Black Widow, or Natasha Romanoff, was the first enhanced female hero to come alive on-screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Because I am a huge MCU fan, Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal was my first exposure to the character. Since then, Black Widow has become an integral part of the MCU, and one of Marvel’s most popular and powerful females. For this reason, Black Widow holds a certain amount of reverence for me, because, for lack of a better word, she’s a total badass. So it pains me to say that despite her inspiring ability to not only keep up with but surpass male heroes in plot importance and fan base, to call her a “win” for feminism is not only a stretch but is dangerous.
We must realize that Black Widow was created at a time when comic books were made by men, for men. She was made to be dangerous and sexy, and her awesome power was just an extension of this appeal. Simply because Black Widow is a female in a male-dominated fiction does not mean she advances equality between the sexes. Having Romanoff strut around in a tight leather suit and save the day by scissoring just about every baddie she can get her legs on doesn’t exactly send a great message to Marvel’s female audience.
Black Widow’s whole shtick is that she has taken so much abuse throughout her lifetime she is no longer empathetic, a trait traditionally considered feminine. While this is great and all, is it too much to ask for a realistic, relatable female hero? Does Marvel think being able to keep up with men means women have to flaunt their assets and be so damaged that they abandon all emotion? I’m not saying women have to cry all the time to be women, but if any person, male or female feels like getting emotional, they shouldn’t automatically be labeled as weak or unfit for the job.
My other problem with Black Widow is that her gender is constantly being thrown back into the picture. If Marvel has intentionally tried to make Black Widow “un-feminine” (if there is such a thing), they have failed spectacularly. Almost every important advancement she makes as a character has something to do with her being one of the only women on the team. For example, her rare and dry humor which includes lines like: “I’m always picking up after you boys.” Heck, her entire arc as a character in the second Avengers movie revolves around her inability to bear children, which she eloquently sums up by saying it makes her a “monster.” I mean, she’s a super-spy and assassin who has killed for the KGB and Hydra (an organization founded by Nazis), but sure Romanoff, THAT makes you a monster.
So, after all this heat you may be wondering why I would even call Black Widow “awesome” for feminism at all. Well, it pretty much boils down to the fact that even a somewhat underdeveloped and unrealistic female character is better than nothing. The MCU has proven to be very innovative and quick to adapt. Black Widow has the potential to be a stepping-stone for a much better comic book world, one where skinny, white chicks with tight suits aren’t the only badass superheroines out there, and that’s a world I can definitely get behind.