The “Slut” in Superhero

imagesI have been thinking about the Black Widow “slut” naming by Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner, Captain America and Hawk-Eye respectively in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. I know it’s a few days past, apologies have been made, and perhaps lost in the cyber void now, but I am still thinking about it.

I have read the comments of many in the community who say we are an “offended generation”, “all superheroes are sluts”, “Black Widow is a slut, get over it”, and to you folks, I wonder if you will consider the following:

The word “slut” has to go.

It has become a staple of slang in our contemporary culture, but at great cost. Youth, especially, use the term loosely and without consideration of the victim they slap the label onto. The number of girls, virgins and sexually active alike, who have been shamed a slut is immeasurable. And it is so painful. It resonates well into adulthood, playing on confidence, choices, and self-esteem. It is the language of bullies. The power of words resonates with youth, and if they hear their cultural icons so carelessly toss these terms around then the work to diminish the verbal bullying has been set back.

Why Black Widow’s love life is on trial is of itself ridiculous. Do we ask the same about Thor and Cap when we wait for a film release? Black Widow is an equal member of the Avengers, and despite her femininity, she is not measured by the worth of her love affairs. I for one hope she doesn’t have any love affairs on screen, but if she does that’s Ok. We need to turn the conversation around so that young girls and women don’t brand themselves as accessories to men. Yes, some of us adults still do this because of what we learned in the media as children. The phenomenon is real, people.

There is a responsibility that comes with being a public figure. There is also a responsibility that comes with representing fictional figures so admired by children, youth, and adults alike. Certain actions and speech need to be reigned in when you are a professional, regardless of the profession you have chosen. For example, I am a teacher, and as such I need to be cognizant of my actions in and out of the classroom. Needless to say, my raucous binge drinking days have long since come to an end. As a representative of Marvel, and the physical representation of a beloved superhero, these men have similar responsibilities during working hours. Press junkets included.

Jeremy Renner’s apology to have insluted a “fictional character” hurts the most, I think. Every time he goes to work he lives in the fictional realm. He makes a living suspending our disbelief. It must be ok for the audience to connect to the character and their struggles and triumphs. That is why we laugh and cry with them. That is why we revisit these characters time and time again. It is almost crass to reduce them to fiction, as though that is the only place they reside. Black Widow is no less real to me, as an avid reader, than is Elizabeth Bennet or Ophelia. Nor is she any less real to the countless cosplayers who devote hours and hours of their lives bringing her to life.

Let’s just remember, as we comment and go through life blissfully avoiding the impact of words on the world, that they do in fact hurt, they do have a lasting effect, and they are a tremendous disappointment when spoken by heroes. Super or not. We are not an “offended generation”, we are just the first with the world at our fingertips and the ability to reach the far corners of the earth. We women are also a little less repressed than before, so I think each of us should take the opportunity to sound our voices to the masses for the few who will listen and respond in kind.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke