“Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest,
Now is the time that face should form another,
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.”
William Shakespeare, Sonnet #3
This is an open letter to all the Joss haters out there who presume to be feminists, but who are actually princesses in disguise. Let me explain this terminology and why I’m including the male critics in this response as well. Marianne Williamson, in her book “A Woman’s Worth”, describes a princess (as opposed to a queen) in this way–“A princess…has power, but she does not yet wield it responsibly. She is indulgent and frivolous. She cries but not yet noble tears. She stomps her feet and does not know how to contain her pain or use it wisely–To be a princess is to play at life.” I’m including every single male critic who had a problem with Black Widow’s character arc in “The Avengers-Age of Ultron” because you, also, are a part of the problem.
Shakespeare’s third sonnet is an exhortation to a young male friend to have a child as soon as possible. Great. All well and good. That’s assuming that, as most men do, this young man has a choice. But what if the choice was taken from you?
Natasha Romanov, from the very beginning, never had control over what happened to her until much later in her life. The importance of women having choice when it comes to their reproductive life can never be overstated. And this is what we’re really talking about . Choices.
“All about choices, Faith. The ones we make and the ones we don’t. Oh, and the consequences. Those are always fun. Hmm?” (Angelus, Angel, “Release”, 4.14)
This was in reference to a couple of Faith-centric episodes in the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first, “Choices” was the episode when Faith wound up kidnapping Willow to get the Box of Gavrok returned to the mayor, who was, at that time, a father figure to her. Buffy makes the decision to make the trade instead of sacrificing Willow, earning the disdain of new watcher Wesley Wyndham Price. The second, “Consequences” dealt with the aftermath of Faith killing a human and not dealing with the consequences in a very healthy way.
The point is there are always consequences for every choice made. But if the choice is taken from you, it does make you feel less than human.
As Alyssa Rosenberg points out in her Washington Post blog, “The tragedy of Natasha’s character isn’t that she’s been felled from her mission by her love for babies. It’s that her mentor (Julie Delpy) took something away from Natasha that didn’t have to be removed for her to be a hero. She could have been a lover and mother and friend and fighter all at once. That Natasha’s male compatriots aren’t asked to reconcile supposedly disparate parts of their personalities is their good fortune. That Natasha works so hard to do so is the measure of her heroism.”
Toni_watches posted in tv.com: “Strong women can also be vulnerable. In fact, there’s a strength in vulnerability. We need to allow our kick-ass heroines to also be human, otherwise they’re not relatable. Am I saying all female heroines need love interests to be relatble? Of course not. But they shouldn’t be condemned for having human wants and needs. A big complaint among reviews is that Black Widow was ‘reduced’ to a love interest for Bruce Banner. One could easily argue that it’s the other way around. They are equal characters in this franchise. A romance between them in no way hurt either of their development…Natasha’s monologue about her inability to have children wasn’t about not being a ‘complete woman’. It was about her lack of control over her own life, and yes, her own body. This choice was taken away from her, along with most choices that people get to make every day. The monologue focused on what made her a ‘monster’ in her eyes; she was a killer. The Red Room took away her choices, her power, and her innocence. I believe that’s what she was lamenting.”
I, like Toni_watches had a problem with Sara Stewart’s complaint about Hawkeye’s wife Laura in her post on IndieWire; “You got Linda Cardellini — Lindsay goddamn Weir! — in your movie, and you made her a housewife. As Hawkeye’s secret spouse (he’s kept his family in some sort of superhero protection program, apparently), she is literally pregnant and in the kitchen for most of her screen time. Sure, she dispenses some womanly words of wisdom and lets the Avengers crash in their Pottery Barn-tastic farmhouse, but seriously? That is some reductive gender shit right there. She is literally keeping the home fires burning. (How do I know this? Because there’s a lengthy scene in which two male Avengers show off their muscles chopping firewood.)”
As Ms. Toni puts it, “This statement is more condescending to women than anything in the movie. I don’t want to throw around accusations, but what exactly is Stewart saying here? We have women represented from all angles in this movie. We have superheroes, secret agents, scientists, ass-kicking spies, and yes, a housewife. Is Stewart saying that Laura Barton is any less of a strong woman, any less of a valuable character, because she’s a housewife? Feminism is about equality. It’s about respecting a woman’s choice to be whatever the hell she wants to be. If Laura Barton chooses to focus on raising her family, then all the power to her. How dare you reduce the role that so many women choose to make into some sort of anti-feminist ‘gender shit’. I saw nothing wrong with Laura Barton’s character. She is simply another example of a strong woman, doing what strong women do.”
Even Buffy, in “Older and Faraway”, (6.14) told Dawn that her most important job was caring for her. Saving the world a gazillion times was nothing compared to making sure her younger sister grew up to be a mature, functioning, caring adult in this world.
The Independent’s Matthew James gets the final word in this because he so eloquently puts the real issue before us, “The characters in Age Of Ultron are driven by creation. The villainous Ultron speaks on how humans come to accept their own mortality once they have had children. Ultron is a child of Tony Stark and sees the destruction of his father as necessary for evolution. Hawkeye is revealed to have children, and he is fighting for them to have a better world. The twins Quiksilver and Scarlett Witch are orphaned children, fuelled by their grief and anger. The Vision is a child of Ultron, but he is only brought to life thanks to creative contributions from other Avengers.
And Bruce Banner, the man who loves Widow, is unable to have children due to the gamma radiation which riddles his body. Viewed in this context, we see that Widow’s own plight is a function of the movie’s overall theme. She had her ability to create taken away from her. It’s not that she wants children, it’s that she cannot have them even if she did. Anything which might detract from her being a killer was stripped from her. It is not her infertility that makes her fear she’s a monster. It’s that her creators stole it from her. That they might have made her more weapon than human.
A lot of the criticism has been hung on this word: “monster”. But she doesn’t actually call herself that. She asks Bruce “Still think you are the only monster on the team?” She is vulnerable, sharing a secret. And it’s worth noting that the use of the word “monster” is deployed very deliberately. The movie invokes Frankenstein as it fills its cast with creators and creations. Captain America, Iron man, and The Vision all refer to themselves as monsters in various ways.”
So, Joss Haters, look in thy glass. You are the ones creating the roadblocks to equality by your reductive visions of true feminism. As, Mr. James points out, “True equality, when it arrives, will announce itself with diversity.”