Age of Ultron’s Black Widow Problem [SPOILERS]

Age of Ultron’s Black Widow Problem [SPOILERS]

As the sole lady Avenger, Black Widow—street name Natasha Romanoff—is a pretty serious badass. I’ve grown to adore Scarlett Johansson’s capable, steely-eyed take on this character. She’s sexy, but she’d rather outwit and electrocute you than fuck you. I like that in a comic book heroine. This is why I find Black Widow’s story arc

As the sole lady Avenger, Black Widowstreet name Natasha Romanoffis a pretty serious badass. I’ve grown to adore Scarlett Johansson’s capable, steely-eyed take on this character. She’s sexy, but she’d rather outwit and electrocute you than fuck you. I like that in a comic book heroine.

This is why I find Black Widow’s story arc in Avengers: Age of Ultron so disappointing. She’s still armed to her eyeballs, unapologetically acerbic, and possesses enviable, deadly gymnastic power. However, most of her screen time is concerned with a manufactured Beauty and the Beast style romance between herself and the Hulk. Black Widow’s first full scene involves her using hand signals and soothing safe words to calm the Hulk back into Bruce Banner. Subsequent scenes include her pouring drinks with some heavy innuendo, landing under him during a firestorm with more innuendo, and exchanging meaningful stares with Banner across Avengers headquarters.

I’m sure this is a sweet development for some viewers. Hell, I don’t mind a little nod to two of the Avengers making the old sex cannoli. But, well, why a romance? Why now? Why couldn’t our one lady member of the Avengers continue to flirt, but not fall in love or just not have a love interest at all? She certainly has plenty of other aspects that could be explored. Instead we get, what Captain America calls, an opening up of Natasha. I can’t help but feel this is old territory. After all, what’s a woman comic book character without a heteronormative love story?

Black Widow and Hulk in Age of Ultron

This worn out trope, however, is not the part of the film that truly incites my rage. I’m only capable of a sort of long, deflating internal sigh akin to the dying gasp of an ancient tortoise when it comes to this typical played out romantic song. No, it’s the content of the scene where Natasha convinces the Hulk to give into their attraction that really turns me into a rage-filled sandwich.

Earlier in the movie, during a chilling flashback brought on by the Scarlet Witch’s wacky brainwashing power, we glimpse Natasha’s KGB training. There’s ballet, an icy Julie Delpy, and much talk of a graduation ceremony. (I would totally watch a whole movie of that stuff. Just saying.) During Natasha and Bruce’s intimate conversation, he pushes her away saying that he’s too much of a monster to be with her. Then she reveals how she perceives herself to be broken—the KGB graduation ceremony is sterilization. I can’t think of any circumstance where a gamma radiation accident that creates a behemoth capable of destroying an entire city is on par with a young woman whose fertility is taken away by a spy organization as part of initiation. The former can be construed as a monster. The latter simply cannot have children. This is our Black Widow calling herself a monster in order to gain the love of Banner. Banner responds as if she’s told the truth, that she is exactly on his level, and therefore, a worthy mate. This is a reductive insight into Black Widow’s inner life and lacks the nuance that such a revelation should carry for this brave soldier.

It’s not hard to imagine that Natasha Romanoff has, in her imagined off-screen life, heard the pervading societal whispers that she was only worth what she might produce in her uterus and internalize that objectifying and transphobic belief. However, since Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fantasy movie written and directed by self-proclaimed feminist Joss Whedon, I had higher hopes for our lone woman avatar. I, as a non-Avenger superpowered woman, can mostly shrug off the passing comments about my expected forthcoming children and how I’m running out of time. But at some point it all piles up, and I can find myself, a box of thirty-five-year-old eggs, sitting on a gigantic hill of less-than feelings. It might make those times easier if I could see the fantasy of a gorgeous, strong, superhero lady not internalizing such virulent uterine bigotry.

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  • Desiree Rodriguez
    May 4, 2015, 7:21 pm

    Nah, given the in-your-face family/children = happiness theme and the overall birth theme of the entire movie it was clear that the fact she was infertile was the monstrous aspect about her.

    Either way the romance just dragged down her character (and Bruce’s in some aspects) terribly.

  • Steena
    May 4, 2015, 1:40 pm

    My partner and I gave each other the ol’ o.O when Natasha referred to herself as a monster because of her infertility. On the drive home from the movie, it was our biggest talking point and one that we hashed over a lot. In the end, we thought the point they were TRYING to make was that she is a monster because she chose to go through with the ceremony, which included sterilization AND an assassination (which may or may not have been her brother, if we’re going with comics influence). Even knowing her own hesitancy, young Natasha chose to be a killer for the KGB, giving up potential future desires to become this murder machine. But this was the conclusion we came to after about a half hour of discussion, so if indeed it is the point they were trying to make, it was poorly done. Because as your article makes clear, the insinuation made by this scene between Bruce & Natasha is that they are both monsters – he because he recently wiped out an entire city and she because she can no longer have children. And that’s bullshit.

    • Jennie Law@Steena
      May 4, 2015, 2:22 pm

      I agree with you that I think they were trying for something bigger with that scene. However, I’ve seen the movie twice now and it read the same way both times – an incredibly huge, sensitive topic shoehorned into an action movie with already too many plot points. It would have been a really great inclusion if it had been fleshed out in the way we both hoped.

  • Terreece Clarke
    May 4, 2015, 1:35 pm

    She didn’t call herself a monster because she couldn’t have children, she called herself a monster because being sterile made it easier for her to abandon all sense of humanity strictly for the mission. She was trained and conditioned to kill without hesitation or question. That is what made her a monster. That is who she was and could still be.

    • Jennie Law@Terreece Clarke
      May 4, 2015, 2:27 pm

      There is more emphasis on family and home life in that scene than on her assassin past. Your post is the way I wish the scene read to me. However, the language choices and pacing don’t get me there.

      • Bill@Jennie Law
        May 5, 2015, 4:28 am

        Actually with all the flashbacks of her in The Red Room the scene definitely had an emphasis on her training and loss of humanity…not “family life”

        • Desiree Rodriguez@Bill
          May 5, 2015, 11:13 am

          Yeah but in the actual conversation between her and Bruce she only mentions the sterilization, not the murdering of a faceless man. Just that one aspect. Furthermore I don’t see how not being able to have children makes killing people easier. The only connection I could make is that the Black Widow program enforced using sexual contact with their targets and the sterilization was to make sure none of their Widows got pregnant and potentially attached. Which opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms. But not being able to have children ie infertile doesn’t make it somehow easier to kill people. Natasha being brainwashed, tortured, and taught from childhood to lack empathy made it easier for her to kill people, not the inability to have children. The whole scene isn’t framed that way, if she brought up her forced sterilization as well as her being forced to kill people, and her childhood brainwashing all together in her conversation with Bruce we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Because ultimately the Red Room trauma is what made Natasha a “monster” but she ONLY mentions the inability to have children with Bruce. That ONLY matters a lot.

          • saranga@Desiree Rodriguez
            May 5, 2015, 11:46 am

            “But not being able to have children i.e. infertile doesn’t make it somehow easier to kill people”

            If you really want kids and you can’t have them you might feel like your life has no meaning and therefore not care about what you do to others.. In that sense it makes it easier to kill people.
            Especially if the sterilisation was done at a key part of your training and it traumatised you and that trauma stayed with you and you didn’t recover from it.

          • Claire Napier@saranga
            May 5, 2015, 1:08 pm

            If only expression of these reasons were written into the product!

          • Bill@Desiree Rodriguez
            May 5, 2015, 4:19 pm

            Once again she ONLY brought it up to have something in common with Banner. Does banners ability to not have kids make him a monster? Why isn’t anyone focusing on that? Everyone seems to understand that Banner is talking about his Hulk persona even though there are no flashbacks or him outright saying it. However, when Black Widow says it while there are flashbacks playing and we begin to understand what Scarlett Witch made her relive (which we understand to be the characters greatest fears) somehow everyone ignores that and assumes it solely is about HER ability to have kids?

            The not having kids making killing easier is part of the conditioning, if they can’t make life and form childhood are taught to take it then it further takes away any empathy they could have. Obviously the program was flawed because obviously Natasha still has empathy and understands what happened to her was monstrous. The monstrous thing being her training and conditioning, one small part of which was her sterilization. It’s not her sterilization that makes her a monster, it’s the things she did both in the program and after when she believed she was nothing more then a tool to kill people that wasn’t allowed to have feelings.

            She sees Banner has similar feelings, and trys to relate to him since he feels hes worse then she is and doesn’t deserve anyone’s affection like she once did and shes trying to help him see how wrong he is by stating he’s not the only person whose done things they weren’t in control of.

            She doesn’t believe that the sterlization made it easier to kill people, she says thats what was told to her and she’s rightfully upset that it happened. In that relevation she’s not the monster the people who did that to her are, but at one point she did believed them and was a souless assassin killing innocents.

            She’s trying to connect with Banner’s fear of killing innocents when he’s not in control of her actions, and Natasha is trying to tell him that she’s already been there and has learned that that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve happiness and that they can’t change. It has nothing to do with the sterlization, it’s just a small part of what happened to her and she was only using it as a fact to help relate to Banner’s own pain and to deflect his stupid comment that one of the reasons no one would be with him is because he can’t have kids. If anything Banner is the one saying he doesn’t deserve happiness because HE can’t have kids, and Natasha is the one disagreeing with that.

          • Bill@Desiree Rodriguez
            May 5, 2015, 4:51 pm

            She doesn’t mention murdering the person with the bag on his head because it’s A) Not the only person/innocent she’s killed B) Still very secretive and guarded about her past. And C) her being forced to kill the guy has nothing to do with Banner’s inability to have children and doesn’t relate to that at all.

            Banner was using not being able to have kids as an excuse and extra reason to not have a relationship and Natasha is saying “So what? I can’t have kids either, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve happiness” and she explains how it happened to earn Banner’s trust (someone who still doesn’t totally trust her or anyone else and says that in the film) by being open (Something she never does because she’s not proud of her past being a soulless assassin, and why she doesn’t give him her life’s story right there for no reason.) In that moment they aren’t talking about “monsters” AT ALL..

          • Claire Napier@Bill
            May 5, 2015, 6:39 pm


            It’s fine to say “I think that…” or “In my opinion”.

          • hippo@Desiree Rodriguez
            May 5, 2015, 5:49 pm

            ‘She doesn’t mention murdering the person with the bag on his head because it’s A) Not the only person/innocent she’s killed B) Still very secretive and guarded about her past. And C) her being forced to kill the guy has nothing to do with Banner’s inability to have children and doesn’t relate to that at all.’

            A) Right, but it was probably her first, which makes it important, B) Yeah, she’s secretive, but she’s sharing her *sterilization* with Banner; I think they’re passed that whole ‘talking about my terrible past’ hurdle, C) Wait, *WHAT*? Banner can’t have kids because he’s a killer; because he turns into a monstrous rage-beast. How is that *not* relatable to Natasha’s status as a killer — as someone who’s taken lives, and will continue to do so?

            Also, Natasha literally tells him this story immediately *after* he talks about his status as a monster; like, this is her response. I don’t know how you can get around this conversation being about how monsters can’t/shouldn’t have children.

          • Wendy Browne@hippo
            May 9, 2015, 4:42 pm

            Bruce can’t/shouldn’t have children because if he steps on their LEGO in the middle of the living room, he could hulk out and kill them and smash the house to bits and insurance won’t cover it. Natasha can’t have children because she’s been sterilized. She shouldn’t have children because she thinks she’s a monster because she’s a killer for hire? That could well be her perception, but considering she’s standing in the house of her best friend who does kill AND has a family with another baby on the way, it makes this argument pretty invalid. This was played as “I get your point about not being able to have kids because you’re a monster because I actually can’t have kids because that’s how they made me a better monster.” But Natasha has a choice when she kills. She’s been conditioned to make killing easier, and believes the sterilization is part of that, but she has not been so brainwashed that she feels nothing, and has proved throughout these films that she has a lot of compassion, will put her life on the line for innocents, and is actively seeking to remove the red from her ledger. When she straps on her guns now, she isn’t an uncontrollable killer [because she’s been sterilized]. But when Bruce hulks out, he is.

            Perhaps the more appropriate answer to Bruce’s belief that Natasha wants the white picket fence and 2.5 kids would have been, “That might be happiness for Clint and his family, but that’s not necessarily the happy ending for everyone. Not everyone wants kids or should have them.”

            Or she could just say whoa hey slow down Bruce I was just talking about playing around in the shower. Not signing the prenup just yet.

        • Bill@Bill
          May 6, 2015, 10:58 am

          No Hippo, Banner can’t have children because of the gamma radiation he was exposed to, not because he changes into the Hulk. Changing into the Hulk is just another side effect in addition to not being able to have kids. And No, she doesn’t respond to Banner’s “monster” line with her story about being infertile, she responds to Banner AFTER he brings up that the gamma radiation made him infertile. She is only bringing up her infertility to show Banner how ridiculous it is to use that as an excuse to push people away.

          If anything the scene shows Natasha’s strength because she’s obviously had to deal with this for a long time, and doesn’t feel right about it, but she’s overcome it and decided it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t deserve a chance at love, and she’s using it to try and convince and calm Banner that he too deserves love.

          And just because she share her story of sterlization doesn’t mean shes so open now shes going to start telling him all the little details of the people she’s killed in cold blood. Obviously the sterlization is a big deal to her and shes upset it happened, but killing innocents is probably something shes more guarded about. To say that “she’s past the whole talking about my past hurdle” is simplifying the character saying that now that shes shared one terrible thing guess she should share everything because what could be worse?. She doesn’t do that because shes not looking for a pity party from Banner, and they both still don’t trust one another completely. She’s not the weak character in the scene HE is. He’s the one letting his fears of what he is control his behavior and shes the one saying “hey we’ve both done bad things, and have had bad things done to us, but that doesn’t mean we cant/dont deserve happiness/love and it doesn’t mean we are bad people”

          And Claire, prescriptive? Really? I shouldn’t have to state “in my opinion” obviously the things that are opinions are MY opinions because I’m the one saying them. Most of the things i’m saying though are based on Fact because they are directly talked about or in the movie. Once again you brush off my opinions and point of view by accusing me of being rigid, or narrow minded, instead of continuing the conversation like Hippo did. If anything you’re being prescriptive and pushing me and my thoughts to the side like they’re less important because they differ from your own. an others on this page. I know some people with different opinions sometimes post just to be jerks and say hurtful or brash things, but all my comments have been well thought out and provide no more opinion then the posts I’m replying too and I base my opinions off of facts from the movie which I cite before forming my opinions. Ironically, it’s your opinion that I’m being prescriptive. I’m not calling anyone names, please think before you go labeling people for sharing their thoughts.

          • Claire Napier@Bill
            May 6, 2015, 12:12 pm

            This isn’t your house, Bill. It’s our house, and it’s rude to come in like a wrecking ball telling us WHAT’S WHAT. There is no “shouldn’t have to”–you’re being asked to chill the fuck out with the fact-framed statements, and you’re blowing it.

          • Bill@Bill
            May 6, 2015, 7:46 pm

            Clarie, with this article, Jennie posted her opinion on the internet. In the comments I’m providing mine. If you’d like to discuss both sets let’s do that and maybe we can all learn something. Or, you can call me a bully and stay offended. It really is your choice, but if you didn’t want to hear any contradictory opinions, with support points no less, then I’m not sure why you would make this opinion piece public. If it’s your way or the highway then disable comments and we’re all good. I apologize, my intent was never to bulldoze anyone, or upset anyone.

            Furthermore a friend of mine brought your tweet to my attention. “Prescriptive” means giving or “prescribing” exact rules or directions. You think I was doing that (I wasn’t), and someone else may think that I wasn’t (because I wasn’t) thus making that your opinion, not a hard fact.

            Obviously no one here cares to discuss different viewpoints except Hippo (thanks for not berating me Hippo, I appreciate the insight that people may have missed Banner was also sterile, or that I may have understood him wrong) so I won’t continue to comment and attempt to start a dialogue. I hope the next time the only female character in the movie shows strength and humanity it’s acceptable to your views and standards. If only they had an adjective for people who expected others to follow exact rules, directions, or instructions about how you should do something. (It’s called being prescriptive, but i think you already knew that)

          • Wendy Browne@Bill
            May 7, 2015, 8:09 am

            Bill, part of the frustration here is that you are continually countering our interpretation of the scene with the “fact” that Bruce is sterile due to gamma radiation. A few people here have stated that that has neither been stated in the scene, or in the MCU canon, yet you continue to pound the particular point into every comment made on this post. You’re expressing your opinion as fact, but as Hippo has said, once again, that is not what went down in that scene. You mentioned that you are going to see the film again, with particular attention paid to this scene. It might be best to hold further thought until you’ve had a chance to review it.

          • Claire Napier@Bill
            May 7, 2015, 8:43 am

            Bill, this is our part of the internet. You’re not my father and even if you were you’d be pushing it.

  • Colleen Vanderlinden
    May 4, 2015, 1:17 pm

    I think her story about sterilization was more to show Bruce that she understood him, that they both had something done to them involuntarily or by accident that took their choices from them. Her “monster” comment was not about being sterilized. After she told him about the sterilization, she said “it made it that much easier to kill.” THAT, the fact that killing was once considered easy to her (and likely still is, in some way) is what she believes makes her a monster. The event of her sterilization was her “graduation.” It was the point at which her handlers truly changed her life. It was her point of no return, in her mind.
    Regarding the romance angle, all of the other Avengers had a love story, right? Tony/Pepper, Cap/Peggy, Thor/Jane. So I don’t see the big deal with Natasha having a bit of a romance angle — she’s being treated the same way the rest of the team has in that regard. And for the most part, she was the one pursuing Bruce, while he was clearly interested but unsure about the whole thing. I think this is another of those examples of women, both fictional and real, having their lives lived under a microscope. Yes, she, like pretty much all of the Avengers, has a love interest. Why is it seen as weak, when, for example, Thor’s love for Jane never seems to “weaken” him in our eyes? Why do we hold Natasha up to standards we don’t hold the men up to?

    • Jennie Law@Colleen Vanderlinden
      May 4, 2015, 2:54 pm

      All of the romantic Avenger story lines so far have taken place in their own movies in the franchise. All of these relationships have felt tertiary to the main action and like an afterthought to me. The first Avengers movie was purely quips and action. This movie became bogged down with all sorts of emotional things that really didn’t have a place.

  • saranga
    May 4, 2015, 12:35 pm

    But not being able to have children IS a big deal to a lot of women.
    If you want children, the realisation that you may not or cannot ever have your own biological kids is a life changing moment, and it carries, for the rest of your life, a great deal of grief, hurt, self hatred and anger. For women who can’t carry a living baby to term, or conceive a baby (and there’s a lot of us out there), it is quite easy to feel like you (your body) is broken, like you are a monster.

    Having said that, I understood that part of her monster comment was referring to letting her self be sterilised. Yes, I know there’s the back story of force and coercion, I know she didn’t really ‘let’ herself be sterilised, but she will still feel at fault and she will still feel guilty. I thought the text aroudn proving yourself to be worthy for the training made that obvious.

    It’s got nothing to do with only valuing yourself through your uterus, it’s got to do with wanting a child and there is nothing wrong with that. Politically, the idea of Natasha, a kick ass ex soviet spy, and action hero and Avenger, also wanting babies, is a great thing. I’d like to be like Natasha, but I don’t want to have to give up my desire for children to do so.

    I liked that scene with Natasha and I empathised with her. At this time in my life I need to see women like her acknowledging their grief at not having a baby. I thought that scene made her character richer and added more depth.

    So that scene wasn’t for you (good! I hope you never have to experience this) but don’t take it away from those of us that it means a lot too.

    The love story doesn’t bother me either – For your complaints that Natasha is reduced to a romantic entanglement you don’t talk much about Bruce’s romance is presented. I thought it was pretty equal, and in fact, her chasing him flipped the traditional gender stereotypes.

    • Kyle@saranga
      May 4, 2015, 1:36 pm

      Maybe I’m being dense, but I thought her calling herself a monster was in reference to her occupation. Natasha doesn’t necessarily seem like she is proud of her past, which is why I think she is as guarded as she is. I do think you are spot on in regards to her sterilization.

      • Jennie Law@Kyle
        May 4, 2015, 2:25 pm

        The dialogue creates too much of a gap to tie it absolutely to her only assassin roots for my tastes.

        • Bill@Jennie Law
          May 5, 2015, 4:25 am

          Actually she only brings up her sterilization AFTER Banner brings up his as a reason they shouldn’t date. He’s saying that he’d make a bad love interest because he can’t have kids thus no one would want to be with him forever, but she defends her thoughts on them being together stating that she doesn’t care about that because she also can’t have kids. Her calling herself a monster is clearly in reference to the things she had to do while being trained and conditioned in The Red Room. It even shows flashbacks of her being operated on and being forced to kill people.

          If anything she’s bringing up her sterilization to prove you don’t need to be able to have kids to be happy since shes using the fact as reason to have Banner give into his feelings for her so they can be happy together.

          • Claire Napier@Bill
            May 5, 2015, 1:10 pm

            Maybe it’s clear to you, Bill, but it’s clearly not clear to the entire audience. Try to be careful about bulldozing other people’s responses in our comments section. Thanks.

          • Bill@Bill
            May 5, 2015, 4:33 pm

            I’ll reply here since I can’t directly reply to your comment below Claire. I was not intending to bulldoze anyone and I’m sorry if anyone felt that way. I was directly responding to the above comment that the dialogue creates gaps and I was disagreeing stating a fact from the movie that she isn’t the one who brings it up and that the dialogue has no gaps and that people may be focusing on the wrong thing. I used the word “clearly” because I personally felt it was very clear (it’s visually represented multiple times in the film both before and during her and Banner’s conversation), I wasn’t attacking anyone and never said anything like “you’re dumb if they didn’t see it because obviously it was clear.”

            Bruce is the first person to say it and he believes that no one wants him and that not having kids also factors into that, Natasha brings it up to relate to him and disagree with him that that means he doesn’t deserve happiness.

            Why then is no one complaining that Banner believes a man who can’t have kids is a monster? Is it because we SEE him as the Hulk and people know hes talking about that? No it’s because we know he wasn’t attributing that to being a monster, he was using not being able to have kids as an excuse to not have a relationship and Natasha is saying “So what? I can’t have kids either, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve happiness” and she explains how it happened. In that moment they aren’t talking about monsters AT ALL..

            Posting facts and my own thoughts in response to other’s that I don’t agree with or I may feel are misinformed shouldn’t be labeled as “bulldozing” and brushed aside like I’m not contributing to the conversation and being open to discussion.

          • hippo@Bill
            May 5, 2015, 5:53 pm

            Wait… Bill, do you think that Bruce was *literally* saying he can’t have kids? Like, because of gamma radiation or something? Because the explanation *I* took from this is that he was claiming he can’t have kids because he turns into a giant green murder-beast, and having kids would be irresponsible.

            If you thought he was literally saying ‘I am sterile, so I can’t have kids’, then yeah, it might make sense for Natasha to respond ‘I’m sterile too, we’re in the same boat’. But that’s definitely not how I interpreted that scene. For me, it was Bruce saying ‘I’m too monstrous to have kids’, and Natasha responding ‘Well, I know what that’s like because I was sterilized’ — and that makes no sense, because being sterilized doesn’t make you a monster.

          • Bill@Bill
            May 6, 2015, 1:16 pm

            Yea exactly. That’s totally what I’m saying because if i remember correctly that is literally what he says. He says “but I’m sterile” and attributes it to the gamma radiation as another point in addition to being a monster. I definitely think that’s the issue here and people aren’t understanding what Banner had said otherwise their would be posts of “Why is Banner a monster because he can’t have kids?” posts as well. I’m planning another viewing and plan to watch this scene from the other perspective and listen to whats exactly said.

          • hippo@Bill
            May 7, 2015, 2:56 am

            I agree that if Banner had said ‘I’m sterile’, this would have made perfect sense — but that’s not what Banner was saying. I think your interpretation is reasonable given what you *think* he said, but I am pretty much 99% sure he did not say or imply that he was sterile — but rather, implied that he can’t have kids because he’s a giant green murderbeast.

    • Jennie Law@saranga
      May 4, 2015, 2:47 pm

      Reading your comment reinforces my belief that reproductive choices are big, personal, multilayered things. I do not believe that this movie handled this issue appropriately or with any kind of nuance and delicacy.


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