The Other Widow Problem: Toys



Guys, I decided I am mad about how someone is treating Black Widow.

The toy licenses have conspicuously eliminated our wonderful Widow from the toy lines, and that’s pretty lame.

As an experiment, I ran a search on three big toy sellers to see what I could find for Black Widow.  As a control, I also ran a search for secondary lead Captain America, since running a search for Iron Man just isn’t fair.  I picked one big-box store, one specialty toy seller, and then tried the Disney store.

Target: 9 relevant hits.  3 of them are wigs. 1 a pair of costume accessory gloves. 4 are her catsuit in children and adult sizes, and one is a (non-film) action figure.  I suppose I should be grateful the powers that be even offer a Widow costume for children.  To compare, Cap had 225 hits across several departments, offering his comics, various action figures and clothing.  Even discounting the fact that some of those are going to be the films themselves with his name in them, still pretty not cool.

Toys R Us: 30 results for Black Widow, only 25 of which were even remotely Marvel-related.  At least they didn’t fail entirely, offering the Iron Man and Black Widow 2-pack and a Black Widow and Captain America 2-pack, as well as various costumes and non-specific Avengers merchandise. A search for Captain America produced 44 items, none of which were 2-packs.  Apparently, if you want Widow, they have to throw in a male hero to sweeten the deal.  Hawkeye fares even worse than Widow, because for some reason we all hate Hawkeye.

Disney Store: Here’s where crap gets very interesting.  Disney Store provided a princely 39 search results for Widow and a big fancy splash graphic, but only 9 of which were actually Black Widow centric. And none of them were for children.  There were a few t-shirts for adults, a laptop case, a mug, and a mousepad.  The only toy that shows up at all is a $90 Lego Quinjet Playset.  Captain America produces far more results at 81, with eight different action figures.  There is also this already-controversial QuinJet playset, where Black Widow has been removed from one of her best scenes in the film.  The only review of the piece is a mother who is pretty irritated with the situation, pointing out that she’s the one in the scene.  The thing that really irks me though, is this shirt.  The only piece for little girls.  Black Widow is replaced by Spider-Man in the Avengers.  On the only shirt for little girls.

So what does this mean?  It means that little girls who like superheroes- a demographic oh so very near and dear to my little feminist heart- are getting the short end of the stick.  Being at Wizard World Philadelphia this weekend, I can tell you that girls are definitely spending money on fandom related things.  When are Disney and Marvel going to get with the program and realize that not every little girl is solely devoted to princesses?  Some of them like superheroes, too.  Some of them only like superheroes.  Stores like Hot Topic and Her Universe have plenty for adults, but we need to remember our littlest ladynerds.




The Widow Problem



There’s been a lot (and I mean a LOT) of criticism hurled at Avengers: Age of Ultron for its treatment of Black Widow/ Natasha Romanoff.  Honestly, a lot of it isn’t fair.  The rumor (refuted here) is that Joss Whedon was even driven off Twitter by all the rabid feminists calling for his head.

His crime?  He wrote Natasha into a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner.  Some fans were infuriated to see the brilliant assassin be placed into a romance.  However, literally every other Avenger had, at some point, a romance.  Thor/Jane, Tony/Pepper, Steve/Peggy, Bruce/Betty, Clint/Laura (never stops being weird typing out my own first name.)  Even Phil Coulson had Audrey, the cellist, and Wanda Maximoff had a bit of ship tease with the Vision.  I think it’s eerier if we don’t see any of the female characters not tied to an Avenger with a love interest.  Helen Cho?  Maria Hill?  Are we expected to believe that women who are good at their jobs stay single?  (Obviously, Jane and Pepper are great at their jobs, but both were introduced as love interests.)  I would find it stranger if Widow was the only Avenger never to enter a relationship at all.

In his Reddit AMA, Mark Ruffalo summed up the issue perfectly: “If anything, Black Widow is much stronger than Banner. She protects him. She does her job, and basically they begin to have a relationship as friends, and I think [the outcry against the relationship is] misplaced anger. I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women. The guys can do anything, they can have love affairs, they can be weak or strong and nobody raises an eyebrow. But when we do that with a woman, because there are so few storylines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there’s not much else to compare it to.”

The other criticism is in the scene where Natasha and Bruce discuss being monsters, with Natasha believing herself to be as much of one as Bruce after she reveals that her training ended in sterilization. A lot of people are getting “sterilized=monster” when I’m pretty sure it meant “trained to straight-up murder people and losing the ability to make these choices, and not being sure if you’re fit for anything besides killing people= monster.” Especially because in the flashbacks, Madame B admonishes her for failing on purpose at some point, and we see in the trailer Natasha be slammed back onto a gurney.  The scene could probably have been tweaked a little to make this clearer.  I understand the concern people have, but I’m fairly sure the intended message was assassin is monster, not sterile woman.  A lot of critics are conveniently forgetting the other part of her graduation ceremony: shooting a helpless person in cold blood. 

Finally, people are mad that Ultron at one point captures Widow, causing critics to accuse Whedon of writing a damsel in distress.  However, with the way the scene is written, the only alternative would have been to have her be driving the plane.  Tony MUST go to Oslo (no one else can hack like he can) and Thor has to go to the Plot Point Waterpark (because Norse mythology.)  Steve is a better choice to fend off the robots, because the tech is new and it’s better for Natasha or Clint to work with the tech.  There’s no good drama if Bruce is captured, because he just Hulks out and then he’s free.  Natasha immediately devises a way to contact Clint, which is hardly a damsel move.  This also sets up Bruce’s rescue of Natasha and his reiteration of the offer to run away.  In quite possibly the least damsel-in-distress thing ever, Natasha chooses the mission, betraying Banner in the process.

Honestly, I think Whedon did right by Widow.  Were there lines that could have been tweaked? Yes.  Letting a cold assassin grow closer to her peers and open up to them?  Not anti-feminist.  She still chose the safety of the world over her relationship with Banner.  Yes, she mourns, but at the end of the film, she heads out to her next adventure: joining Cap to lead the New Avengers.