avengers: natasha rolling hating

Thoughts on relationships, female agency, and Ultron

Here is my non-spoilery preface: the only reason we have to debate Natasha's representation in Ultron so much is that she's the only female character in a lead role. This film gives us some awesome ladies around the periphery, like Laura, Maria Hill, and Dr. Cho. Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff is more fully developed, but Natasha is the only female in the principal Avengers cast. Because of that, she has to represent everything everyone wants from their empowered lady character -- and since different people find different things empowering, that's an impossible burden. An ideal film would contain many different women whose life and relationships are explored, thus representing the multitude of ways women in the real world choose to live their lives.


If I could change anything about how fandom reacts to female characters, I'd want people to stop automatically saying that a woman who wants a relationship is "reduced" to being a love interest. Yes, in some films, being a love interest can be reductive -- but that doesn't change the fact that many strong, independent women choose to be in romantic relationships, and that choice is not inherently disempowering. Pursuing a relationship can be a powerful form of agency, just like any other major life decision a woman makes. With regard to Natasha in Ultron, I would argue that pursuing a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner demonstrates a lot of agency.

First, Natasha's storylines in the two previous films have nothing to do with men (at least, not in a romantic way). In Avengers, she's arguably the hero. She plays the femme fatale damsel in distress only to mindfuck her captors into giving her information. Thereafter, even though she's the victim of some male gaze camera shots, her role is completely non-romantic and non-sexualized. She fucks with Loki's head. She hijacks a Chitauri speeder. She fights her way to Loki's scepter and ultimately closes the portal. Not one dude even flirts with her, and she expresses absolutely no interest in men. In Cap 2, we see a slightly more laidback version of Natasha. She flirts with Steve, but not in a serious way - it seems more like flirting with people is just part of her personality. Without her spy skills, Steve absolutely would've gotten arrested in the mall, and she's the one who reveals all of Hydra's secrets on the internet.

Both of these films prove that Natasha is perfectly fine without a man, which in turn proves that her pursuit of Dr. Banner in Ultron is her personal choice. Even though the pairing is super awkward on screen, her rationale makes sense: she's surrounded by fighters, and Bruce is a scientist. He's different. He's interesting. They're both working toward redemption, and he might actually have a chance at understanding her complicated past. Some people have argued that Nat is captured by Ultron just so she can be rescued by Bruce, but I would argue that's not a strong reading of the text. First, Natasha is captured while executing a dangerous cargo transfer onto an airplane...during which she actually falls out of said airplane. She knows that this is a risky maneuver, so much so that she explicitly instructs Clint to go on without her. In other words, she thinks this mission is so important that she's willing to sacrifice herself to do it. If she hadn't been there to make sure Clint got the cargo, Tony could never have built technology Jesus the Vision thing and defeated Ultron. Then, she facilitates her own rescue by finding a way to send a radio transmission from her cell. When Bruce shows up, she kisses him and throws him into a pit to make him do what she wants. As always, everyone's mileage varies, but claiming that Natasha is "just a love interest" or "just a damsel in distress" is disrespectful of her choices.

The second criticism I've seen is that Bruce doesn't reciprocate Natasha's feelings. I didn't actually read the situation this way -- he does suggest they run off together, after all -- but there is absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing a guy who ultimately turns you down. Going after a guy instead of waiting for him to come after you is the actual definition of agency. It's not like Nat weeps in a corner when it doesn't work out. She takes some time to feel grief, and then she goes right back to work because her status as an accomplished, independent, professional woman hasn't changed.
thanks for putting into words so well what I was feeling

She knows both his sides and wants to pursue a relationship anyway but she is also professional enough to sacrifice it for a greater good hoping he understands her reasoning



I like your analysis. As much as Clint's wife & kids didn't really work for me, I think Bruce/Natasha was interesting. Okay, it came a bit out of nowhere, but it wasn't the most terrible idea either.
I don't have much to add to this comment except I want to frame it and give it to every single person bemoaning how Natasha was "handled" in the film, because aside from the clunkiness of some of the dialogue, she was still fully herself and made her own decisions about what SHE wanted and she still remained the fully formed, complex person she was in the previous movies.

I just wish more people understood that wanting a sexual and/or romantic relationship with someone in no way reduces agency or self-worth or power.
If I could change anything about how fandom reacts to female characters, I'd want people to stop automatically saying that a woman who wants a relationship is "reduced" to being a love interest.

So much fucking word.

would say more but icon.
beautifully put, I absolutely love ever word here and couldn't agree more
Agreed. If having a woman choose a potential partner amounts to a denial of agency, we might as well go back to arranged marriage.

Unfortunately, most discourse on the internet (especially on tumblr) seems incapable of handling more than one idea at a time, or seeing in colours other than black and white (and occasionally, red).
YES!!!!

So to me Nat felt a lot like Buffy--she wants a normal life--or what she thinks is a normal life--primarily because it is something that has always been explicitly denied her--specifically through the Red Room, perhaps more generally at SHIELD (I think clint's mention of setting up his house/family off the books when joining SHIELD is telling not just for the work he's been doing but for SHIELD as an environment of itself--Clint knew that if there were records then sooner or later it would be an issue, and he had a plan for that). Because Bruce so transparently wants a normal life, she's more interested in it, I think.

I am also fascinated all over again by Nat's relationship with Clint. In Avengers it was obvious they had some form of intimate relationship, emotional and/or physical (I especially enjoyed Cap's surprise when he goes to Nat's quarters and Clint steps out of the bathroom). A lot of folks made a big deal about her arrow necklace in TWS. And now we find that Clint has this whole family--a wife, a house he's been working on, several kids, and that Nat is "Auntie Nat." Me being me, my headcanon is that Nat has always had a thing for Clint, and that her trying to set up Steve in TWS and get him to "move on" is her projecting. Also, I now really want to write Laura/Clint/Nat and various permutations thereof because I find everything about them interesting.
Thank you so much for this meta! I thought a lot of the Bruce/Nat stuff was clumsily handled, but the people declaring that Natasha is reduced to a love interest (or, as one person put it, a 'sexual chewtoy'- GROSS) can take a hike. Bruce/Nat didn't work for me as a romance, but as an arc for Natasha I liked it. She wants something new, she tries it, it doesn't work out for her, she moves on. I don't think she ever thought Bruce was the love of her life, she just wanted to try having a relationship on her terms. Her agency hasn't been compromised, nor her sense of self. I don't think her portrayal was perfect (I don't think that of any of her appearances so far, including Cap 2), but it worked. I could've done without the occasional cheesy dialogue, but Natasha certainly wasn't the only character to have that problem.

I've seen many posts now claiming that Natasha was ready to run off with Bruce in the middle of battle, and that she was pining for Bruce at the end. Uh, did people miss her pushing Bruce off a cliff??? Or CO-LEADING THE FUCKING AVENGERS at the end? I'm also frustrated with other people saying that Natasha was left 'forever alone' at the end, and 'was the only one not to take an independent path.' For fuck's sake, she can't win.

Edit: I also think Natasha knew perfectly well that by pushing Bruce off the cliff, she was sacrificing the potential relationship and probably the friendship as well. She pushed him because she's a pragmatist to the end, and doing the morally questionable thing for the greater good is what she does- she makes the calls that someone like Steve won't. She puts her own feelings and desires aside without a second thought because she's a fucking hero, and I hate the way fandom has been diminishing that. When Bruce runs away in the Quinjet of Manpain, she's sad, but respects that he's made his choice, and she's made hers.

Edited at 2015-05-02 10:28 pm (UTC)
If I could change anything about how fandom reacts to female characters, I'd want people to stop automatically saying that a woman who wants a relationship is "reduced" to being a love interest.

So much YES - I agree with you so much there!!!
What a wonderful post. I agree completely, and these issues have made me deeply frustrated with fandom. The view of Natasha has been so reductive when she continues to show so much agency and be a complex character.
My God, someone talking sense!

Yes to Natasha not being 'reduced'. Yes to Bruce being her choice (even if it's awkwardly handled). Yes to her dealing with rejection.

I'm not in Clintasha fandom, so anything I said on this matter was never going to be given any traction, but you nailed it absolutely. Thanks for that.
Still not sure whether I want to see this in cinema or not. Action scenes look better on the big screen, but reviews have not enticed me at all and my money has many other places to go this month... hm.

I really enjoyed this meta, thank you for posting it!
I'm here thanks to a link from azewewish.

Natasha is the only female in the principal Avengers cast. Because of that, she has to represent everything everyone wants from their empowered lady character -- and since different people find different things empowering, that's an impossible burden. An ideal film would contain many different women whose life and relationships are explored, thus representing the multitude of ways women in the real world choose to live their lives.

And this right here is one of the many reasons I miss Firefly. Joss knew then that the only way to truly show "The Empowered Woman" was to show several, each one strong, smart, brave, and flawed in her own unique way.

Thanks for this meta. It helped me understand Natasha's choices a bit more, especially why she didn't escape the cell. I don't know what people want from her romantically, though - does she have to remain alone and celibate, or have a boyfriend who's not an Avenger (some out-of-the-blue, totally original character, imagine how Tumblr would react to that)? You're right, there's nothing she can do that won't breach someone's personal definition of a "proper" feminist icon.