Avengers: Age of Ultron: Why this feminist is defending Joss Whedon

It’s only been a week since Avengers: Age of Ultron took theaters by storm, but director Joss Whedon has already come under heavy fire by critics.

The complaint? That Whedon gave his latest flick the ol’ patriarchal treatment.

These critics contend that he handed his only female superhero, Black Widow, a bigger role in this leg of the franchise, but that it came with what some perceive to be a forced romance in which she became an eyelash-batting reduction of her typical badass self.

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The passionate contingency taking Whedon to task for this purported misstep was so swift and harsh that it is rumored to be the reason the Hollywood heavy hitter quit Twitter on Monday.

Although Whedon has yet to release any official comment concerning the controversy, Age of Ultron star, Mark Ruffalo, spoke up for the director during a Reddit AMA. When asked his thoughts, Ruffalo weighed in, “I think it’s sad, because I know how Joss feels about women, and I know that he’s made it a point to create strong female characters.”

And, you know, he’s got one hell of a point.

I have a hard time crucifying the man who, historically, has brought us such strong female characters as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse‘s Eliza Echo or any number of the empowered women in Firefly and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Whedon is one of the good guys, y’all. He’s someone who is actually fighting to see more leading ladies in film and he’s creating them, too.

The son of a “hardcore feminist,” Whedon admittedly has a fondness for fierce female protagonists. In an interview with Newsweek, he couldn’t help express his frustration over the lack of female superheroes in modern cinema.

“Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, ‘You see? It can’t be done,'” he lamented. “It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift. It’s frustrating to me that I don’t see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off.”

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It’s a sentiment Whedon has repeated over the years, calling for more gender diversity in film and calling out those who have an apparent aversion to it.

So did he, in fact, devolve in regards to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character? Does her story line merit the tidal wave of distaste barreling towards him? I don’t think it does. I mean, Johansson’s Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff does kick ass in the movie. Yes, she also happens to fall in love. Are the two mutually exclusive?

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The way I perceived this film is that we get to see a far different arc of the story line for all of the major players — they are all experiencing some sort of transition or shift. Tony Stark/Iron Man, in getting over his PTSD, decides he can save the world with his inventions… but his inventions nearly destroy humanity. In this sense, he is kind of the film’s biggest antagonist.

We see Hawkeye, the quintessential married-to-his-job soldier, happily toiling on a farm in the country with a wife and kids. Captain America, the wholesome hero who once dreamed of the very life Hawkeye now has, admits that the man he has become might not want those traditional things anymore.

For Widow/Natasha, her shift is in allowing herself to consider a life of choices she makes. We finally get to see her backstory, and through that revelation we learn she has always had choices made for her — including being sterilized.

This links her, in a way, to Banner, as the same exposure to radiation that made him the Hulk also took away his ability to procreate. The fact that they can find solace in each other, well, it’s pretty poetic, no?

Ruffalo, who plays Banner, agrees that these superheroes finding love is “beautiful.”

After all, at the risk of pissing off a bunch of people, I fail to find the fault in a woman wanting to get married and have kids. Has the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that we are now outright declaring a woman cannot be a feminist and want a family?

I married young. I now have two young children. Heck, I even bat my eyelashes and flirt from time to time (with my husband, mind you). And, you know what? I still think I’m a badass. I still consider myself a feminist. I think most people who know me would tell you the same.

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I like the way my friend, Angel Pack, put it in a recent Facebook post on the subject of the backlash. “I’ll go out and burn my bras with the rest of you gals when there’s a reason,” she said. “This isn’t one of them. Showing emotion, falling in love, wanting a family, having children — none of these should make women look ‘less heroic’ in the eyes of anyone.”

It’s a bit of a double standard that we’re OK with Hawkeye’s new devotion to domestic life, yet Black Widow exploring a romantic interest makes us bristle.

The real issue here, posits Ruffalo, is not with Whedon or the Black Widow story line.

“I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women,” he said. “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 story lines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there’s not much else to compare it to.”

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