Archives for : feminism

On Natasha Romanoff and Feminism

Natasha Romanoff (The_Avengers)

It’s official, faux-feminists. I’m-a callin’ you out. *straps on six-guns*

According to, the definition of feminism is the following:

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities


: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests

So, therefore, explain to me how the depiction of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in Age of Ultron is being seen as sexist? Because it’s been over a week and I just came back from my second viewing of the film, and I am just not seeing it.

What I’m seeing it something else entirely.

In case you’re stumbling across this blog post with no prior knowledge of who and what I am, I’m a girl. A black girl. A black girl nerd, in fact, and I have been since I was old enough to watch television and realize that Batman is someone I wanted to emulate at the earliest possible moment. I wouldn’t call myself a full-blown kick-down-your-door-and-scream-in-your-face feminist, but I am one. I want my ladies, both in real life and in fiction, to be represented in every possible way and to have every single right that they have earned through blood, sweat, and tears. I want writers to push past the easy stereotypes and write women of every kind as long as said writing is not only realistic and reflective of women as a whole, but also writing that is as diverse and layered as the kind used for writing men.

If you want to talk about Natasha Romanoff, then I’m eager to begin, because this woman has been on quite a journey from her introduction in Iron Man 2. Natasha started out getting her feet wet by being gorgeous and tight-lipped for the most part, and I actually had zero opinion of her after I saw the film. I knew of her—that she was a former assassin turned good guy thanks to Nick Fury, Clint Barton, and SHIELD—and that she had some friction with Tony Stark, but otherwise, she wasn’t even a blip on my radar. After all, in Iron Man 2, she didn’t get to do quite a lot other than have some really overcomplicated takedowns that looked badass, but didn’t give me much to go on other than she looks super cool beating down bad guys.

Then The Avengers came along. Holy shitsnacks. This is precisely what I had been missing from both ScarJo and Nat in general. We see beneath the hotness in a jumpsuit. We see that she has an excellent sense of humor and a wonderfully cool poker face, but she also has a drive, a need, and a purpose not only with SHIELD, but also with the other Avengers. Furthermore, we see that Natasha is not only devoted, but cunning beyond measure. Everyone has a favorite moment from The Avengers—hell, the entire damn movie is just one continuous block of Crowning Moment of Awesome—but one of my all-time favorites scenes is still Natasha confronting Loki. It’s beautiful. How she starts off so calm and collected, and then Loki delves into her sordid, ugly past and digs up the reason why she is so determined to save her best friend, and then the entire experience is up-ended when it’s revealed that she was carefully playing on Loki’s ego and mad desire for revenge in order to find out his ultimate goal. Not one other member of that team could have done what Nat did. No one. That moment solidified the reason why Natasha is an Avenger. She may not have all the strength of Thor or Captain America, or the technological brilliance of Tony or Bruce, or the sharpshooting abilities of Hawkeye, but Nat is there for a reason. She adds something to that team, something that they most certainly needed, something that they could not have won the day without. Natasha is not a pretty accessory. Natasha has weight to her character, and that leads me into her next appearance.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the exact moment I fell in love with Natasha Romanoff. She became every single thing I’ve ever wanted in a female hero that I haven’t been able to get just yet (though I personally did really enjoy Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, and shut up, I don’t care if you don’t agree). The Avengers introduced us to Nat, but this is the film where the onion starts to peel and we see the layers beneath. I adore Nat and Steve together, as partners, as friends, and I admit I actually did see a little spark of attraction there as well, even if Nat’s intentions for Bruce come up in Age of Ultron. I love that she’s so laidback and teasing with him, but then at the same time, there is real conflict beneath her seemingly easy company. The two of them have very different approaches to saving the day, and Steve thinks everything is black and white while Nat sees only the grey. I especially loved the conversation they had in the truck on the way to New Jersey, where she asks what he wants from her, and he simply tells her the truth, and then there’s that incredible scene at Sam’s place where he says that he’d trust her with his life now that they’ve been through hell and back. I love that Steve could tell Nat was shaken by finding out that SHIELD was Hydra all along, and I think it adds something even deeper to what she goes through in Age of Ultron, which we’ll get to in a second. Nat’s “red in my ledger” comment is the baseline of her character development. She’s been trying so hard to wipe out that gushing red, and to discover that SHIELD, the organization that saved her life and put her on the right path, was still evil at its core, was the worst thing that could happen to her. But she puts her trust in Steve and Sam and the others and they get the work done destroying Hydra’s plan, and once again, she is shown to be beyond competent and essential to the mission, stopping Pierce and saving literally millions of lives.

Now it’s time to discuss Age of Ultron. By now, we know a glimpse of Nat’s past, what motivates her to still work for SHIELD, and that she’s perfectly comfortable with her teammates. First off, I do admit I’m not a big fan of the Nat/Bruce ship, but that’s not the fault of the writing for me. I just don’t see chemistry between ScarJo and Ruffalo, that’s all. I think she had way more heat and tension with Evans, but that might also be because the two have worked together before in the Nanny Diaries and in Winter Soldier, so keep that in mind. However, this is where my problem with the faux feminists start.

First of all, how is it sexist that Nat has a romantic arc with Bruce when literally every single Avenger so far has a love interest BEFORE it got to her? Tony has Pepper, Steve had Peggy, Bruce had Betty, Thor had Jane, and Hawkeye had his wife. I’m not kidding. All of them have a romantic relationship BEFORE Nat does, and all of said romances were fully explored and have an impact on our heroes. So does Nat and Bruce’s relationship. I’m not understanding the claim of sexism here. Hell, let’s check Webster yet again for a definition:

Sexism (n):   prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially :  discrimination against women


:  behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Nope. Still not seeing it. Where is the sexism in Nat developing an attraction to Bruce, who is quiet, brilliant, kind-hearted, brave, and has shown her nothing but respect since they met? Where is the unfair treatment of this character? She is getting the same amount of attention towards romance that the other heroes received. How does it diminish who she is to want to share her feelings, both physical and emotional, with someone she likes?

Moving on, apparently the other outcry of the faux feminists is that Nat’s reveal about being sterile is also somehow sexist. Again, I’m a girl. I’ve watched this movie two separate times a week apart, and I cannot see any sexism on the part of the writers/director. Are they trying to say that dealing with her sterility is sexist? How? Men and women ARE different. Women DO have issues that men will never have to deal with. Nat’s sterility is definitely something that would impact her negatively and make her feel utterly destroyed if thrown back into her face after what we assume is probably years of repression. She was a weapon, programmed and commanded to do things against her will, and that abuse shaped how she acted for entire years.

Furthermore, how is it sexist to write that it made her turn that negativity onto herself when Bruce brought up not being able to have a family? If it’s the way she phrased being a monster, fine, that wasn’t phrased correctly, but I don’t see how that is reinforcing a stereotype or a negative generalization about women. Infertility is an issue that affects all women, whether they want to ever bear children or not. I personally don’t really want any kids at this point in my life, and I might never get to that point, and I don’t even have a boyfriend. That is a relevant issue to women. Why is Nat getting hatred, and subsequently, why is Joss Whedon and his writers getting flak for discussing a modern, relevant issue that women deal with? Wouldn’t it be sexist to gloss over it? Wouldn’t it be sexist to ignore her background and not discuss what has made her want to bond with Bruce? To make her a one dimensional character who is just a pair of tits or a punchline?

This is why I finally decided to make a blog post discussing the issue. I think that feminism has been corrupted by one specific group of women who like to take this word and warp it into an excuse to complain. Do you want proof? Fine. I’ll give you some examples.

They complain about Nat, but they ignore the fact that Darcy, the brunette from Thor, quite literally did not do ONE plot relevant thing in the entire movie. She was just there to be pretty and crack jokes and so the twenty-something boys would have someone to ogle other than Natalie Portman. Not only that, but they accept her as part of the Marvel universe and even ship her with people like Loki, which makes so little sense that I cannot even offer an attempt at an explanation. She is superfluous. 100% superfluous. And yet no complaints, but praise.

They complain about Nat, but then they scream and rage about Jane falling in love with Thor even though Thor’s entire actions in the first movie were a direct result of things that Jane helped him do, and he would not have been able to regain Mjolnir or defeat Loki without Jane’s help. It makes perfect sense that Thor fell for her because of how smart and sweet and brave and ready to learn about things she didn’t know she was, and it made sense for Jane to fall for Thor because he was a gentleman and he sacrificed himself to save a town full of people as well as her from his brother’s wrath.

They complain about Nat, but they actively worship Loki: a selfish, spoiled, entitled prick who chose to ignore years of kinship with Thor and Odin because his ego and inferiority complex took over. They constantly make excuses for him, saying it’s all Odin’s fault or all Thor’s fault, that Loki went mad with the notion that he was meant to be king. They say that he was just “misunderstood” when he came to earth, gleefully killing innocent people, and intending to enslave mankind not for our own good, but because he wants to be king of the mountain. They blame Thor for being a bully, and ignore the fact that Thor gave Loki chance after chance after chance to reform and do the right thing, even at the risk of his own life, and that Thor still loved Loki even at the moment of his “passing” in The Dark World.

They complain about Nat, but they try to justify the actions of Grant Ward from Agents of SHIELD, who has a boo-hoo abusive backstory that in no way justifies his constant ass-hattery and decision to be an evil, remorseless arrogant son of a bitch time and time again. He has murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and blamed everyone but himself for his own actions, and he has made it clear that his wants and needs exceed everyone else’s, and he refuses to apologize to the people who he betrayed and tried to kill several times, and yet these same women create entire groups to “stand” with him and protest that he’s not a monster when we have physical evidence that he is.

So yes, I use the term “faux-feminist” with no reservations whatsoever when addressing the people who claim that Nat is a bad character written by a “sexist.” All she is as of right now is a lightning rod that they are using to do what their actual agenda is: to stomp their little feet and fight fire with fire. Feminism is NOT about bullying men, or bullying women who disagree with you. Feminism is NOT about throwing so much hatred at someone that they feel the need to remove themselves from a social media environment. Feminism is NOT about treating men like shit so that they “understand” what women go through. Feminism is about finding middle ground so that men understand that women are to be written competently and realistically instead of being objectified or ignored.

Natasha Romanoff was not being objectified or ignored. She had an actual character arc. She had a personality. She had a mission. She was relevant, three-dimensional, and realistic. Does she do things that some of us disagree with? Of course she does! But that is what makes her an actual character. Real characters make mistakes. They screw up. They have faults. That is what the end goal is for feminism. We want to see women who aren’t perfect goddesses or complete screw ups. We want to see women who are both, and every shade in between, and that is exactly what Natasha Romanoff has become from her first appearance to her current one. You don’t have to like her. But you have to appreciate her because she is a fully formed character with motivations, a flushed out personality with layers, and a background that has been explored that affects her behavior.

You wanna complain about Age of Ultron? Be my guest. The movie is by no stretch perfect. It has flaws, and you are welcome to discuss them. But don’t you dare plant that fake-ass feminist flag and proclaim that it’s tearing down women when you have Natasha Romanoff out there kicking ass and being developed and proving that you don’t need a dick to be a fantastic hero. That ain’t feminism. That’s being a dick.

And I’m pretty sure that’s not what feminism is about.

Kyo out.

On Sexism and Misogyny in SFF

"What do you mean 50 Shades of Grey out-sold Harry Potter?!"

“What do you mean 50 Shades of Grey out-sold Harry Potter?!”

This past week, a buddy of mine and I somehow got into a conversation about representation of women, particularly in science fiction and fantasy movies. At some point, he pointed out how sad it is that rape is too often used as an excuse to show how “evil” a villain is when in fact there are plenty of other ways to indicate it without demeaning women and dredging up unnecessary and unpleasant implications. This discussion really got me thinking about one of the most difficult hurdles I’ve been facing both writing and marketing The Black Parade.

First off, let me just say that I still can’t believe sexism is a thing. Seriously. Women are just people without penises. Why is that hard to comprehend? Anyway, moving on—one of the most commons issues in sci-fi and fantasy is the characterization of the fairer sex. It can fall short for several reasons—stereotyping, laziness, misunderstanding the traits that make women who they are, good old fashioned misogyny—and it’s not limited to urban fantasy, nor is it specific to novels.

For instance, allow me to make a really large group of nerds angry: I don’t like how George Lucas writes women. I truly don’t. I don’t think he’s the worst guy out there, but I actually spent an hour debating with my writing sensei about the characterization of Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark. For the longest time, I never understood why fans of the movies worshipped Marion and yet they hated Willie from Temple of Doom with a purple passion. I rewatched Raiders recently and I still found Marion to be a useless, shrieking harpy, and I find the fact that people call her an “Action Girl” insulting. She had exactly one useful trait and that was that she had the medallion. Otherwise, there was no reason to write her into the film because they never fully explore her backstory and so she has no personal stake in the story. People point out that they hate Willie because she bitches and moan at every opportunity (and she was doing the director and that’s how she was cast, which I get), but watch the movie again and count how many times Marion whines about something or shrieks Indy’s name. It’s kind of a lot. Plus, all she does is get rescued over and over again throughout the movie, and I don’t think that I should give her points for trying to escape because it still doesn’t make her useful or likable. She talks shit to the bad guys without being able to back it up and she has a serious attitude problem that made me want her face to get melted by the end of the movie.

Now, my Marion Ravenwood rant isn’t here just to enrage some nerds. I’m making a point. I think she was poorly written and executed, but I also think that Lucas did a much better job with Elsa from The Last Crusade. Consider this: she was beautiful, educated, motivated, useful, and cunning. She had her own thoughts and beliefs that were independent from Indy, whereas the other two girls just followed him around and did everything he told them to. She actively disagreed with him and even had the acting chops to trick him into giving her what she wanted. She was a slimy, selfish, ambitious hussy. And guess what? That was fantastic writing. Elsa was a bad girl, one of the worst, and that’s why I liked her. She was still gorgeous and feminine, but she was complicated and layered. With Marion and Willie, what you see is what you get. Not so with Elsa.

So maybe I’m not crazy about Lucas writing women. There are oodles of other beautiful ladies out there kicking butt, right? Of course. I’m proud to see the frothing sea of awesome women in fiction, from books to plays to anime to movies. Hell, I’ve even pointed out my favorite ones before. However, the reason why I felt the need to make a post is because we’re approaching some sort of horizon where the sexism in fiction is going to have to face a major shift.

I made a recent post about the importance of Katniss Everdeen both as a character and as a representation of a sadly underappreciated demographic of women. The current problem in our society is that for every fantastic, well written female protagonist, we have bucketfuls of awful ones. The fact that Bella Swan and Ana Steele will go down in history as two of the most profitable female characters in our history makes me want to Hulk Out and thrash someone Loki-style. Is it true that some women are doormats and hopelessly codependent? Sure. Should we be glorifying it to young, impressionable teens? HELL NO.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ll have to bring up another point that enrages me to the depths of my soul. The third installment to the Chronicles of Riddick series came out a few months ago. Did you see it? I bet you a nickel that you didn’t. Why? It was poorly done and no one cared because Pitch Black was perfect and didn’t need sequels. But that’s not my point.

The Mary Sue made an excellent article that pointed out how unacceptably misogynistic Riddick was and there were tons of comments supporting it, mine included. How is it that the writers/director wrote a movie about a bunch of mercenaries hunting a serial killer on a planet infested with killer aliens…and somehow came out with rampant sexism? The sole female character in the film is constantly verbally harassed by her male counterparts, is the only one to have a pointless topless scene, and contributes little to nothing to the overall story. Oh, and her name sounds like the word “doll.” If you’ve seen Pitch Black, this should make you absolutely furious. Richard B. Riddick is not sexist. Hell, the only reason he doesn’t leave Jack and Imam to die on the planet alone in Pitch Black is because of Carolyn Fry’s bravery and willingness to redeem herself. He actually sheds a tear when she sacrifices herself to save his life at the end. Are you kidding me? How could one possibly make a film so excellent and then write a sequel that is insulting to the very memory of the awesome female characters in Pitch Black?

My attempts to explain this phenomenon unfortunately bring me no comfort. The only reasons I can rationalize are (1) the writers/director decided that it was more important to pander to the He-Man Woman Hater side of the fanbase who thinks women are just things to be objectified (2) they failed to realize that writing a rapist into a story with only one female character makes you look like an insensitive sexist jerkoff. Rape is not to be taken lightly, and it is way too overused in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. There are other ways of presenting threats that don’t have anything to do with sexual interest. This is not to say that no one should ever discuss the subject, (it comes up in my work in small doses) but when it’s used for lazy purposes, it can be insulting to the characters and make the audience angry or uncomfortable. When used that way, it brings up the nasty idea that women can never be the equals with men because most men will never have to worry about the threat of rape unless they go to jail. There are plenty of differences between the male and female experiences. We are obligated as writers to explore them, but that is where the problem with equality in gender representation comes into play. Writing rape as a backstory should never be a shortcut just to squeeze a few tears out of the readers, nor should it just be an easy way to show that a bad guy is really bad.

One last distressing notion is women who are sexist against other women in fiction. It sounds confusing out loud, but sadly, there are a lot of female authors who talk shit about certain kinds of women whom they dislike for whatever reason. It’s time that I draw a line in the sand. If any of you have seen my Youtube series, you know that I greatly dislike the recent works of Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the Anita Blake vampire hunter series. I say recent because the first nine books, while not perfect, are pretty damn good. I grew up reading them. Then I got to Narcissus in Chains and it all came crashing down.

The problem with authors like Hamilton is that they think they are part of the solution when they are in fact part of the problem. For instance, in Cerulean Sins (the novel following Narcissus in Chains), Anita says that one of her clients is not a “liberated woman” because she prefers to be called by her husband’s last name and likes being a wife and mother. Anita’s vastly ignorant statement is not satire or criticism or a character flaw. This bitch actually believes that housewives aren’t “liberated women.” Let that sink in for a minute or two, and then please feel free to flood the author’s Inbox with hatemail at your leisure. In addition to that nonsense, Anita actively bashes feminine women (particularly tall blondes since she is a short brunette), and her author makes a point to show every other woman as either a psychotic kinky slut or a jealous whiner who hates that Anita has a huge harem of supernatural men who follow her around begging her to have awesome sex with them all the time. She makes sure that the male characters constantly dump undeserved praise all over Anita and the only time men don’t want in her pants is when they are gay. All of this is done in a vain attempt to prove how “tough” and “special” Anita is as a character, but all it truly does is make me want to take all of the books after NiC and have a bonfire out in my front yard with them.

Slut shaming is a huge problem in urban fantasy fiction where the female protagonists often have multiple love interests and steamy sex scenes. Sleeping with a bunch of guys can be ill-advised and dangerous, but there is no reason to try to reverse this problem by absolving a main character from any wrongdoing related to sex by making it forced on her by magic. Anita Blake is now a canon serial rapist thanks to vampire mumbo jumbo that forces her to bang her harem boys every day or she’ll die. She’s essentially a succubus with a serious chip on her shoulder. This is and always has been unacceptable. She’s nothing but a Straw Feminist. Hamilton builds up easy targets so she can mow them down with insulting, snotty comments that she thinks make her a feminist and a “liberated woman.” Don’t believe me? Watch the following.

The final point is this: the only way to combat sexism and misogyny in our favorite fiction is to simply speak up about it. Any authors worth their salt hungrily devour their readers’ comments, and if they are well-meaning authors, they can address these issues. Few writers go into a project wanting to make enemies. For the most part, they want their readership to be happy with what they’ve done. That’s why it’s so important to stand up for things that are generally awful like Riddick and Narcissus in Chains. That’s why it’s important for authors to read lots of material and recognize the signs of bad female characterization. It may happen by accident, but it’s still something that can be remedied. Everyone wants to be represented fairly. Women are no different. We’re fantastic and flawed. Write us that way.