Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In Defense of Joss Whedon (But Not The Marvel Swag Department)

The other day, I learned that Joss Whedon has left Twitter and some people attributed it to attacks on him by feminists and "social justice warriors" (a term I use solely to refer to belligerent vicious cyberbullies who happen to have socially left-wing views, not legitimate opponents of racism and the like). Here's a link to a Storify someone made depicting some of the nasty things they said to Whedon, including possible legally-actionable threats. Their major beef seems to be the Black Widow storyline in Avengers: Age of Ultron, although some are mad about about the deaths of certain characters and Whedon's tendency to throw snark into everything.

Whedon himself has recently said that it wasn't feminists who have driven him off Twitter--he points out how various social movements are constantly attacking each other and him--but because it was proving to be a distraction from his real job, writing awesome stuff. Social media is a massive time-waster, so let's hope he's getting a lot more productive. However, given how feminists have written that dealing with Internet harassment is taxing to female writers and might deter them from writing, surely Internet harassment of a male writer is bad too, though I doubt someone as successful as Joss Whedon is going to give up on his dreams over this.

(According to one article I read people talking trash about Whedon are getting death threats themselves. Given how SJWs often claim their harassment, attempts to get people fired from their jobs, etc. are nothing more than "consequences" of "hate speech," the fact they're reaping the consequences of their own odiousness is quite appropriate.)

And now here's where I dispute the claims that the Black Widow's depiction in Age of Ultron is sexist...

*Natasha Romanoff's reference to herself being a "monster" is not solely about her infertility (sterilization being the final phase of the "Red Room" training program for female assassins), but about how they trained her her entire life to be a killer. The sterilization--to avoid the possibility of something one of their assassins would love more than the mission--is played up alongside images of the young Romanoff using a bound, hooded man as live target practice. It's all part of a greater dehumanizing process to make an ordinary girl into something that exists for the sole purpose of destruction.

*It was Bruce who brought up his inability to father children -- either the radiation bombardment that made him the Hulk has left him "shooting blanks" or he might "Hulk out" during sex, something implied in The Incredible Hulk -- first. She then revealed her own problem as a means of connecting with him.

*Even if she views herself as a monster due to being unable to have children, that doesn't mean Joss Whedon thinks women who can't or won't have kids are monsters. S.M. Stirling put it well when he said there was a term for someone who thought a character having an opinion meant the author shared it--idiot. That obviously doesn't hold true in all cases--see obvious Author Tracts like neo-Nazi The Turner Diaries or most stuff by Ayn Rand--but Joss Whedon is not one of those people. A character hating herself for something that's not her fault is called a character flaw. Someone doesn't have to be perfect to be a strong female character. There was an article I read online yesterday I can't find at the moment (maybe it's on my phone) that points out this latest wrinkle is further building on the character we've seen several times before.

*Although being infertile obviously sucks for her, it made her relationship with Hawkeye's family and how his children (especially his daughter) view her as a beloved aunt all the more poignant. She might not be able to have (biological) children of her own, but she has found a family.

*Her getting kidnapped by Ultron does not make her a Damsel In Distress. She could have escaped from that dungeon at any time--in The Avengers she's tied to a chair with three big strong Russian mob types standing around her and she takes all of them apart--but instead she stuck around to get hold of a radio and transmit Ultron's location to the rest of the team. Her remaining "imprisoned" prompted Bruce to "rescue" her himself, thus allowing her to "trigger" the Hulk (by shoving him off a cliff). Knowing how Bruce fears that side of himself to point he attempted suicide sometime before the first Avengers film and how before she was terrified of the Hulk, the fact she was willing to trigger "the other guy" for the sake of the mission shows a lot of strength on her part. Furthermore, during the Red Room flashbacks, her trainer comments on how she "pretends to lose." There's a TVTrope for this--Wounded Gazelle Gambit. She uses people's (or snarky robots') notion that because she's a woman she's not a threat to her advantage.

*I'm not the only person who's seen Romanoff as a feminist character in all this. See this article here. This article here also defends the baby-issues plot and Romanoff as a character.

However, there is at least one legitimate criticism to be made on feminist grounds. Something I noticed in the stores is that the Black Widow has not been included in Avengers merchandise; this is something that's been going on for years. According to the Legion of Leia, only three out of the sixty promotional products for the movie at present feature her at all.

Ahem? In terms of seniority, she's got most of the team beat. Based on her dialogue with Loki in the first film, I'm guessing Hawkeye was the first member of the modern Avengers and he recruited her after he "made a different call" when sent to Russia to assassinate her. This would have probably been before Tony Stark became Iron Man, or possibly soon afterward given that her first appearance in the Marvel movies is in Iron Man II. Although The Incredible Hulk was the second Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, he did not become an actual Avenger until the events of the 2012 Avengers film. The same with Thor, even though he was introduced earlier. So basically she's either the second or the third member of the team, before Thor, Hulk, and Captain America.

Do the powers that be in the realm of merchandise think that boys won't play with Black Widow toys or want Black Widow on their backpacks? Or do they think people will complain about the tightness of her clothes? I admit I was rather sexist back in the day, but that was in the early 1990s. From my observation of little kids these days, boys and girls seem much more willing to play together--and even if boys still disdain Barbies, they'd still love the Avengers. And social conservatism has been in decline, so I don't think there'd be as many complaints as there might have been in the 1990s or 1980s.

In any event, as female geek organizations like the Legion of Leia, Heroic Girls, etc. have pointed out, there're a lot of girls who'd love a Black Widow toy or Black Widow swag who aren't happy campers. See these two disappointed little munchkins here. Furthermore, Mark Ruffalo (you know, the Hulk) agrees.

So yeah, SJWs need to lay off Joss Whedon himself, but it looks like whoever's in charge of marketing needs a bit of a kick in the pants. Lack of action-girl/geek girl role models for little girls who haven't drunk the princess Kool-Aid strikes me as a much bigger problem than whether or not the Black Widow mourns the fertility the Communists (or, given that she's depicted as a teen in the Red Room and Winter Soldier states she was born in 1984, the Putinists?) stole from her. Here's a petition you can sign to help let Marvel know they need to do better. Lest anybody disdain signing petitions, has racked up some big successes over the years. And Marvel is already listening.

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