Guest Post by the Wonderful Mary Mordrake. She gives us her self proclaimed rant on the criticism directed at the Avengers Age Of Ultron movie.
Warning: This analysis contains SPOILERS. DO NOT read this if you haven’t seen the Avengers Age Of Ultron yet.
I’m sure that by now everyone is aware of a certain “angry feminist letter” to Joss Whedon that’s been making its rounds on the internet, not to mention the countless arguments against the way that women, especially Black Widow, have been portrayed in Avenger Age of Ultron. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to wonder if we all even watched the same movie. Not only is this—dare I say it—just a movie, but I have never seen anyone jump to conclusions so fast over one scene. And that’s coming from someone who actively jumped into the “First Look at Jared Leto’s Joker” fray.
Let’s talk about Black Widow for a minute. She’s a superhero, spy, and master assassin, and when Wanda Maximoff opens up her Pandora’s box of nightmares, we discover exactly how she got there: the Red Room. From what we can see, the Red Room is presumably a school for young women to be trained as assassins, and the graduation ceremony involves forced sterilization. Later on, when Natasha is speaking to Bruce, he tells her that he can’t have children, and she immediately responds that she can’t either. Here is where all of the anger has stemmed from – why, Joss, why would you reduce the Black Widow to a feeble woman crying about how she can’t have children? The answer is, because he didn’t.
Natasha isn’t telling Bruce that she’s upset because she can’t have children. She’s revealed something about herself that all this time, she’s believed makes her a monster. She was sterilized like an animal against her will, and it’s that experience that stays with her. Not the fact that she can’t get pregnant or have her own children, but that she was invaded, mind, body and soul by the Red Room and that makes her a monster worthy of another. Not only that, but when Wanda pulled Natasha’s greatest fear from her mind, Natasha wasn’t envisioning some bright future with a white picket fence and children playing on the lawn. There was no unattainable happy family image meant to leave her distraught and disgusted with herself in the present day. She saw her terrified childhood self strapped to a gurney, being taken to who knows where for a sterilization “ceremony” that was completely terrifying and alien to her. So when Natasha says that she can’t have children, telling Bruce “they sterilized me”, even her language says that she is traumatized by sterilization itself rather than a future without children.
Think back to the first Avengers film when Natasha stated she wanted to wipe the “red” from her ledger. At the time, many assumed she meant all the blood she had spilled in the past, and perhaps that meaning still stands. However, I would go so far as to say that her “red” is the Red Room, and that the Avengers have given her a chance to do something positive, and to feel like a human being again. Maybe Natasha can’t have children, but she has a different kind of family in the Avengers now, and that’s what really matters.
There have also been complaints about Wanda Maximoff and her lack of Whedon-esque character. Where are the smart, sassy quips, the jokes, the snappy banter? Well I’m not sure, maybe they were lost when Wanda decided to seek vengeance against Tony Stark. Or hey, maybe she felt a little intimidated by the massive, seemingly all-powerful robot that she had a hand in creating. No, I’ve got it. She should have been ready with some witty banter when she looked into Ultron’s mind and saw his plan for the destruction of humanity. Some female spunk would definitely have helped her deal with all that shame and self-loathing over what she created, right? Wrong.
I don’t understand the need to compare female characters from Buffy and other Whedon shows to the Avengers. Scarlet Witch is a very old school Marvel character with a rich history and a penchant for revenge and chaos (see Exhibit A: House of M). This is a woman known to make rash, emotionally driven decisions because she cares more for family than anything else in the world. She doesn’t make fun quips or snappy remarks like the Avengers, because there is a difference between a young woman who’s spent years chasing revenge with no one but her twin brother at her side, and a team that’s been working together and become a tight knit professional and family unit. There’s also a huge difference between a group of people who have made it their job to save the world and a single, guilt ridden person that believes she caused its end.
Frankly, if Whedon had thrown a couple of jokes or quips into Wanda’s dialogue, it would have been forced and detrimental to her character. I would rather see a character with the same personality from page to screen than one forced into an expected “Whedon-esque” framework. The Wanda that Whedon created is a strong, intelligent, and emotionally driven woman that was given a perfect introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. People can throw out arguments about feminism regarding both Black Widow and Scarlet Witch if they want, but the fact is that women, fictional or otherwise, are allowed to be strong, independent, career-driven, heroic, villainous, or somewhere in between. And we’re also allowed to be emotional, dependent, flawed, and ordinary. Why? Because women are human beings that don’t need to be compared to men or judged for some strength of character that some people seem to think is required for us to stand alongside men. Joss Whedon clearly knows all of this and has once again delivered both male and female characters with all of these traits and more.
Another, slightly smaller, debate has stemmed from the fact that Falcon and War Machine were given cameos in Age of Ultron, yet Pepper Potts and Jane Foster were notably absent. Of course, the obvious conclusion is to note the lack of women present and wonder why Whedon couldn’t get Gwyneth Paltrow of Natalie Portman to stop in for a couple of days for the scene. Considering the scheduling conflicts and other issues that arose by merely trying to bring the main Avengers back together for another film, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was too difficult to bring too more highly sought after, and probably expensive, actors into the fray. Not only that, but I personally found it incredibly endearing to watch two world-saving superheroes compete over which of their girlfriends was the most accomplished. Here you have a self-proclaimed genius billionaire playboy philanthropist just so proud and matter of fact about Pepper running an entire company, and, although it goes unmentioned, dealing with the emotional and physical after-effect of Extremis. And then there’s Thor, a literal GOD, just raving about how Jane is the number one astrophysicist (?) in the world and that she could be in the running for a Nobel Prize. I am personally much happier to know that Tony and Thor both have highly successful partners that are too busy to come to every party thrown at the Avengers Tower (which, knowing Thor and Tony, is a lot of parties), and that they choose to spend said parties talking about these women’s accomplishments instead of their own.
Let’s return to the women who are actually present in this film. We have Laura Barton, Hawkeye’s wife, who is apparently playing housewife at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We learn the Nick Fury helped Clint by setting up a safe house for his family, and that he’s kept them a secret from everyone except Natasha. This is the part where I remind you that women are still women whether they’re fighting crime or running a household, and that strength isn’t always found in battling an alien invasion. Strength can mean supporting someone you love and reminding them of their value in a world of gods and monsters. It can mean opening your home to a group of superpowered individuals, including a god and a monster. You can tell me that Laura Barton is just a stay at home mom who sacrificed her life to play Susie Homemaker to a chronically absent husband, and I will reply that maybe both Laura and Clint decided that, considering the lives that both he and Natasha lead, a little peace and quiet isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe she realizes that there are too many dangerous people and organizations that would use Laura and her children against both Clint and Natasha, and that sometimes, sacrifices are made for the ones you love. Either way, it’s counterproductive to shame a fictional character for being the wife of an Avenger and not wanting to be in the line of fire.
Maria Hill and Dr. Helen Cho both play small but pivotal roles in Age of Ultron. Hill is always there in the background, and is seemingly the cause of Nick Fury’s appearance at Clint’s farmhouse. As Tony remarks, “Were you ever not working for Fury?” I see nothing wrong with the subtle but obviously important portrayal of Nick Fury’s most trusted agent working side by side with the Avengers to help them, bring Fury in when he was most needed, and, by extension, bring in the Helicarrier to save thousands of Zerkovian lives. Meanwhile, Dr. Cho is at first glance our resident damsel in distress of the film. But let’s stop and think about why Ultron chose her. He didn’t want a hostage, or even a witness, as with when he kidnapped Black Widow. Ultron didn’t care about her gender, he cared about her work on tissue regeneration and how she could use it to create a new, humanoid and godlike body. Just as Hawkeye was chosen by Loki for his skills as a trusted SHIELD operative, Ultron chose Dr. Cho because her advancements in medical science technology would help him to achieve his goals. The fact that she is female just doesn’t factor into the equation.
Moral of the story: Women are people, fictional or otherwise. Women are allowed to have well rounded personalities complete with all the flaws because once again, women are people whether they are superheroes, CEOs, scientists, assassins, wives, mothers, and everything in between. Also, the internet often jumps to conclusions and needs to decide whether one’s inability to understand what sterilization means for a young girl strapped to a gurney beyond not being a future mother is enough to send threats and negativity to both the film’s director and its viewers. Now go watch Age of Ultron, and don’t come back until you’ve learned the lesson that Whedon was trying to teach you: Women are people. Men are people. PEOPLE are people, and they deserve to live the lives that the Avengers strive to protect.
Mary is a walking encyclopedia of Avengers, X-Men, and Batman. She is an avid cosplayer and obsessive reader. She’s dreamed of living in the Avengers and/or X-Mansion since she was eight years old, which is almost as long as she’s wanted to be a Sailor Scout. You can check out her cosplay at http://www.facebook.com/marymordrake and her fanfiction at http://archiveofourown.org/users/Harleydoll/works . Her instagram is @marymordrakecosplay and her Pinterest is Mary Mordrake.
Scoop here: When I first met Mary, I did not realize she could write everything in ALLCAPS. Thankfully I fixed that. Again. 😉 Her X-Men fandom only narrowly beats out her Harley Quinn fandom. And she is a vicious Quidditch player. You can read her thoughts on what the movie X-Men Days Of Future Past might mean and her review of the movie X-Men Days Of Future Past.