Is Avengers: Age of Ultron Sexist?

Joss Whedon has joined a select group of people leaving social media from fierce backlash? What was Whedon's crime? Sexism! But is that what was intended with Age of Ultron? Take the jump for my opinion on the matter.

Editorial Opinion

I had no idea the backlash is as tremendous as it is. As many of you know, Avengers: Age of Ultron opened last weekend to a mighty first-week total of $191 million domestically. Unfortunately, the general critical consensus is that while the first is still everything you would want from a summer popcorn film, Age of Ultron was not as good as it predecessor. Rumours are swirling all over the place regarding clashing between director Joss Whedon, who returned after his first Avengers film made $1.5 billion worldwide, and producers of the film. What many comic book movie fans do not seem to realize, in my humble opinion, is that the Avengers was a novelty idea. Kind of like the “black label” of comic book movies. Almost like a limited edition version of some other kind of commodity. As such, it may have done itself no favours but releasing a sequel and trying to recapture its former glory. As I have stated in a previous review of the film, the highs of Avengers: Age of Ultron do exceed those of the original film. Unfortunately, so do the lows. But I still believe that the lows are far and few in between this well-written, well-acted, and well-directed piece of cinematography.
Then came the backlash. Among the things I have heard regarding the film’s mishandling are interviews gone awry with cast and crew, the disassembling of the original team in favour of adding a second woman, two African American males, and an Android, the film’s editing and run time (both criticisms with which I agree) and Joss himself, who has confirmed the on-set battles with the studio were legitimate. In that regard, I draw your attention now to what I think is the most prevalent criticism of the film: sexist claims. Fans and certain feminist parties have attacked Joss Whedon, who himself claims to pro-female. At first, I could not believe this to be the case. I never saw Black Widow as being anything other than a strong female character in Age of Ultron. If anything, seeing Black Widow open up and be vulnerable requires perhaps the greatest strength of the character, as it does with any actual person. But I do understand how people could interpret what Joss has done as being sexist. So I decided to think about and identify all the actual instances of sexist potential from the film. I will provide what I believe to be the reason why certain parties find it to be sexist. And I will offer my view of it. I honestly do not believe Joss Whedon meant for this. Sometimes, the best intentions make the worst outcomes.
1. The opening battle sequence when, after Clint Barton gets hit by a HYDRA bunker, Natasha is the one who runs over to give him medical attention. This could be interpreted for historical reasons. During times of war, women were not allowed to enlist or go into war with the intent of battling. Instead, they provided other services such as cooking, (unfortunately) prostitution, and medical care. She is seen placing a tourniquet on Barton’s wound in the beginning of the film. I honestly do not believe that this was meant to be sexist. Instead, I think she was probably the closet Avenger to him. This isn’t too much of a stretch. After all, they are seen together quite a bit in the first movie. Two non-enhanced people have to stick together, after all.
2. Natasha serving a drink to Banner. This could be interpreted as a scene in a burlesque, with Natasha offering a drink, a sweet smile and maybe a night to caress his troubles away. Personally, I didn’t get that vibe from this scene. I simply thought the reason she was behind the bar is because this was one of the later scenes they shot, and Scarlett Johansson was beginning to show her pregnancy. Also, the fact that she is seen sitting down in several shots helps to hide her growing belly. Congratulations to her, by the way.
3. Helen Cho cowering in a corner to avoid an attack by an Ultron drone. This could be interpreted as a stereotypical Asian woman bowing or leaning in submission. Honestly, when I saw this, I thought it made perfect sense. After all, she is the only one who does not know how to handle herself in a fight. The fact that she is Asian is merely a coincidence. On a separate note, Claudia Kim’s involvement with the film, it being as it is, may be the reason why the film can show in China. For those of you who do not know, China only allows 100 foreign films to be shown in their theatres per year. Most films have to have some kind of cultural relevance to China or Asia in general. Think the remake of Robocop or the end of Transformers: Age of Extinction.
4. Wanda’s ability to “tear apart” the team. This could be interpreted as being manipulative or using guise to get her way. In other words, being passive-aggressive. As explained in the movie, this is Wanda’s power. Manipulating her opponents’ minds is just one of her abilities, the other being telekinesis. I didn’t get that vibe from it, but it is a generally believed that passive-aggressive behavior is more attributable to women than men. I really hope no one gets offended by that comment BECAUSE I MEAN NO OFFENSE! I was too busy enjoying her “tearing apart” the Ultron drones.
5. Wanda being saved multiple times by Pietro in the film. This could be interpreted as Wanda being unable to defend herself, being weaker than her male counterparts. As the film shows, Wanda is more than capable of defending herself. I believe that because there is so much power flowing through Wanda, she may be genuinely unbalanced. In fact, in various interviews, Elizabeth Olsen herself claims that her character is very powerful and very unstable. With that being said, I believe Pietro is just doing what he does best, which is being a big brother, even if he only is “twelve minutes older” than she is.
6. Black Widow revealing that she is sterilized and identifying with Bruce Banner by calling herself a “monster.” This is the big one. This could be interpreted that a woman who is infertile or chooses not to have children could be seen as less than a woman. This point is only strengthened by the revelation that Clint Barton’s significant other, Laura, is pregnant. Laura is proud of her Avenger husband. She practically glows with that pride and her expansive belly. Natasha, meanwhile, is haunted and tormented by her inability to have children, questioning Banner if he still believes that he is the only monster. People who latched onto this point may have missed others throughout the film. Everyone believes they are monsters. Tony Stark calls himself and Banner “mad scientists” and monsters when they are uploading JARVIS’ interface into the body within the cradle. The Vision refers to himself as a monster, due to the fact that he is neither what Ultron wanted to create nor what Stark and Banner set out to make. Steve Rodgers makes the point that Ultron believes that they are monsters, and that the final battle will reassure them that they are not. Every major character deals with some form of monstrosity. As Laura said, the men around Hawkeye are “gods”. They’re cloaked in armor. They’re from other worlds. They have high level skill sets. They turn green! Natasha believes that her monstrosity is that fact that every decision she could have made was made for her, including to have children. She was raised to be nothing but an assassin. She is simply in need of a reminder that she is human and can choose to leave her past behind her. And she has found that reminder in being an Avenger, being “anything other than the assassin they trained her to be.”
7. Maria Hill serving under multiple men. This could be interpreted as a woman being under the management of a powerful male figure. From Tony Stark to Steve Rodgers to Nick Fury, Maria Hill has been under the thumb of several very powerful and influential male figures throughout the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This film, unfortunately, combines them all. For those of you who may not know this, in the comics Nick Fury disappears for a while. In response, Maria Hill becomes acting director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Of course, she has drastically different views from her predecessor. I cannot argue this point by saying that her character is a product of her time. Maria Hill has not been around for very long. If I remember correctly, she first appeared in the comics in 2005, in New Avengers #4. For now, I will yield this point because until the cinematic universe catches up with comics, Maria Hill continues to be under the heel of her male bosses. But, much like in the comics, her time will come.
8. Natasha getting the cradle into the Quinjet before being left behind and captured by Ultron. This could be interpreted as a woman being forced to do all of her male counterparts’ work and then not being able to receive any of the reward afterward. This is echoed in the workplace by several women who are being underpaid for performing the same tasks as their male co-workers. The reasoning I believe SHE is the character captured and not someone else two-fold. First, it ties in nicely when Banner frees her. They exchange some kind words, kiss passionately, and then she pushes him into a hole and the Hulk emerges. Second, it may have been a practical decision. With her pregnancy looming large over the production, he probably wanted to let her have time to stay off the screen and out of potentially dangerous scenes.
9. Banner leaving Natasha at the conclusion of the final battle with Ultron. This could be interpreted as a powerful male figure abandoning a woman due to her infertility. This manner of sexism has been around for centuries. Kings and emperors would marry a woman, notice they were unable to give birth to children, and then either divorce them, sleep around, or in more extreme cases, have them executed or murdered. Science was unable to provide them with our modern day explanations. It was always the fault of the woman. However, we all know that the reason Hulk left was to protect her. They may love each other as deeply as any couple in the world, but it is uncertain at this point is he is actually able to control himself. Sure, they have the lullaby. But that’s no guarantee that he may not have a code green in the middle of a hot romp.
10. Hawkeye applying his “shock” arrow on Wanda’s head and Ultron blasting Cho after she pauses his consciousness upload into Vision’s body. This is violence against women. I still, to this day, cringe when I see a woman being hit in motion pictures. Like most males, I was raised not to hit a girl. But I learned in elementary school during games of dodgeball that they were definitely not the weaker sex. Still, seeing violence in television shows or movies oftentimes makes me uncomfortable. And yet, I do not have the same response when it happens to a male. I think it is a combination of my upbringing and the lack of motion pictures displaying strong, LEADING female characters who can handle themselves in battle. For example, watching Steve Rodgers being driven into the wall by an Ultron drone after their party caused me no discomfort. However, watching Ultron blast Helen Cho made me very uncomfortable. Because it seems to be painful even for characters like Thor or Iron Man, who have some kind of resistance to it. She had no protection whatsoever. She has no enhancements or innate abilities other than her genius. But there have been so few strong female characters that I have seen onscreen, that I have no way of gauging how painful something would be to a woman other than my childhood beliefs that a woman should not be hit. Violence against anyone is wrong in my opinion and violence against women is worse. That is, until she hits you back. Characters like Widow and Scarlet Witch serve as those powerful icons. They look good. And they fight better. Ultimately, the times are different. Women can do whatever they want now. And that includes, but is not limited to, taking a punch from an Ultron drone.
I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything by writing this article. Instead, I merely wished to point out some of the things I found that could be potentially sexist and how those things could have been, potentially, misinterpreted. Sometimes, it is necessary for us as people who view films to not take them at anything more than face value. And sometimes, further discussion is necessary. I do not believe Joss Whedon meant to offend anyone by the writing of his film. Scarlett’s pregnancy probably forced him to retool things. Pressures with the studio probably forced him to retool things. Handling so many great actors probably forced him to retool things. What an extraordinary film this was. What an extraordinary response it has gotten. For better or worse.

[EA] - " shouldn't have buried me. I'm not dead."

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