men, I’m told and other comic books, but very few made it to the big screen). Not only that, she’s one of the few that are super awesome and a great role model. She is honest and good. She can keep up with the men, both physically and intellectually. She doesn’t need a man to keep a sense of purpose in life: she knows who she is, what she is capable of, and what she deserves. She is a strong woman. She kicks ass.

In the first Avengers movie, Loki tries to use her emotions and possible self-doubts against her and fails, in fact reveals his own plan because she turns it all around on him. She has an amazing fight scene where she plays the damsel beautifully until she kicks the asses of three strong men and doesn’t even break a sweat. Every feminist LOVED Black Widow in the first Avengers.

And then Joss Whedon decided to do  something CRAZY: he built up the characters. All of them. In Age of Ultron, every Avenger’s character was fleshed out a bit, giving insight into their characters and their fears. No one really complained about this because strong characterization makes good stories. No one really cared, that is, until Black Widow reveal her great sorrow.

Suddenly, her entire character narrowed down to a small point: her graduation ceremony to become an elite assassin was having her tubes tied, killing any chance she would ever have children.

OH.MY.GOD. Black Widow is sorry she can’t have kids?! Well, that’s it, she is no longer kick ass. She has revealed that she has needs and wants, ew. Not only that, but to many feminists, this meant she couldn’t be considered a feminist character anymore because it tied into society’s belief all women want kids. Also, she was kidnapped by Ultron and became a damsel in distress. Suddenly, here’s the double standard.

Suddenly, she stopped being a PERSON. She stopped being a character and became a vehicle for feminism and only that. And feminists were ticked off because she fed into the patriarchy by wishing she could have kids. This became such a hot button issue because she was the ONLY female Avenger (Scarlet Witch only becomes one at the end). As the only woman on the team, the entire weight of being a role model comes to the fore. She must be perfect. She must uphold the values of feminism. She cannot show weakness or she loses her ability to be kick ass. Female characters cannot have emotions or needs or regrets if they also want to be kick ass. They must choose.

What the complainers missed is this: by making it about her wanting kids, they themselves made it about the kids. They skipped over the fact that Bruce Banner ALSO regrets not being able to have kids. Just skipped right over that and it’s because he’s a man. It’s ok for male characters to have feelings and want kids or be sad about NOT having kids. Having kids or not having kids is not tied into a male characters ability to be kick ass. But Black Widow mourns the fertility that was TAKEN FROM HER WITHOUT PERMISSION and is suddenly seen as weaker.

But she was kidnapped and had to be rescued! Well, yes. But she was the only character that plot line would work for. She didn’t just sit there twiddling her thumbs and bemoaning her fate. She MADE A TELEGRAPH MACHINE FROM SPARE PARTS. Tony Stark was kidnapped in the first Iron Man and built the first suit and he’s hailed as a genius. Black Widow builds a telegraph machine and lets the team know where she is and she is reduced to a damsel in distress.  What the actual hell. Who else could have done that? Hawkeye couldn’t build one. Steve Rodgers could tell you it runs on electricity, but couldn’t build it. Iron Man had the suit and could break free. Thor has his hammer and could escape. Black Widow is the only one who could do this. She is the only one who could get them to where they needed to be for the finally. But, you know, she’s just a damsel in distress.

Most importantly, I think, is that because she became a vehicle for feminism, her ability to overcome was completely looked over. She was trained as a superior Russian spy. She killed a lot of people and they took away her chance of leaving that life for a regular one. She could have bought into how she was raised and become jaded and angry. She could be a super villain.  She’s not. She used that training to do good and to be GOOD. She mourns the loss of her fertility, but she doesn’t use it as an excuse. In the end, she puts herself, her LIFE, on the line to save innocent people. She sacrifices any possible relationship she could have with Bruce Banner by forcing him to become the Hulk. She is constantly doing what is RIGHT and GOOD because she believes in it. That’s the type of person she wants to be. She is totally kick ass and totally supports feminism.

Black Widow is a female character and she deserves to be a fully fledged one. Rock on, girl.

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