Sometimes when I’m heard muttering about how outspoken feminists do the gender more harm than good, someone who doesn’t know me well gets confused (or bent out of shape) and challenges me to explain myself. What with my gender being femin and all, I guess it’s just assumed that I shut my brain down and faithfully follow the supposed leaders of the movement that’s all about me and my “sisters” without question.
So today, I shall explain myself in an analysis of the feminist objections to Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
[AGE OF ULTRON SPOILERS AHEAD]
Take a gander at this open letter to Joss, written by a woman who apparently went to Age of Ultron hoping she’d find something to bitch about. ‘Cause, I saw the same movie. And I’m a woman. And I’m a Joss Whedon fan. But I’m not a card carrying feminist. And I was blown away by the movie.
How I responded to the movie
When I saw Age of Ultron, I was sucked into the Marvel universe and taken on a wonderful, exciting, funny, Whedony ride.
When I walked out of the theater, I seriously wanted to run back around and get in line for another go, just like I used to do at amusement parks after riding something so thrilling I had to experience it again right away.
In fact, I saw Age of Ultron three times over opening weekend, and I loved the experience passionately every time.
- The movie reminded me why I adore Joss’s incredible creativity and storytelling power.
- It made me forget for a full two-and-a-half hours about all the things in my regular life that I’d rather weren’t part of my regular life.
- It gave me a blissful period of time during which I felt nothing but exhilaration and pure joy.
I thanked Joss on Twitter, although I know my words were a) hardly eloquent enough to express the depth of my feelings and b) probably never viewed by Joss, what with his busy schedule and all.
How they responded to the movie
Here’s a smattering what some other people tweeted to Joss over the weekend:
@josswhedon “talks against misogyny” @josswhedon “is the master of misogyny”
@josswhedon I am going to do everything in my power to destroy your career the way you destroyed natasha romanoffs character you piece of shit
@josswhedon everything about you is SHIT
@josswhedon why do you ruin everything we love
@josswhedon can’t complain about sexism in other people’s movies after the hatchet job he did to Black Widow in Age of Ultron.
@josswhedon why can’t you write female characters as real people
@josswhedon you son of a bitch, what the hell you doing with natasha romanoff
@josswhedon why do you think fucking with your characters’ reproductive agency is a thing that you should do?
@josswhedon can fuck off. Never touch marvel again you sexist asshole
@josswhedon is a strong female character not in your vocabulary?
@josswhedon I hate u and ur shitty sexist writing <3
@josswhedon thanks for ruining Natasha romanoff you absolute trash can
@josswhedon you’re trash
@josswhedon u misogynistic balloney man
@josswhedon do us all a favor and stop calling yourself a feminist!
That’s not all of them.
If this is what feminism is, then I’m damned proud not to identify myself as one of them.
Here’s what I have to say about all that.
Before I address the reason for all the outrage, I’d like to say two things about the nature of these vicious attacks.
One, I’ve been deeply disappointed by creative endeavors before. George Lucas and J.J. Abrams have both let me down in spectacular fashion – to the point where I still get wound up and rant about my suffering years later.
So, regardless of how much I happened to love Age of Ultron, I get what it’s like to be disappointed. When you’ve been waiting for something that’s supposed to be awesome – or answer burning questions (I’m looking at you, J.J.) – for years, and what you ultimately receive doesn’t even come close to living up to your expectations, it’s rough.
That said, I have never directly called Lucas or Abrams names or attacked either of them in public. Not even a little bit.
Second, I can’t help but notice that a majority of these filth spitters apparently lack basic capitalization, punctuation, and grammar skills. So, before they’ve done anything else, they’ve definitely demonstrated to the world that women can’t use the English language properly. Thanks ladies. I appreciate the boost on that score. At least Sara Stewart’s open letter to Joss had been through a spell check!
Now, because it’s impossible to respond constructively to all the cruel words fired at Joss in 140 characters or fewer, I’ll address Stewart’s complaints, which are carefully organized and expressed without profanity.
Natasha Romanoff can’t have children.
The primary issue amongst the feminists seems to be Natasha’s sadness over the fact that she was sterilized against her will by the PTB at the Red Room.
“. . . did we really need Natasha to have a mini-breakdown over the fact that she can’t have children? Haven’t we gotten to a point where the one lonely female superhero in our current landscape can just pursue the business of avenging without having to bemoan not being a mother?”
Let’s start with a given. Natasha Romanoff was sterile in the comic books. So, Joss didn’t make that up; he simply used it.
Second, Romanoff didn’t break down because she couldn’t have children; she broke down because cruel people molded little-girl Natasha into a cold-blooded killer and took her choices away from her. Against her will. She’s sad and angry because she never had the opportunity to decide what her life would be like – not just in the reproductive arena, but in the career arena and every other arena that exists.
Natasha Romanoff was deliberately molded into a monster. The Red Room violated both her psyche and her body. Yet, Romanoff has managed to stay sane. She’s managed to use her skills to benefit others. The one thing they did to her that she cannot change – that she cannot overcome through force of will – is the fact that they took part of her body. To make her a more efficient killer.
So, Wanda Maximoff throws Romanoff back into little-Natasha’s nightmare reality, and Romanoff remembers, viscerally, who she was. Her breakdown isn’t a sign of weakness – if anything, it’s a testament to just how powerful Maximoff is (wait, who said there weren’t strong women in this movie?).
Is it the fact that Romanoff kicks ass that makes her a strong female character? I don’t think so. Kicking ass is what she was designed to do. Her strength comes from her ability overcome her past and be an Avenger instead of a villain.
When confronted with her desire to have a different life, especially immediately after literally reliving the pain and horror of her childhood, Romanoff responds like a human being instead of a superhero. How does this make her less strong? From my perspective, it shows how freaking strong she actually is!
If Romanoff is to have any character development (as in, Joss makes her a fully realized human being instead of a plastic superhero), the origin of Black Widow has to be part of that development. So, how was she supposed to react? With flippant, casual annoyance?
“Oh, yeah, Bruce, I’d love to run off and have a peaceful life with you in which neither of us has to be a monster. Thank goodness I’m not carrying around any baggage from my upbringing that might interfere with that!”
Also, correct me if I’m wrong. Aren’t the feminists the ones who are all about women getting to be 100% in charge of their own reproductive choices??
Owning one’s reproductive choices does (as far as I know) include being one of those women who wants to have children. You can’t have it both ways, ladies. Either you’re in favor of all women having their own feelings, plans, aspirations, and dreams about having children or you’re not.
Or are we to shun every woman who has a biological clock as an agent of the “man”?
Clint Barton’s wife is a homemaker.
Stewart’s next objection regards Barton’s wife.
“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.”
If I’m reading this right, according to the feminists, being a housewife is not an acceptable choice for a woman (especially if she’s Lindsay Weir).
Does every woman in a superhero movie have to wear a latex suit and beat the crap out of bad guys – or robots? Is running a farm, raising children, and waiting to find out if your husband has been killed by a bad guy – or a robot – not heroic enough?
If feminists were in charge of the cinematic universe, human beings would become extinct because women wouldn’t be allowed to have and raise children!
Clint Barton has a wife. If he has a wife, she’s gonna’ be a woman. What does Stewart want his wife to be like? Should she be some kind of powerful attorney in a big city who eschews the trappings of domesticity and refuses to have children because doing so would interfere with her career? How does that improve Age of Ultron?
Laura Barton is a kind and patient woman. A woman who has made a choice to support her husband as he runs off to save the world, knowing he could die, but accepting that it’s what he has to do and being okay with it. All while suffering the discomfort and hormonal wackiness of pregnancy! She is, in my book, a hell of a strong woman. She’s amazing, yet the feminists are complaining because she chooses to be a housewife. And because Joss chose to include a strong woman in a superhero movie who isn’t a traditional superhero (trust me, those kids of hers undoubtedly think she’s a superhero in her own right).
Maria Hill and Helen Cho don’t do anything important.
Next Stewart complains that Maria Hill doesn’t do anything but “walk around with a clipboard, wear tight black pantsuits [dresses actually] and have the occasional chastising Skype session with our heroes,” and Dr. Helen Cho, “who can apparently do brilliant things with genetics but mostly just gets mind-warped by the villainous Ultron and, later, beaten up [shot, actually] by him.”
Here’s something to keep in mind. The characters in movies are always going to be either male or female (or robots). These two characters are women, and they’re both competent, smart, powerful women. Hill is, like, the best project manager ever, and Dr. Cho is a brilliant scientist.
If these characters had both been men, and their roles in the movie had been the same, the feminist would have been whining about how all the powerful characters in the movie were male.
Ultron was going to find himself a brilliant scientist to mind-whammy, and he was going to shoot that scientist when things didn’t go his way. So, if Dr. Cho was definitely going to be either male or female, which one should Joss have chosen?
From what I can tell, the feminists would have been pissed off either way.
Pepper and Jane Foster aren’t in the movie.
Stewart also complains about the absence of Pepper and Jane Foster in the movie. Seriously? We now need to add superfluous female characters to movies just so the estrogen and the testosterone are balanced at all times?
Wanda Maximoff isn’t Buffy.
Finally, Stewart accuses Joss of failing the feminist movement by giving Wanda Maximoff “zero quippy Whedony dialogue.”
Yup. That’s right. Her biggest complaint regarding the Scarlet Witch is the fact that she wasn’t witty enough. Never mind the fact that her character is a balance to her brother’s brash arrogance, or that she makes smart decisions and kicks ass with a vengeance (literally). Never mind that in a moment of rage and grief, she rips the “heart” from an Ultron robot. No, she’s not strong enough because she doesn’t get to say anything cute.
Age of Ultron is one of the most entertaining superhero movies I’ve ever seen. It is filled with interesting, complex, often flawed characters, all of whom are either male or female. Even the robots are complex and interesting. None of the main characters are spared their moments of conflict. Everyone struggles. Everyone.
At what point do we stop keeping score? At what point do we acknowledge that – as in the real world – all human beings are unique, regardless of gender?
- Some Age of Ultron characters want children (Barton and his wife, Banner, Romanoff).
- Some characters get mind-whammied by Loki’s scepter (Barton in Avengers Assemble, Dr. Cho in Age of Ultron).
- Some characters get shot (Barton and Dr. Cho again).
- Some characters make terrible decisions that affect the safety of the world (Stark, Banner, Wanda Romanoff).
- Some characters sacrifice their safety and happiness for others and for the safety of the world (Pietro Maximoff, Romanoff, Banner).
Characters are not pawns to be manipulated by people who identify themselves with “isms” to forward a cause. They’re people.
What makes Whedon’s work so compelling is not that he creates strong female characters. It’s that he creates strong human characters, and some of them are women. If he backed down and only gave us women who are solely superheroes, he’d be doing a disservice to his audience.
Feminists: Do not ask Joss Whedon to remove the humanity from his characters to fit your agenda!