Twitter Facebook Instagram Google+ Tumblr YouTube E-Mail WhatsApp Sign In Check Close snapchat
Search
Exit Clear

This is Why Black Widow Got Slut-Shamed

Share

This is Why Black Widow Got Slut-Shamed:

Joss Whedon is much celebrated for writing strong female characters, and female characters don’t come much stronger than Black Widow, played by Scarlet Johansson in The Avengers and other Marvel films.

Black Widow regularly kicks, spins and super-fights her way through rooms full of bad guys and alien monsters; she infiltrates everything that can be infiltrated and outthinks everyone from mega-genius Tony Stark to Loki, god of mischief. She is badass, intelligent, brave, resourceful, and in The Avengers she basically saves the world. Whedon couldn’t make it much clearer: Black Widow is strong, awesome, as good as or better than her male peers and deserves your respect.

And yet, somehow, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans, Johansson’s co-stars, didn’t get the memo.

In an interview for Digital Spy promoting the forthcoming Avenger: Age of Ultron, Renner (who plays Hawkeye) and Evans (who plays Captain America) were asked about Black Widow’s romantic interests. Various fans have suggested she might end up dating Hawkeye or Captain America. In Ultron, however, she’s in a relationship with the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo.) The interviewer asks Renner and Evans what they think of her having all these potential partners, and Renner replies “she’s a slut,” at which Evans cracks up and adds “she’s a complete whore.”

Evans quickly issued a sincere statement apologizing, while Renner issued a gross, defensive non-apology apology. The fact that actors say stupid crap and that at least some of them are jerks is perhaps less interesting than the question of why the insults tripped so easily off their tongues.

Again, Black Widow’s a hero. Yes, she wears a skintight outfit, but she’s not really presented as more of a sexual object than Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and none of her appearances have involved any real romantic or sexual subplot. She kissed Captain America to trick some enemies; she had an intense conversation or two with Hawkeye.

Don’t get me wrong. Black Widow should sleep with whoever she wants as often as she wants, and no one should give her any crap for it, just like no one blinks twice when Tony Stark enthusiastically uses his genitals in his various films. But she’s not Tony Stark; her relationship with Banner will be the one real onscreen relationship she’s had. Renner and Evans are slut-shaming her for nothing.

Of course, women aren’t slut-shamed for actual transgressions in the first place. They’re slut-shamed for being women. The treatment of Black Widow makes that particularly obvious. She is treated with scorn not because of anything she does, but because of her gender — and because, in the films, her gender is notable, unusual, and marked.

Avengers 2015 Black Widow poster
It may seem odd to say that Black Widow’s gender is unusual; she’s a cis, heterosexual woman, with a Hollywood-standard glamorous feminine appearance. But look around the first Avengers film, and you will see that women, no matter how conventionally Hollywood, are in awfully short supply.

Nick Fury’s assistant Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) has a few scenes where she mostly follows orders and nods; Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts gets to do a nice rom-comy scene with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. For speaking roles, that’s really about it. Johansson may be a strong female character, but she’s a strong female character all alone out there by herself. She’s as much of a freak as the Hulk or Loki — or more of a freak, really. They’re just two more guys in a sea of superpowered guys. She’s the lone superheroine.

And as the lone superheroine, she becomes, narratively, inevitably, sexualized and available. Fans can write barrels of bytes of fanfic in which Tony Stark and Captain America have torrid sex and more torrid sex with each other, but in the canon, homosexuality is rarely considered a real option. And that leaves Black Widow as the one object of desire for — well, for everyone.

She’s been paired with many other heroes because she’s the one person there to be paired with. In a male world a woman automatically becomes, potentially, everyone’s property. And then, the fact that she’s structurally positioned as property to be passed around is blamed on her. She’s the weird, aberrant, object of desire. Everybody sneer at her.

I’m hardly the first person to point out that women in many films are often isolated. The Bechdel Test asks viewers to think about how few movies out there have a scene in which two women talk to each other about something other than a man. The Avengers fails the test egregiously; it doesn’t even have a scene in which two women talk to each other. (Age of Ultron is supposed to introduce more female characters, which may help some. )

But the slut-shaming comments about Black Widow are an unusually vivid example of why, if a film wants to avoid sexism, one strong female character, alone, isn’t enough.

Julia Serano argues in her book Whipping Girl that prejudice is first accomplished through marking someone as different, and in a film with only one woman hero, that woman is going to be marked, no matter how strong or badass she is. As long as women are presented as different, unusual, weird, and deviant, there are going to be men who single that deviance out and laugh at it.


Noah Berlatsky edits the comics and culture site the Hooded Utilitarian and is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.

Share

Playboy Social