Geek Girls Rule! #213 – Sexism in the Avengers?

So, this is right before she gives the Russian mob guy the, "I'm on the phone, asshole," look. And then kicks everyone's ass while tied to a chair.

So, Jim C. Hines had a post about how he felt that Whedon’s depiction of Black Widow was problematic.  Basically, he felt that the scene between her and Loki had spun out of her control and that the sexist attack by Loki was out of character.  I, and a few others, disagreed,  well, I disagreed with the first part.  We felt, especially given the opening Widow scene, that Natasha was completely in control the entire time and played Loki like a fiddle.  Yes, she used her real pain (as you see in the later scene with Hawkeye), but she used it against him, he didn’t pry it out of her like he thought he did.  And I have to say that the look on his face when he realized what had happened was priceless.

However, I do agree that calling her a “mewling quim” was egregiously sexist (which I neglected to add in my direct response to him, sorry, Mr. Hines), and kind of out of character for Loki, who pretty much has an equal amount of loathing for all mortals.  I have to agree with Mr. Hines that the line was a “mainlining kittens” sort of line*, and totally unnecessary, and probably little more than a way to sneak in a really naughty word, yet preserve their rating.  If he was going to use that line on Widow, then they should have researched some Shakespearean naughty words for dudes, too, and had him use those on the others.  Trust me, there’s hundreds of ’em.

Mr. Hines later made another post to chide those of us (or at least some of us) who disagreed with him about not being able to criticize our fandoms. And yes, I agree with him, especially after blogging here as long as I have, that there is a segment of fandom that seems pathologically incapable of either criticizing or accepting criticism of their obsessions.

But sometimes people just disagree with you.

I have a lot of criticisms of Joss Whedon’s depictions of women, which I’m realizing now pretty much require their own post, but Black Widow isn’t one of them.  And I think this is partially because Widow’s backstory was out of his hands.  Black Widow is a spy and assassin.  She was a cold-blooded murderer for hire, and now she’s a cold-blooded murderer on the side of angels (kind of sort of, I mean, well, the screwed up shit SHIELD does would need a post of its own).  Look at it this way, on that team, Widow is the only one who isn’t a God, Superpowered in one sort or another, and without a power suit to give her equivalent strength and protection.  Of course she ran and was freaked the fuck out after Hulk chased her, anyone would be.  Even Thor looked less than pleased to have to fight him.  The thing is, they didn’t have anyone else on that team who would have needed to run from Hulk like that, who wasn’t Tony (suit).  If they’d had Hulk chase Tony before he got to his suit, no one would find Tony getting away believable.  Because let’s face it, the dude drinks like a fish and has probably ingested every designer drug known to man, and a few extras he whipped up for kicks one weekend.  And they needed someone awesome to run from the Hulk to show how pants-shittingly scary he is.

And look at it this way, Hawkeye HAS a super power, but if you noticed, once he was free of the alien mind control he mostly stayed out of hand to hand combat.  He did what he does best, shooting the fuck out of things with explodey arrows.  If a female character had done that, even with that power, you can bet you’d be hearing all about how useless she was.  But nearly everyone who saw that movie came out with a big, giant crush on Hawkeye, even the dudes.

So, Widow, with no super powers apart from being more clever than the God of Clever**, is down in the thick of it, shooting, stabbing and shocking dudes.  She kicks Hawkeye’s ass, in spite of trying not to really hurt him (and that puts you at a serious disadvantage.  If you’ve never fought someone who was trying to hurt you, while you were just trying to make them stop without really hurting them, even though you know you could, it’s hard as hell.  I’ve done it.  I’d rather fight someone I didn’t give a shit about any day).  I don’t find even Widow’s willingness to use her own pain to hook Loki problematic in the least.  She’s a superspy/assassin.  She makes James Bond look like a freaking Cub Scout.  She uses every tool at hand, even her own vulnerabilities.

So, to summarize, “no that would take to long, let me sum up:”    I disagree that having the Black Widow channel her own pain to manipulate Loki was sexist.  I do agree that the line “mewling quim” was sexist,  out of character for Loki and gratuitous.  I don’t think having her run from Hulk was a sexist decision.  Well, it would have looked a whole lot less sexist if there’d been other, superpowered, female Avengers in the first place.

Just sayin’.

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*”Mainlining kittens,” for those of you new to the blog, is my shorthand for unnecessary “evil things” to show you how “evil” the character is, in case you missed that he’s “evil.”  Tim Roth’s characters in just about everything where he’s a bad guy, but especially in Rob Roy and The Musketeer, are excellent examples of mainlining kittens.

**Loki is the trickster god of the Norse.  That’s his thing, being more clever than anyone ever, and tricking them all.  Subnote:  Loki is a TERRIBLE name for a cat.  They try to live up to it, just saying.

11 thoughts on “Geek Girls Rule! #213 – Sexism in the Avengers?

  1. “Look at it this way, on that team, Widow is the only one who isn’t a God, Superpowered in one sort or another, and without a power suit to give her equivalent strength and protection.”

    Neither is Hawkeye.

  2. Hawkeye does have a power (if not a punchy power), and he was a bad guy when the Hulk chase scene came up. So he was disqualified from being the one chased by Hulk.

  3. I stand corrected, as I assumed his shooting was aided by a super or mutant power, but according to the wiki it is not.

    The fact remains that as a bad guy at the time of the Hulk chase, he could not have been the one chased. Which was the point of that paragraph, in case that wasn’t clear.

  4. Truth be told, I thought that mewling quim was an insult against all of humanity, like they were weak and stuff, I had no idea it was a particularly sexist insult.

    And that scene with Loki was intense! Black Widow is the one to use her brains to get to Loki and get him to dilvulge his plan, and the acting was such that she not only manipulated him, but the entire audience I saw the movie with. I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker, as did Loki.

    And of course you run from the Hulk! It’s the frigging Hulk! What I found most impressive after that was the small scene where you see Black Widow just push past her pain and fear to track down and take down a comrade in arms without killing him. That’s not easy, as the relationship between her and Hawkeye is easily one that was forged through combat like fellow soldiers stuck in the thick of it do.

    I’m also really glad that it wasn’t a romance that they slapped in there. I’m getting a bit tired of romances tossed into superhero movies for no reason but to have them there.

  5. Yeah, quim is a specifically sexist term. It’s a Shakespearean term for, as my Australian friend Liz says, “A lady’s front-bottom.” (While there was drinking that night, Liz wasn’t the one doing it.)

  6. I completely agree with you, on all counts. And I would like to add that I think she was using Loki’s sexism against him. Her interrogation techniques are well established from the opening of the film. Besides, Joss Whedon is pretty well known for being a champion of equality for all genders.

    It is my understanding that he is unhappy that he couldn’t put more women into this movie, and is hoping to add more to the next one. Perhaps Carole Danvers or Janet Pym? The Avenger roster has certainly included plenty of ladies over the years. He could pull in Storm, Rogue, or Phoenix – if he wants to do a crossover with the X-Men films as their backstory.

    Personally, I am THRILLED that this movie is SO fantastic and such a universal hit. I hope that it means Joss will do several more superhero/superheroine films going forward. Perhaps even more backstory films for other Avengers. Also, I would be more okay with the new Spiderman films if they are a set up for his joining the Avenger team (much like Hulk’s second film was meant to be). I have faith in Joss to do a good job with the Heroines, and to make sure they get movies and screen time too.

  7. Joss is not without his problematic depictions of women (Dollhouse anyone?), but those really do need a separate post.

  8. I had to look up what quim meant after the movie. I was a little shocked at first…Then I became enraged at Whedon. Really man, you’re proud of that? Congrats! Continue making men and boys everywhere feel validated in their sexism. Mewling quim indeed.

  9. I don’t even think Dollhouse was that big of an exception – simply a blatant way of how Whedon treats his female characters. Yes, he makes “strong” female characters, but aside from blatant physical strength, he still almost always writes them as stereotypical women (Buffy’s love of shopping, Willow and Anya’s catfights, etc.)

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