Girly Icky Stuff (writing)

Writing is tricky, especially in terms of gender roles.

The latest outrage seems to be that Black Widow is somehow “ruined” because she has a romantic subplot with Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron.

This is, frankly, bullshit.

The problem so often people seem to get confused about is their inherent bias toward “male” versus “female” stories OR “default” versus “specialized”. This is especially true when it comes to female action hero characters.

That Black Widow takes part in a story that has romantic overtones doesn’t mean she’s been reduced to a “girl”. It means she’s a human who does more than just kick ass and look hot. It means she has emotional investments in the characters around her, and that, despite being a hypercompetent spy, she is actually capable of romantic feelings. Y’know, icky girl stuff.

This happens again and again. When Tony Stark has a romantic subplot with Pepper Pots, it isn’t viewed as ruining his character. When Thor loves Jane Foster, it’s just considered part of his life. But if Black Widow so much as considers romantic feelings toward mild Bruce Banner, it’s seen as damaging to her character. Basically, she doesn’t have the right to be human. She has to be tough. She has to be so anti-“girl” that she can play in the boy’s club.

And let’s be honest. There’s also a bit of prejudice against male stereotypes too. I don’t think people would have the same problem if Black Widow liked Captain America or Tony Stark, two traditional alpha males, because in that position Black Widow takes the back seat. But Bruce Banner is the mild-mannered alter ego. He’s “the wimp”, and that simply isn’t allowed.

But it’s bullshit. You don’t make women interesting by abandoning all things “girly” about them. You don’t deny the full experience of a human being to a character simply because people don’t like it when females have feelings in male-centered movies.

Seriously, some people have to grow up.

More importantly, we all need to acknowledge the full range of human experience and romance and relationships are part of that range. They could play it safe, have the Black Widow be a genderless robot who existed only to beat up bad guys and power off anything even remotely human about her. But where would that get us? What kind of character would she be?

Having a lady kiss a guy (or even another lady for that matter) doesn’t automatically undo anything about her character. It doesn’t make her a one-dimensional sex object. It doesn’t negate the complexity of her being. It just acknowledges that there’s a lot to being human and kissing and hugging and feelings and stuff are a part of that.

Creating a character with no romantic life is no more progress than creating one that is entirely romantic life. And while there are some definite sins in the MCU, having Black Widow be a person isn’t one of them. And if you think it is, then maybe you should consider how you’ve been conditioned to view all things “girly”, even in the context of an epic superhero universe.

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  1. JB Sanders
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh boy, do I agree with that. How many people took the opposite track and proclaimed their distaste in that showing the big green guy in a tepidly romantic relationship is somehow emasculating? These are supposed to be super heroes, but that doesn’t mean they lost all human emotions, except for the Vision, but he’s an android.

  2. A Raabe
    Posted February 10, 2016 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I agree. Characters without any emotions whatsoever are flat and pointless. (Though I do wish they’d chosen Wasp instead of Black Widow for the Avengers, she was an original and it would have made more sense).

    Though…can we all agree that she really needed to zip up that catsuit of her’s? I’m all for femme fatales but that just seems unsafe in a combat zone.

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