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May 15 2012

The Women-Friendly Avengers. Great article praising Joss Whedon for his portrayal of women in The Avengers, for making a film that isn't offensive to women viewers, and how Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is such a great character.

This movie has turned my girlfriend from a Whedon-sceptic (she hated Buffy and Dollhouse and thought Dr. Horrible was enjoyable) to an Avengers-fan (she even wants to go see it a second time). Curiously, this was in spite of Scarlett Johanson's Black Widow, whom she strongly disliked. (She felt Cobie Smulder's Maria Hill had too little screen-time to form an opinion on.)
Your girlfriend hated Buffy.


The anti-feminist female... May Joss never hear of this...

Nah, I'm just kidding, entitled to opinions and what not. Just make sure to NEVER MENTION HER AGAIN. ;)
Superb little write up, especially concerning so many of the dismissive snide comments/jokes made about Black Widow. Many of the negative reviews (similar to the one this author refers to) would be appropriate if they were referring to just about any other superhero movie, but they are exactly wrong with regard to Avengers.
The Avengers is a fantastic movie, and I thought Natasha/Black Widow was a fantastic character. I really hope she gets her own film soon. And while Maria Hill didn't get to do much, hopefully her character will appear in other Marvel films and have more to do in the future.

All that said ... saying a film is "not offensive to women" is remarkably faint praise. And, if we're going to talk about The Avengers as a woman-friendly film, I think it's worth noting that it fails the Bechdel Test.

DISCLAIMER: I am not saying this as an attack on the movie or on Joss. I think they're both pretty awesome. But I also think this is an interesting fact, and I haven't really seen any discussion of it.
Okay, on the one hand - awesome. On the other hand, it'd be really nice to see some Black Widow love from more mainstream MALE movie reviewers (and not just "uh uh ScarJo BOOBS"). (The gripping hand is glad we can have the debate at all, though, so I guess it's an overall win.)
Well, the Bechdel test isn't everything though. I mean, it does prove a point in some cases, but a lot of the time it's hard to even find a film where two men have names and a non-woman-oriented conversation. That being said, I did once try to make a Bechdel test pass-list and it was really quite short.

I think the idea on "not offensive to women" is a brilliant test. Too often we hear that a woman (or any other underrepresented group member) must do this, must know that, must be whatever, and instead of getting a real individual we get some sort of unappealing Frankenstein's monster that is a mishmash of what we are "supposed" to value in a person.

Allowing Black Widow to display her awesomeness without acting like a man or wearing gravity defying pasties goes a very long way in recognizing her as a real person rather than fanboy eye candy.

Avengers respected all of its characters as well as all of its audience members. Even Chrsitians got a shout out with Cap's reference to "only one god". And it completely fit his character so no accusations of pandering.

This was a truly awesome movie with a great deal of thoughtfulness.
I read the "Girl's Guide To The Avengers" thing and.. I can't even describe my reaction. Equal parts amused and disgusted? I am a girl who has been excited for this movie since the announcement that Joss was helming it, knowing nothing whatsoever of the comics, and having not even SEEN half the films that built up to it. I went to the midnight premiere with my friend, who was the opposite - totally knowledgeable about the avengers and superhero stories in general, but a novice to Whedon. We both loved it.

And not because of Chris Hemsworth's rock hard body. But that didn't hurt.

The Black Widow arc was the best of the film, and I am so glad Joss fought for her. People en masse think superheroes, they tend to expect a boy's club. Studios try to reinforce these beliefs to improve a film's success. But it takes movies like Avengers, writers like Joss, characters like Black Widow, to redefine the standard.
Does anyone else find it sad that geeky women and girls like Jill (and myself and I'm sure quite a few others) got really excited about a superhero that wasn't offensive to women? I mean, it's Joss, so I never really thought it would be (at least on a conscious level). But I definitely walked out of the theater excited about that very fact. It's disappointing that the bar has dropped so low in my mind that "not offensive" is super exciting. That said though, I do think that Joss went beyond just "Not Offensive" and created a wonderful female character that both surprised and delighted me.

One the Bechdel Test front, I'm not too surprised it didn't pass, all of these characters, with the exception of the shield agents, were coming off their own movies, and not a one of them had a female titular character. So even adding Maria Hill was a bonus.

prettymayk, I have to say though, I find that the "reverse" Bechdel test is laughably easy to pass. I'm not quite sure which movies you were testing, but I would say with the exception of romantic comedies, the vast majority of films have two named male characters that talk to each other about something other than a woman.
Yeah, reverse Bechdel is depressing. Short of a film where nobody speaks (or perhaps is named - that may be more likely), it's difficult to fail. (Possibly a rom-com or two, though I bet there's always a scene where the frustrated love interest works off his frustration in a manly round of golf and/or whisky shots and talks about something other than women on purpose...)
Never heard of the Bechdel test until now, that's fascinating.

Haven't seen much mention on here of Pepper Potts, I was really impressed with the treatment of her, I really liked her. She knew exactly what was going on, she was very much in charge; it was her who got the file into Stark's hands, and hey- it was her who persuaded Stark to go join the Avengers so really if it hadn't been for her he never would have saved New York! She's very much the "great woman behind the great man" sort of character. Also, I loved how she authoritatively stated that she would get on the next plane to DC - and insisted that Tony go off and save the world - in most films we would have seen Stark insisting she leaves in an over-protective I-must-get-the-little-woman-away-to-safety way. (If I've understood correctly that the reason she was on the plane was to escape to safety?)
@Ciella "Does anyone else find it sad that geeky women and girls like Jill (and myself and I'm sure quite a few others) got really excited about a superhero that wasn't offensive to women?"

This has been the standing thesis for most female superhero comic advocates for the last year and a half, since DC started getting extremely tacky. Laura Hudson and Jill Pantozzi, among others, have both been making the point that you can get female readers if you simply don't rub their face in shit on a regular basis. It doesn't take much.

What's really sad is that DC and Marvel cannot seem to meet this simple standard. DC has done some really dreadful things lately to Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Lois Lane and Starfire. And while Marvel excels at females on team books (sorta), they only have one sole female book on the horizon: Captain Marvel.

And the only thing worse than an anti-feminist female is an anti-feminist gay male.
Willowy - my girlfirend hated Buffy, as well. I started her on Firefly, because it was so short - and she loved that. So I bought her all seven seasons of Buffy (and Angel) - and she watched the whole thing... and just didn't like it. When I asked her why, she said she had just gotten tired of all the fighting, way before the show ended.

Oh, more on topic - Women weren't offended by "mewling quim"? I know the villain said it, so maybe that's why they didn't mind?
I'm more offended by anyone, male or female, not liking Buffy (I have really never heard of anyone not liking it - plenty of folks are 'meh', but flat out NOT LIKING BUFFY? That's just hard for me to grok) than I am by the villain talking shit. Pretty sure that villains have to be fucktards to a certain extent.

Plus, you know... Hiddles.
@steverogers - yes, I'm surprised that choice of noun didn't draw more ire. Then again, I was surprised it made it past the censors in Firefly. (Again, spoken by a villain.)

@Willowy - I think a lot of people are put off Buffy by the silliness. I love it to bits, but it is a gloriously, unapologetically silly show. And the fight scenes do get awfully samey.
NESB, so didn't understand the Mewling Q the first time around. Had to look it up. I didn't find it offensive in the context because it was coming from a villain. Of course he'll strike as low as he can! He also kills people.
PurpleSerenity - Pepper left for work, that's all.

steverogers - well, I'm female, and I thought it was hilarious. He'd worked himself into a fever pitch and was attempting to insult/injure her. It's not that it was a villain, it's that it was keeping both in character and in the scene. (And on a purely separate level, I love that it got by the censors - or at least didn't ding the movie rating-wise.)
yes, I'm surprised that choice of noun didn't draw more ire.

It's kicked up a bit of a storm on Tumblr.
@blackmarketbeagle I don't think that Buffy was a 'silly' show, at all. Far from it.
@steverogers: I didn't actually catch it when I watched the movie. It wasn't until it was mentioned in all the reviews that I even know it was in there. Honestly, I just find it funny. it's such a silly word. But that's probably completely cultural, it's not an oft used word in the states. If it had been the "C" word, I know a lot of women who would have walked out of the theater right there. Not me, since I actually don't find it any more offensive than the words used for male genitalia, but I would confidently say that most American women would have found extremely offensive. Quim on the other hand is just so silly I giggle every time I type it, hehe.
steverogers I was certainly taken aback by it. In quick sucession my mind did a "Did he say what I thought he did? Whoa! He did, ick. THAT certainly made him detestable. How did Joss get away with that. The MPAA probably didn't know what it meant."

I had a similar reaction to the use of the "C" word in the movie "Courage Under Fire".

In both cases, it really underlined the repugnance of the characters who used them.
I don't think that Buffy was a 'silly' show, at all. Far from it.

In terms of overall theme, absolutely. But large chunks of the show's universe and continuity require suspension of disbelief on an epic scale, and there's a huge variation in tone. It works because the characters tie it all together, but if someone comes in on, say, Tabula Rasa or Triangle with no context, you can see how they might get a bit discombobulated. And if they're randomly flipping through channels and come across what appears to be a kung fu flick with vampires, the show's deeper virtues aren't immediately apparent.
blackmarketbeagle and Loiosh, (edited to add) "and Znachi"- I've always loved that Joss has been able to get so many things past the American censors (especially through Spike) by using British expressions/gestures that the censors didn't understand. He had Spike flipping the (English version of) the bird in the opening credits of Buffy for four years. That was priceless. I'd imagine that some of that stuff was probably cut out across the pond though?

[ edited by steverogers on 2012-05-15 22:57 ]
@steverogers - no, I don't think Spike's V-sign was cut here in the UK. Certainly not on the DVDs. It's considered rude, but not really obscene. "B*gger" and "w*nker" also made it through unscathed.
Well, quim is British. It's less offensive to American audiences simply because it's fairly unrecognizable to American audiences. If Loki was telling Natasha he would see her next Tuesday, I would've been more offended. I couldn't imagine Joss using that language, not even with a villain. Loki does get to be a little sexist. Goes with the territory of being lonely and misunderstood, a la Dr. Horrible or Warren Mears. I imagine that Thor was making good use of his hammer whilst Loki was girlfriendless.
Some of the dialogue may have been cut when BBC2 used to show Buffy at 6 o'clock. There was an unedited version show late at night on a Friday or Saturday from what I recall.

Loki does get to be a little sexist.

Didn't he threaten to rape Jane in the Thor movie or at least allude to it?
@WhatsAStevedore - I'm not sure it really counts as British; it certainly isn't in common use here, and may not be recognized any more than it is in the States. Like many four-letter words it's old; older than the split between British and American English.
" ...but if someone comes in on, say, Tabula Rasa or Triangle with no context, you can see how they might get a bit discombobulated. And if they're randomly flipping through channels and come across what appears to be a kung fu flick with vampires, the show's deeper virtues aren't immediately apparent."

black market beagle, I do hear you. What I'd like to point out is that really, how often do you think that was likely to happen, either in its first run, or after achieving cult status? Who didn't know what Buffy was, even if it was only the sketchiest of outline?

I understand out of context, but how likely was that to actually take place? Aside from Cap, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, and maybe Simon Phoenix, who didn't know Buffy? Even my grandparents did.

Exaggerating here, obviously. And I do agree that via flipping, the show's merits aren't glaringly apparent to the uninitiated. I do feel however, that it just takes one, one single well-placed episode, for someone to get it. One.
blackmarketbeagle - you'd never see the American versions of any of those things on American (broadcast) tv. It's heavily censored. On cable, however - whole other story.

WhatsAStevedore - Yep.
@Simon, he did. He threatened to " her a visit, myself."

That was just to piss off Thor, though. Still, fuckerrrr!

Love Loki.
@Willowy - yes, but I suspect "the sketchiest of outline" is pretty much "oh, that show about a tiny blonde girl kicking the sh*t out of vampires".

I dunno. Short of getting shot in the Dostoevsky in a New York art gallery, I'll never be able to un-invest in Buffy to the point where I can see it "as if for the first time". And I'm going more on comments from people who are vaguely aware of Buffy but haven't watched it. Watching all 7 seasons and still not getting it, or at least recognizing that there's something there to be got, is, as you say, a different matter.
@Simon Didn't see it. But that just means "a little" falls short of describing it. Besides, he talks about watching Barton, under his control, kill Natasha "slowly, intimately"... that does't leave for a lot of interpretation.

@blackmarketbeagle Yeeeeahhh so I had to rely on the national origin of "quim", dictionarily speaking. Not that the meaning is lost. Hiddleton DELIVERS that.
@willowy If you call Buffy "silly" in a loving way, the Cheese Man will give you a slice. If you say it with derision and mockery, no cheese for you.
"oh, that show about a tiny blonde girl kicking the sh*t out of vampires"

And which of us hasn't used that very phrase (or a variation on it) to explain it, or to get our foot in the door to expound on it?

That look. That look when they finally get it. Isn't it just the greatest? I agree with you that you never can revisit your initial discovery, but I'll bet you've experienced it somewhat again through friends. And then starts the flurry... it's so awesome.

In the middle of it now, actually. A woman friend of mine, a neighbor with six children has had an awful time of life these past years. Really. We watched her first ever episodes last week, and wow. She's borrowing my dvds and comes over after practically every episode to discuss. I've never seen her so animated as when she talks about the self-discovery, the fighting evil, the friendships.

Buffy sure isn't 'silly' to her. :)
What's makes the insult work is that Loki delivers it thinking he's devastating Black Widow and she's been playing him the whole time just as smoothly as she has the Russian mob boss.

I loved Black Widow's character in this, and I loved the hinted backstory with Hawkeye - pure Joss (my favorite line of the movie might just be "We remember Budapest very differently"), and I think Scarlett Johanson was terrific in the part. I don't get those who think she wasn't up to the role. Except for one thing. I don't understand why she didn't show even a trace of a Russian accent. I haven't seen the Iron Man movies. Does anyone have any insight on that? Was it that Scarlett can't do accents, or is it supposed to be that the Widow is such a fantastic spy that she picked up English flawlessly?
Personally I think that a Russian accent would have made Black Widow a little too close to Natasha Badenov for comfort.
@barboo, in some Black Widow comic it was explained that she got rid of her accent after defecting to the US, so that she could be a more effective agent of SHIELD. Plus, you know, super spy powers.

Obviously there aren't necessarily accents in comics, barring the occasional comedic attempt in X-men books ("sugah"). Some cartoons have shown Black Widow bouncing around different accents when acting as a double or triple agent to illustrate her ambiguity and espionage prowess.

[ edited by Arsenal on 2012-05-16 01:10 ]
I thought the Loki/Black Widow scene was the central scene of the whole movie, thematically, plot-wise, and in character arc.

First, it shows Black Widow, and us, that Loki isn't just a good-looking little-boy-lost who has a few issues; he really is a monster, there is no getting round it.

And it shows us this by showing that he is a misogynist who is happy to use, or threaten to use, sexualized violence to control women, and who thinks that calling her an insult referring to women's genitalia is positively the worst thing he can say about her - stripped to her essence she is only a woman, AND THAT'S A BAD THING TO BE. So misogynist = really bad guy. I love you, Joss.

And this scene shows us that Natasha is every bit as much a hero as Loki is a villain. Loki's threats - of using Natasha's best friend to torture her slowly and 'intimately' to death in all the ways she most fears - actually DO scare her; they scare her very much. She isn't faking her fear, because Loki would be able to tell; she couldn't just pretend to be vulnerable, she actually had to BE vulnerable, or he wouldn't fall for it. She went there knowing she was making herself vulnerable to a villain. But Natasha's still, and also, on the job; she shows enormous courage of every kind, including emotional, in that scene. She even tells him what she really cares about - Barton - because only the truth will hook him in.

So that one scene shows us what Loki really is - a monster; and what Natasha really is - a hero. But it also shows Natasha something else true - that she can't hope to redeem herself by saving only one person, and that one her best friend. She's going to have to do a lot more than that. But she takes that on board, and so she gets a redemption arc. Nobody else changes much, but Natasha does.

And then finally, and on top of everything else, it shows Natasha on top of her game, as the best interrogator they have; the one who can actually get the goods. Loki's conventional expectations of both women and movie plots trip him up. He doesn't think a woman can be the main interrogator; he expects her to come afterwards, as balm, after he's been tortured, and use sex and comfort to trick him into co-operation. But she's not 'just a woman', not just a mewling quim. She's a spy and an Avenger, and her techniques aren't limited to sex and comfort (which, in fact, she never uses). She's an actual person. Who would have thought? (And also: I love you, Joss.)

So Loki is a monster, marked by his misogyny; Natasha is a hero who gains a redemption arc; and now we all know what Loki's plan is. All in one short scene. Fantastic.

As a side-note - I'd seen the film twice in 2D, and really wasn't sure what the fuss was about. But yesterday I took a friend who hadn't seen it, and we went to see the 3D version. Real-D (if it makes a difference), which I prefer. And it was fantastic. It was SO MUCH better. Suddenly I grasp what the fuss is about. This movie is AWESOME. But see it in 3D.

And a last note - please, please, a Black Widow movie now...
What an awesome post, lbowman. Really nicely deduced, really well-written. Loki is more a real villain to you than he is to me, and through your eyes I can see him that way. Cool.
@Loiosh she left for work- d'oh! Still, the rest of my post holds true...

My partner was sceptical about Buffy (thinking it was just a silly American teen show with vampires) until I made him watch it from the beginning and he became as big a fan as I am. Thank goodness!!! I think we'd have had problems if not....
@lbowman - have now caught up with your post, I second Willowy, excellent post!
lbowman, ditto. Excellent analysis. Thanks for putting that out there.
@lbowman - adding my voice to those who think that was excellently written!
Thanks for the kind words! The article made me consider how simply treating female characters like people is the quietly revolutionary thing about The Avengers; and how Loki does not treat women like people (or men either, but particularly women) - and how that marks him as a villain.

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