I'm Not A Whore

the_avengers_black_widow-wide-1024x1022Let's talk about superheroines. Badass women saving the world/galaxy through sheer grit and guile. There are tons of them in comic mythos, in books, but very few have made the transition to big-screen film. As it stands, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is strides ahead of its competition, so everyone's been patting Kevin Feige on his back for that. Thing is? While Agents of SHIELD boasted five very intriguing, strong female characters (May, Skye, Gemma Simmons, Mockingbird and Reina), Marvel's films have enough female characters that I can count them on both hands and need only one to grow on. There are eleven twelve*. Eleven Twelve women who are forces to reckon with in the MCU. And of those eleven, there are three who are not immediately defined by their relationship to someone else. (Of the remaining 9, only one of them is not defined by her relationship to a man, and that would be Jane Foster's intern/quirky bestie Darcy.)

And of those three, two of them are called whores.

And that's a problem.

(THERE ARE AGE OF ULTRON SPOILERS BELOW)

11194533_10155580380045457_1395141953812237329_oA few weeks back, actors Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Chris Evans (Captain America) made comments calling Black Widow a "slut" and a "total whore". Yes, I get that the two actors were probably exhausted and press junkets suck and it's a joke and (as Renner kept pointing out) the character is fictional. Evans apologized, but Renner's all but doubled down on it, harping on the fact that Black Widow isn't real, so why is everyone making such a big deal about it.

And when we were discussing it, my friends asked me if I was just as pissed about their comments as I was about Gamora being called a whore throughout Guardians of the Galaxy.

Honestly, no, and here's why: The character herself dealt with that. Gamora is called a whore (but has no relationship at all with any character--on screen or implied--that would warrant the epithet) and when it's said, SHE deals with it. She responds and says, "ENOUGH!" (Also, it's coming from Drax, a character known for his awkward relationship with words.)

The Black Widow thing is different. Does that mean I feel a fictional character needs someone to defend her from real dude-bros calling her a slut? No, the point is this:

I'm not fictional. 

When Anthony Mackie got the role of Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he made a brilliant comment. He said he was so proud that now a young black kid could look at the screen and see himself there as a hero.

agent_carterWhen I go to a Marvel movie, I have the opportunity to see myself reflected in one or two (of a possible eleven twelve) female characters per film. In Thor, it's usually Darcy because Jane is treated like a plot point rather than a person and Frigga gets knifed for being a badass...and then treated as a plot point to galvanize/bring together two estranged brothers. In Cap, it's Peggy or nothing, and that's fine by me. Peggy is agoddamnmazing. (And while we're on the subject, why did it take a virgin sacrifice, two goats and the horcrux of Rupert Murdoch to get Agent Carter renewed as a series? HUH?!)

But if I want to see myself in a MCU hero, it's Gamora, Black Widow or the newly minted Scarlet Witch. These are the three I mentioned above who are not defined solely by their relationships with other characters. And based on their actions in the films, each of them is a hero.

Gamora? As stated she spends the whole film telling Drax to quit calling her a whore. Scarlet Witch? Well, in the comics she's fucked up. Like bag of cats/Loki would tell her to seek help for her daddy issues fucked up. She's not had enough onscreen time to go one way or the other really, so while I dig her fashion sense and new powerset, I'm not sure if I'd want to identify with her.

No, the heavy hitter among the girls is our dear Black Widow. In the films, she is the one who is no man's daughter/wife/girlfriend. She is not the one who will be used as bait or a plot device...she kicks the shit out of people and then saunters away with a couple of runs in her stockings. Widow is the real deal from the first moment we see her in Iron Man 2.

black_widow_67396In the first Avengers film we are led to believe that she is in a romantic relationship with Clint "Hawkeye" Barton**. (This isn't really debunked until we see Barton's family in Age of Ultron and Natasha comments that Clint is her "best friend". Still, that doesn't rule out polyamory as a possibility, however, I believe it's the intent of the writers to tell us, "Oh no, she's not with him and hasn't been. See? Barton's been married with kids for all this time.") In Cap 2, Nat flirts with Steve and we see that it's just to egg him on a bit. This is the same kind of ribbing friends do to one another. Until the scene they're trying to actively evade HYDRA agents in a mall full of civilians. Natasha relies on her Red Room training and puts on the act that she and Steve are a couple. That's all this is. Training. Subterfuge. Everyone involved in the scene knows it, and so does the audience.

So why is it that the one time she is falling in love with someone onscreen, Natasha Romanoff is called a whore?

Why are you calling the strongest woman I can identify with a slut?

She is me on screen. No I'm not a spy, but she's my chance of representation. She's my surrogate hero, the one I'm most likely to understand... and you think it's okay to call her a trick and a whore because why? She's fictional?

The characters we see in books, television shows and movies are more than just fictional characters. They are avatars of ourselves. They are opportunities for individuals to imagine, dream and be more, to experience a different life through someone we understand.

And this is why representation matters. This is why we need diversity in our media. We need black, Asian, trans, queer, bi (please god do we need bi), native, Muslim, female... we need it all. We need points of view that are different than our own. We need fiction that reflects the diversity of our reality.

CD4i6jjW0AA12jEAnd it needs to be celebrated. Rather than calling Gamora a whore for an entire movie, talk her up, give her action figures and put her on the goddamn t-shirts with the rest of her team. Likewise with Widow! Put her on the merchandise! Hell, the girls in Big Hero 6 couldn't even get much merch love and it's a fucking DISNEY FILM!

The three female characters that are strongest are still getting kicked down a few rungs. If the story isn't turning them into damsels in distress, the characters are bashing them, or the actors are. They can't get equal time onscreen or on t-shirts.

That tells me--and other women and girls and minorities--that we aren't worthy. The people Black Widow represents are getting shafted. Girls seeking a heroine are left wondering how they fit in when their character isn't included in the boxed set of dolls.

For christsake, Marvel, get it together. Give us a Widow movie. Give Agent Carter a full season rather than just the mid-winter hiatus. Give us more strong women writers, characters that we can sink our teeth into. We are your audience.

And you're calling us whores.

 

*The eleven women of note in the MCU are Darcy, Frigga, Gamora, Jane Foster, Laura Barton, Maria Hill, Natasha Romanoff, Nebula, Peggy Carter, Pepper Potts and Wanda Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch). And, sadly, I wouldn't normally count Laura on this list. I was feeling generous, and I think that if it came to it, she would kick some serious ass to protect her family. 

**Go back and watch the Loki/Widow interrogation scene from the first Avengers flick knowing what you do about Barton's family after Ultron. How much does that change that whole scene!?! It's delicious! 

EDIT: I originally said there were 11 women of note. I forgot Lady Sif from the Thor flicks. An egregious error on my part. I blame my lack of chai and ask forgiveness. Yes, she absolutely counts.