Nadine Spencer

The Sexist Avengers

The Internet was in an uproar this week after The Avengers: Age of Ultron actors Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner made tongue-in-cheek references to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character as a “slut” and a “whore.” Although their comments were undoubtedly in poor taste, the backlash against these actors’ response has caused many to miss the real issue: the inherent sexism in the question they were responding to, and in the role that Johansson has played throughout the Avengers series.

What we should really be talking about is the fact that Johansson’s Black Widow character—the only female lead in the series—has been scripted predominantly to serve as eye candy, and is juggled by writers as the romantic interest of the films’ various leading men, depending on what is most convenient at the time. Sure, Evans and Renner were sexist in their remarks—but the role Johansson has been cast in is sexist in itself, and only serves to reinforce unhealthy stereotypes that are prevalent throughout the media.

The very fact that the woman interviewing Evans and Renner found it relevant to ask the actors what they think about the revolving sex life of the Black Widow character is indicative of the gender issues that documentary films such as Miss Representation are trying to bring to light—issues that lead to an under-representation of women in meaningful societal and leadership roles, and to young women being valued (by others and by themselves) for nothing more than their sexuality.

Even the character’s name, Black Widow, has sexist connotations. Amongst other things, Urban Dictionary defines a Black Widow as “a disingenuous woman who exploits her position in a relationship to the detriment of her partner.” In other words, even the name of the “heroine” in this film series reinforces the idea that women can only be successful through use of their physical charms.

Yes, Evans and Renner’s comments were inappropriate—but they are indicative of a much larger issue at play in the media. In fact, it would be hard to expect any less from them when the typical female role in Hollywood is drenched in sexuality, and the relationships of actresses and their characters are thought of as relevant talking points. You’ll note that no one ever bothers to ask about the ever-changing love interests of Iron Man Tony Stark (the biggest philanderer of the Avengers bunch). Maybe it’s time that fans, actors, and movie critics take a look at the gender roles their favorite films are reinforcing, rather than getting lost in superficial, symptomatic scandals.

To see the interview in question, see below.

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