(some spoilers for both Avengers movies and Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
There’s a lot of outrage on twitter right now directed at Joss Whedon over his portrayal of Black Widow in Age of Ultron. And for the life of me, I can’t see why.
Or rather, I can, and it baffles me that THIS is what people are upset over this week.
So, for context: midway through Age of Ultron there’s a scene where Black Widow and Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk) talk about their mutual inability to have children. The Hulk because sexual arousal drives his heart rate up, which makes him Hulk out and likely would kill his partner, and Black Widow because she was rendered sterile to become a more efficient killing machine who never has to worry about kids or the possibility of having kids while seducing a target.
I’ll admit the line “You still think you’re the only monster here?” is poorly placed, but as far as actual full-on misogyny goes? No. This is character development built off of a consistent character trait and one that in hindsight is actually kind of brilliant.
Hear me out – I didn’t believe it at first either, this was something a friend proposed to me.
Consider Black Widow’s behavior throughout these movies. In the first Avengers movie, she makes it apparent that whatever her past may have been, she badly wants to turn over a new leaf and be a good person. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and keep in mind, Whedon didn’t direct this one) she spends the entire movie trying to get Cap to go on some dates, which is admittedly a little awkward to see her try even when they’re being hunted down by Hydra, but it’s lighthearted and innocent enough that I can let it slide. Then in the second Avengers movie, we find out that her best friend (Hawkeye) has a family that she knows about, is apparently a surrogate Aunt for, and was excited at the prospect of… Mrs.Hawkeye having a daughter they could name Natasha.
Keep that last part in mind – it’s gonna be important later.
It’s evident that Black Widow wants to leave the life of a killer behind, but she’s also in a position that requires her to fight and kill. She can’t just leave, either, as she has no other marketable skills (of which we’re aware, at any rate) and her current position is so important that the survival of the planet may very well depend on her. Even if she could leave, she couldn’t stop being the Black Widow. As she said in Captain America 2, she wasn’t even sure who she really was anymore. There was no life to go back to. And in the first Avengers, she tells Loki that she wants to clean some of the red out of her file.
So she wants to stop taking life, and wants to make up for how much she took before. Obviously, she can’t bring people back to life because she’s a normal assassin lady and not a god. So the other solutions are to protect lives – which doesn’t work because in her case it requires she take MORE lives – or to create life… which she also can’t do because of her sterilization.
Black Widow’s line that she’s a monster isn’t because of the sterilization as the placement would imply (I thought this was weird at first too) but because the fact that she can’t is a constant reminder that she was made into a killing machine. She can’t give life, only take it. Remember when I said that the baby would be important later? Black Widow is acting as a surrogate Aunt and trying to live vicariously through Hawkeye’s family. That’s why she was disappointed that the baby was a man – she wanted it to be Natasha and to live the life she could never have. It’s also why she kept trying to get Captain America to go on some dates: she might not be able to have life herself, but A) she can help fix Cap’s and B) that doesn’t mean she can’t help others make it.
… stop looking at me like that.
And to those saying Joss Whedon is misogynist, I have a quote for you: