I recently saw Avengers: Age of Ultron in our local theater. Armed with a root beer and a box of Junior Mints, I went in looking for a fun couple of hours and came out with a head full of thoughts and ideas and ponderings. Life of a writer. Driving home, the thoughts percolated into three distinct topics (or rants, however you want to put it) and I decided to turn them into a blog series. I’ll try my best to keep the posts spoiler free, but due to the exploratory nature of the ponderings, some things may slip out. Proceed at your own risk.
Post idea number one: Black Widow. a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff. A controversial figure if I ever saw one. My very conservative friends hate on her for being too feminist, and my feminist friends hate on her for not being feminist enough. It’s either “She’s a woman–how dare she fight?” or “She’s a fighter–how dare she be womanly?”
For you see, in this Marvel installment, not only does Widow kick some serious enemy behind, but she has a love interest.
Natasha, please be consistent. Are you a tough woman, or are you a feminine one?
My question, after seeing her in three movies is, why do these things have to be mutually exclusive?
I actually really admire her as a character. She’s far from perfect, and her perpetually-perfect hair and makeup no matter how intense the fight is a bit annoying (what do you expect, it’s Hollywhood), and I’m not a fan of her rather extremely skintight suit (again, Hollywood), but I really think she presents an interesting mix of tough and feminine.
I didn’t pay much attention to her in the first movie. But there were a couple small moments that grabbed my attention. One was her brief moment of honest vulnerability with Hawkeye. It made me think, “Wow, there’s a real woman under that assassin-exterior.” The other was a moment in the New-York-destroying fight at the end of the film where an explosion goes off above Captain America and herself. In that moment, he covers her with his shield to protect her from the debris. And how does she react? Does she toss him away and yell, “How dare you? I don’t need a man to save me! I can take care of myself!” No, she actually ducks beneath the shield, allowing him to keep her safe.
That’s not because she’s weak. That’s because she’s not stupid. She knows that his strength and assets can protect her better than she can protect herself at that moment, and she’s grateful for that.
The new Avengers movie drives this aspect further home. Once she finds a man that she can actually trust and be herself with, does she push him away with an “I don’t need you, I’m a strong woman!” attitude? No. She goes for it with confidence. Because she knows they work well together. She wants that in her life. It’s not because she’s weak. It’s because she knows it would be good for her, and for him. Because that’s how she’s created, as a woman. And she’s confident enough in that to know, yes, she does need men. It’s not about strength or weakness. It’s about the fact that women and men were made to complement each other, to be better together than apart.
The point of all these rambles?
Don’t be afraid to give your female characters a mixture of toughness and vulnerability. Toughness isn’t an unwomanly characteristic, and vulnerability isn’t a weak one. Women in the real world are multi-faceted. Let’s make sure our fictional women reflect that.