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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 Webster.com, the definition of feminism is the following:

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

OR

: 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

OR

:  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.

Things The Marvel Universe Taught Me About Writing

Face front, True Believers! Thor: The Dark World is premiering early in my current town of residence tonight and I could not be more excited. I know some people are a bit lukewarm about the God of Thunder, but I am just not one of them. Still, Thor is just one of Marvel’s greater successes, at least in my humble opinion. In honor of our big blond teddy bear god hitting the silver screen tonight, I’d like to take a quick look at some of the things that the Marvel Movie Universe has taught me over the years. I’m also taking a bit of freedom here with the term ‘Marvel Universe.’ I’m not simply talking about the continuity they created starting with Iron Man. I’d also like to take a look at their previous franchises like Spider-Man and X-Men because they are huge parts of my childhood as well as great teaching tools.

Know thy fanbase. This is one thing that Marvel has nailed repeatedly in recent years. They have an unparalleled ability to listen to their fans and figure out where to go from there. They didn’t always have this talent, mind you. A perfect example would be the horrific abomination that is Spider-Man 3. It’s common knowledge that one of the movie’s biggest reasons for sucking was due to executive meddling, where the studio poked their big nose into Sam Raimi’s script and told him to do stuff. It resulted in an overstuffed, over-the-top farce of a film that laid waste to the film’s previously excellent reputation. Here’s where knowing the fanbase kicked in.

Disclaimer: I didn’t like the Amazing Spider-Man. I’m sorry. Hate me if you wish. I just couldn’t help myself because Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are without a doubt two of my all-time favorite superhero/comic book movies. I grew up on them. I watched them hundreds of times, and I still have to stop every time one of them comes on. They have so much heart and depth and wonder to them. However, it turns out that while those two films broke box office records and definitively proved that superheroes are worth the general movie audience’s time, a lot of fanboys and girls were unhappy with certain aspects of them. The most vocal complaint was Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, which I understand completely. I liked Mary Jane well enough in the first film, but by the second and third films, I kind of wanted her to get the Gwen Stacy treatment. She was weak and nagging and got stuck firmly in the “damsel in distress” role whereas in the comic books, she often kicked ass and sassed people like no one’s business.

Marvel gathered up these comments and then made the brilliant move of picking everyone’s favorite redhead (ironically to play a blonde; double ironically because she’s a natural blonde) Emma Stone to be Gwen Stacy. My dislike of Amazing Spider-Man notwithstanding, I fully admit this decision was a God-send. Emma Stone is funny, sexy, snarky, and an absolute joy to watch. While I still would have liked her as the new MJ, she did everything that I hoped she would do. Marvel understood that the best way to win over their fans was to listen to them and learn from their past mistakes.

In terms of writing, Marvel’s method is something I think all writers should enforce. I would never try to pander to my fanbase (if I had one), but I would take a serious look at the criticisms that arise for my work. Writing is subjective. So is the act of reading. No one reads a book the same way, and fans will inevitably find something in my writing that I didn’t know was there, or that I never considered could come across. If it’s a universal problem, it would be wise to address it either in a blog post, or more likely, subsequent works of mine. There are very few drawbacks to accepting detailed, intelligent arguments against your own work. Even if it pisses you off to your very core, you can only go up from there.

Give a damn about your own work. Strap in, folks. Mama’s about to lay the smackdown on some things here. To me, it is always easy to tell when Marvel gives a shit about their work. The quality of the filmmaking is the most telling of all. Stuff like Daredevil (bite me, nerds, it’s a shit film and you know it), Elektra, The Punisher (which I admit still has a corny charm to it), X-Men: The Last Stand (and that’s coming from someone who kinda likes it), Ghost Rider, and Fantastic Four have clear evidence that they weren’t invested in their products. I argue that each of the listed films lack charisma, effort, and heart, and was pushed out more to make a profit than to actually be considered worthy of the Marvel name.

On the flipside, films like The Avengers, X-Men and X-2, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor have evidence that Marvel gave a crap and wanted to make great movies for its audience. They chose great directors, writers, and actors—people we love and trust to bring our favorite comic characters to life. Do you remember the day they announced Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark? We all flipped our shit in celebration of such perfect casting. Same with Joss Whedon getting to direct The Avengers, which is arguably the best Marvel film to date, or Edward Norton getting to play Bruce Banner. These movies all went on to do incredibly well at the box office because Marvel put their foot down and opted for quality over profit. They knew that profit is a result of quality. They recognized that if they took their time to make a fantastic film franchise, they’ll make bucketloads of cash and keep us happy for decades to come.

It seems like common sense to give a crap about your own writing, but sadly, these days it is not. Anyone can be a writer. We live in a world where a faux masochistic relationship that was ripped off from a creepy codependent relationship between an emo teenage girl and a vampire both out-grossed the intricate, beautifully written world about a boy wizard. We live in a world where the crappiest of films can get sequels. We live in a world where actual effort is an afterthought. The easiest thing in the world is to not try.

Don’t be that writer. Sure, E.L. James and Stephanie Meyer are literally swimming in cash, but that doesn’t have to be you. The happiest authors in the world are the ones who stay true to themselves and write honestly. They write from within. They strive to make the best for us readers because they care and they want to create a wondrous world for us to dive into. They want to leave behind a legacy they can be proud of. Authors like Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, and John Green are all down-to-earth, humble, and full of life because they give a shit about what they put out there.

It’s unwise to compare oneself to bestselling authors, but they can also simply be a north star for young authors. Yes, it’s daunting that crappy novels make money, and crappy movies make even more money, but for every turd there’s a gem. Shoot for that instead.

Have faith in your own product. There’s a line from the movie Hitch that I always think about when it comes to certain aspects of writing.

Albert: You’re selling the stuff, but you don’t believe in your own product.

Hitch: Love is my life.

Albert: No! Love is your job.

Marvel is by no means perfect. I’ve already listed the films I consider to be travesties. But that’s also something I think they have learned well in the past decade. One of the main reasons why I favor Marvel over DC in the film department is the overwhelming amount of faith that they appear to have in the characters as well as their audience. They seem to recognize that there is a reason these films do so well. These characters and stories helped many of us grow up. We read them dozens of times as kids and we still follow them as adults because heroes inspire us. Heroes make us believe in the impossible. They make us want to be better than who we are. The Marvel films that tend to be better in quality are those where you can tell that the writers, directors, and actors actually care about the subject matter and want to do it justice. Tony Stark is by far the most popular of the Marvel universe, and guess what? He’s an asshole with a drinking problem. We can totally relate to that. Sure, he’s a billionaire, but most of us know someone like that—an insanely talented friend who has a good heart, but lacks focus and belief.

Marvel is out there kicking the box office’s ass every year because they believe in our heroes. They don’t always get it right (I’m still angry about Barakapool from X-Men Origins and whatever the hell they did to Beast in X-Men: First Class) but it is clear that they realize if they make a good film, we’ll watch it. We’ll stand outside in a line to San Diego Comic Con for hours just to catch a glimpse of the next one. We’ll waste hours online crying over Tom Hiddleston’s perfection. We’ll buy tickets early and dress up in costumes even when it’s nowhere near Halloween. It’s love, plain and simple.

Maybe you’re not Jim Butcher or Stephen King. So what? Do you have something to say in your writing? Do you want it go be good? Bam. There you go. That’s it. That’s your secret. No one said you had to be Shakespeare. The best way to become a great writer is to invest in your product the same way you invest in the TV shows and books and movies and video games you love. Pour your soul into your writing, even if your soul is twisted and scary and broken. Authenticity is key. No one will believe in your work if you don’t believe in it.

With that in mind, I hope that Thor: The Dark World uses the positive examples I discussed above. We have a lot of exciting films coming our way in the not-too-distant future and I can’t wait to see more as long as they adhere to their better works. Here’s to you, Marvel. Excelsior!

-Kyoko

P.S. While I’ve got you here, did you know that the giveaway for a free copy of my novel, The Black Parade, is still going on? Why not pop by and enter to win? It only takes a second. It ends Monday, November 11, 2013. Don’t miss out!