Whedon and the Honest Woman

Warning: Avengers Age of Ultron Spoilers Ahead!

Joss Whedon’s been getting some flack about his lack of feminism in his latest flick, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I find this unsettling.

I mean, among Whedonites around the world, Joss is akin to a Sci-Fi/Fantasy god, not to mention the male poster child for feminism. He is, after all, both an avid supporter of women’s rights and equality, and the creator of one of the strongest female characters of all time, Buffy Summers, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The part that is unsettling, however, is that I don’t think he missed the mark in this film. For me, he kinda nailed it.

I am a thirty two year old  woman and I spend an obscene amount of time reading superhero comics. I am also a mother. A stay-at-home mom. A stay-at-home mom with three university degrees and a career I have chosen to put on hold so I can have extra time to cuddle with my children and ensure they develop a love for superheroes early on. Very early, I might add. So I am dismayed about Whedon’s feminist condemnation, because for me he got it right.

images (1)Next to Ms. Marvel, The Scarlet Witch is my favourite female superhero. She harbours an immense power that overwhelms and sometimes overcomes her. She is flawed, tragic and frightened of herself, her desires, and the uncertainty of her place in the super world in which she dwells. As a woman I am drawn to her because I can relate to these struggles. I often see myself in her stories because she can’t quite accept the hand she was dealt, she yearns to be a better version of herself. So do I. In fact, I can say that if I had her power set I would have broken the world as she did in House of M if my children, real or illusion, were ripped from me. I am no better or worse than she is. She is the quintessential anxiety ridden character. There is honesty in her development, and Elizabeth Olsen’s portrayal of her is good. Really good. She is a constant bundle of nerves striving to understand her place among mortals and gods. She needs her brother for balance (not for worth) because she fears herself and the path down which she leads others. She is obviously dealing with an inner-torture that many women with anxiety can and do relate to, and towards the end of the film we see her making a good start at overcoming these personal obstacles without unrealistically surmounting them.

Linda Cardellini’s character as Susan, Hawkeye’s wife, was a little glimpse into my own reality. She exudes a kind of  strength that even a super hero cannot fully convey. She is a mother, a wife, and an outcast. In the cyberverse she has been branded as nothing more than a housewife, but I don’t see her that way. I see a strong woman who gave up everything to live a remote existence on a farm away from everything in order to protect her family. She might be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” but it takes a damn strong woman to raise three kids alone. The very fact Whedon chose to make her look tired and a little unkept shows that she is a real woman. A real mother.  She is the hero of her family. Stay-at-home mom’s have as much self and social worth as the woman who battles droids on a freeway. Which brings me to my next point.

If I hear one more complaint about Black Widow’s back story I might scream. The fact that she laments that she cannot have children does not reduce her value as a strong female character. Instead, I would argue that it enhances her strength. After all, feminism is about equal rights and the right to choose how to project said femininity; this is a right she is not afforded. Black Widow had all of her rights stripped away from her by a sadistic, brainwashing, body mutilating government agency. She is not necessarily in mourning because she can’t have children insomuch as she mourns the loss of her ability to choose whether or not to have those children. She is  the fictitious superhero embodiment of women who have their rights torn from them when forced into a life of compliance (luckily for her, she gets out of that pesky situation).

Black Widow’s character development represents a feminine frankness that is sorely lacking in female superheroes, particularly for the audience to which I belong. I wish there were more instances where I could connect with Jessica Jones’ tug of war, crime fighting vs. life with kid, which is very much like my own, work or life with kid conundrum. I wish Sue Storm had more opportunity to fret about the choices she makes for the good of her children. I am glad Black Widow would have at least liked the opportunity to have them at all. And as for the budding romance with Banner, though I do not see it as necessary, I do believe it represents a desire to connect with someone, and who better to understand her pain than Banner? luke-cage-jessica-jones

I appreciate Whedon’s portrayal of the women in his movies. No doubt he would have had more, but I suspect that two superheroes, a SHEILD first in command, a world renowned scientist, and some advanced computer programmers were as much female power as the big wigs behind production could withstand. For now, at least. Joss did a good job with what he had to work with.

In the meantime, if a superhero wants to have an honest flaw like raising a family, anxiety and insecurity, or uncertainty of personal worth, that’s ok with me. It doesn’t  make me feel so bad about being an old, anxious, stay-at-home comic reader, mother of two. Actually, it makes me feel pretty damned good about it!

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke


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