Hey Joss? I’m Not Mad, I’m Just Disappointed

There’s a bit of a to-do on the internet this week. Seems a lot of people are taking issue with Joss Whedon’s latest installment of the Avengers franchise. This is to be expected. We’re talking capes and villains here. When it comes to opinions on the topic, much like certain southward facing orifices, we’ve all got ‘em.

I finally got around to watching it at the Nick on Monday night. Everything seemed pretty standard to me as far as Marvel movies go – which is to say I’m more of a DC person: I like my heroes with a bit more anti- in them. It was all big dumb fights and thinly-veiled phallic innuendo for the first half. Then Whedon did something I was really hoping he wouldn’t do: He put Black Widow in the refrigerator.

So, it wasn’t technically a refrigerator. It was a rusty old cage. It was a plot device. It was TOTAL BS. I felt let down. Why? Joss Whedon created Buffy. Joss Whedon doesn’t know how important this was to me as a kid. Being a fifteen year old girl who hated the idea of recreational outdoor activities and who also happened to live in rural Maine was a specific kind of hell.

Sarah Silverman said this thing that I think is really important, and it accurately hits on some of the points I’m going to make here: “…stop telling girls that they can be anything that they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake! Not because they can’t, but because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.”

Whedon could have put any one of his protagonists in that cage, but he chose to put Black Widow there. Not only is this lazy, but it is harmful. Buffy would have kicked her way out of that cage. Buffy would have saved the world. It never would have occurred to her that she COULDN’T get out of that cage.

It never would have occurred to Buffy to smile politely at the guy who street harassed me on Cumberland the other day, either. I was waiting for the go-ahead from the automated crosswalk sign. I rely on these signs to guide me safely from one side of an intersection to another. Again, I’m visually impaired, but I don’t present as such. Drivers, for example, do not know that I can’t see them. So I wait until I know for certain that it’s safe. Also, I figure anyone who blows through a red in broad daylight and hits a blind pedestrian with the right of way kind of wants to pay off said pedestrian’s student debt… Anyway. I guess I was taking longer than the average pedestrian to cross. This guy walked up on my blind side and said “Looks like it’s safe, honey. You want me to hold your hand while you cross?”

Buffy would have said “wrong slayer, wrong day” and broken that guy’s hand. What would Black Widow do? From what I can tell based on the latest Avengers flick, she’d probably fall in love with him.

Joss Whedon doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel really let down. Thousands of young women are going to see this character who could have been so, so inspiring: A trained-freaking assassin with a biting wit and a keen mind. For all intents and purposes, the typical Whedon heroine. Until it becomes apparent that her only purpose is to make up 50% of a lukewarm love story, and again, to get damseled.

I can’t emphasize how important visibility is in pop culture. It has meant the world to see smart female protagonists with agency (like all of the clones on Orphan Black, or Dana Scully on The X-Files, or YES Buffy, Willow, Faith, and every other strong woman in the Whedonverse). It isn’t just about agency, or even simply being women. You know what’s awesome? Seeing a woman depicted as a no-apologies, badass.

Because why should it occur to her that she shouldn’t be a badass? Why should it ever occur to her that she couldn’t break out of an old, rusty cage?

Mary Holt

About Mary Holt

Mary F. Holt is a maker of whatnot, preserver of treasures, consumer of pop, and writer of blogs. She likes Maine.