By sininferno

About that one scene in Age of Ultron...

Yeah, you know the one I'm talking about. I did not find it nearly as problematic as other people did. Actually, I didn't find it problematic at all.

Hi! I’m an infertile lady! I did not take Nat’s “monster” comment nearly the same way that the rest of fandom did, and I would like to explain why. Standard fandom disclaimer applies: YMMV. The purpose of this post is not to tell anyone -- lady, dude, infertile, fertile, whatever -- that they are wrong to be offended. Instead, I want to explain how well I felt that scene represented some of my experiences as an infertile woman in a society that prioritizes childbearing.

Like tielan, I didn’t hear Natasha say “I’m a monster because I’m infertile.” Instead, I heard Bruce say, “A relationship between us is ill-advised because I am a monster who destroys things. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to make tiny Hulk babies, so I will never be able to give you an experience like this Barton family farm you seem so fond of.” In return, I heard Nat say, “Your objections are man pain bullshit. Red Room made me a monster who kills people, and they also deprived me of the ability to have children. I can’t have a Barton family farm either.”

Nor did I hear that sterilization makes a woman more heartless than killing a bound, gagged, defenseless victim. I heard it being described as a “ceremony” and a “graduation.” By definition, those are rituals that symbolize moving into a new phase of life; they are not the actual preparation for that life. Getting your high school diploma is not somehow better preparation for life than the four years of actual classes, and being sterilized is not the thing that makes Natasha able to kill. What I heard was a little different: Red Room wants assassins with unswerving devotion to the mission, and they know that people make extraordinary sacrifices for their children. They want to remove any possible source of competition for their operatives’ loyalty. They also want to be able to point at all the happy, normal families of the world and say, “You will never have this. No man will ever want you now.” Objectively, we know those things aren’t true; young girls brainwashed by ruthless assassins do not.

And here’s where my personal experience comes in. In that scene, I was sure I knew exactly how Natasha felt, and we all know how powerful it is to see your story represented on screen. Most depictions of infertility in pop culture are about a woman trying desperately to conceive a child. Those are important stories to tell -- but they’re not mine. Natasha’s is. I am also a professional woman who’s found fulfillment in other areas of my life. I’ve made peace with the fact that I can’t have a baby, but I still worry about how that will affect my relationship. Natasha’s a practical woman; she knows that some/many men want biokids. Maybe that’s been an obstacle in relationships before. What she says is jumbled and disorganized because she’s telling a huge secret and she’s overwhelmed with relief that this person will actually be happy that she can’t have kids. And maybe Natasha wouldn’t have ever chosen to have a baby. Maybe I wouldn’t have either. What I loved in that scene was the acknowledgement that something in you will always hurt when that choice is taken away.

So no, I didn’t get “sterilization = monster” from that scene, but here’s the thing: even if I had gotten that implication, I would have understood exactly where Nat is coming from. Not being able to have children can be very alienating. When I got married, people started asking me constantly when I planned to have a baby. For a long time, I tried to brush those questions off with vague answers like “we’re not ready yet” or “maybe in a few years.” Of course, those answers only seemed to invite more discussion, especially if I had dared to say we might not ever have children. Then I started to wonder why I was lying. I’m more or less at peace with the fact that I can’t have a baby. Not being able to have kids has opened up some new possibilities in our lives, like travel and graduate school. If we decide we really want a family later, we can adopt. Being infertile isn’t something to be ashamed of. Why should I hide it?

So I started telling the truth: that I can’t get pregnant. Even when I try to say it in a lighthearted way, people respond as though I've revealed a dark and terrible secret. That makes it feel like infertility is not supposed to be discussed by light of day, whereas pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing are perfectly acceptable conversation topics. I’m not ashamed that I can’t have a baby, but other people’s reactions make me feel like I should be. Is monster the exact word I would choose to describe those feelings? No, not exactly. I’d probably pick “alien.” But if another woman told me that people made her feel like a monster? It’s not that big a stretch from my experiences. And if a woman with Natasha’s history -- a woman who was sterilized against her will as a way to control and exclude her -- told me that being infertile made her feel like a monster? Yeah, I’d totally buy that.

Now that we’re at the end of this post, I have a couple requests: one, please don’t tell me that you’re sorry I can’t get pregnant, or offer me *hugs* or whatever. Yes, being infertile will always suck, but I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I’m tired of other people acting like a terrible thing happened to me. Second, if you are offended by the scene, I respect your opinion completely -- but I’m not up for debating it here. I’ve read all the posts that explain how problematic some people find the scene, so I know where you’re coming from. This post is about my experiences as an infertile woman, and how good it feels to see some of my feelings represented on the screen. I’m not up for arguing about that.
I really don't get where this sterilisation = monster thing is coming from either. What I took from that scene is that both Banner and Natasha see themselves as monsters - Banner for being the Hulk and Natasha for her past, for the things she's done, for what the Red Room made her - despite the fact that they themselves are the only ones who see them that way. And then Natasha talks about not being able to have children anyway, but it's not connected to her being a monster.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Thank you, President Bartlet, for the Latin knowledge! After therefore because of it. The one does not equal nor stem from the other. Natasha is not infertile because she's a monster, and she's not a monster because she's infertile. And...I don't get where this fandom insistence that that's what she meant or Joss wrote is coming from.
I'm glad I posted this! I was starting to think I was the only one who hadn't interpreted that scene in as problematic
Thank you so much for this post! It was really great to read your perspective.

As far as I know, I'm not physically infertile, but I'm certain I cannot have a child due to mental and physical ill-health--so while I realise my perspective is not the same as yours and I am in a very different position, I also very much related to Natasha in that scene and felt that I was being represented in a way that I am so rarely. I would use the word "alien" to describe myself too, and I really liked that Natasha was able to dismiss Bruce's angst.
It is so interesting to find yourself represented in a superhero movie, isn't it? I know hating on Joss is fashionable these days, but I think he writes a pretty fabulous range of female experiences (even if there should be a wider range of female characters).
Yeah, I'm not sure how people keep conflating the two issues going on in that scene - they're both in self-admitted terms, monsters who are also infertile. Two different things, two different excuses by Bruce, both brushed aside by Natasha as being irrelevant.

I think it could have been written a little better, but I totally got what Joss was going for in that scene, and I really liked that it was about Nat's agency.
Yeah, I think a lot of the problem in that scene is the writing, and the over all lack of development in the Bruce/Natasha relationship in the first place. I think there's maybe 48 hours between them flirting at the party and talking about having kids together? I think the overall scene is so WTF that it's hard to sort out what subtext is and isn't there.
Thiiis!! All of the this!

I'm infertile-by-choice but I read that scene in exactly the same fashion and it's been driving me bonkers that the meta-conversation is 100% missing the point.
I agree with you so much there - I do not know where the sterilization = monster thing comes from either :/
Thank you. You and I saw the same movie! Great explanation, even though, like you, I didn't take her infertility as being related to her "monster" comment. I took that as the way she felt about what had been done to her by the Red Room -- and it's effects on her. We know she feels guilt over the "red in (her) ledger," and Loki referenced something that had happened in a children's hospital that clearly upset her deeply.
“Your objections are man pain bullshit. Red Room made me a monster who kills people, and they also deprived me of the ability to have children. I can’t have a Barton family farm either.” Yep, this is what I got as well. I can understand people only watching the film once, and maybe not entirely paying attention, and expecting just a superhero explosions film, and pre-disposed to a certain view of female characters...I can see why some people may have needed that spelt out clearer. As much as I like subtle writing maybe - since it's (unfortunately) so unusual to have a female protagonist, discussing infertility, and also being a superhero, and... - the writing should have hit people over the head with the clue bat. But then again, why should it have to?

It's good to hear an opinion from someone who was being represented with this, because others of us can agree or disagree with that representation all we like but we don't have the knowing of it, so thank you for sharing :)
I definitely agree with your analysis of how some people reacted. It doesn't help that Bruce and Natasha go from flirting at a party to talking about having kids in the space of 48 hours. In retrospect, I can see how both of them were still reeling from having the Scarlet Witch mess with their heads, but the whole scene is very WTF the first time you see it.
Pretty much this. Thank you for that adult, personal and reasoned perspective.

Frankly, the thing that bothered me in that scene more than anything was that Bruce brought up the whole having-babies thing at all. Like, they'd just been flirting in the bar the day before -- move fast much, dude? I had to watch it a second time to be able to catch some of the nuance, because I was shaking my head in disbelief the first time. Not Whedon's finest hour of script writing, IMHO, and some people may have seized on the dissonance to find something altogether different to get offended about.
I agree with you -- the whole scene is pretty WTF, especially right after the big WTF moment with Clint's wife and kids. I can understand it better if I keep in mind that the Scarlet Witch just made Bruce rampage through a city and Nat relive all her worst memories, so neither of them are in their right minds. I also suspect that Bruce is one of those people who takes everything seriously and therefore cannot wrap his head around the idea of casual dating. He sees Nat enjoying the Barton family farm and assumes that would be the only reason someone would start a relationship. On a normal day, I think Nat probably would have said "WTF Bruce, I want us to drink cocktails and have sex, not make babies" but she's pretty off-balance too.

...but I shouldn't have to come up with this after thinking about the movie for six days. There should be something in the script to help me realize these things.
So glad you got this post out. (I hope I didn't hurry you along with my post!)

Representation: for all of us.
Haha, no, actually it was encouraging. Before your post, I was only hearing from people who saw the scene as offensive and problematic, so I was afraid I'd start wank if I posted this. It was very helpful to know there are others who felt the same way!
This is brilliant meta. You've made me see the scene totally differently and appreciate it more (this is why I love meta!). I wish I could link this everywhere on Tumblr tbh.
Thanks for your thoughts here. I would have LOVED this scene if it had come as part of a deepening friendship arc and not the weird romance one we got; as it was, I sat in the theater feeling kind of awkward in my Natasha cosplay and in my body that can't do the thing. I feel like I'll be thinking about all of this for a while.
Yeah, the romance was pretty badly handled. It didn't make sense for them to go from flirting at a party to discussing reproductive status within 48 hours. I guess it was because they were both traumatized from their encounter with the Scarlet Witch...but yeah, still very awkward.
In return, I heard Nat say, “Your objections are man pain bullshit.


Thank you, this whole piece is awesome. I've seen so much wailing about it online, and was kind of like "We saw VERY different movies" (though in fairness, it honestly didn't occur to me that people unfamiliar with the comics also wouldn't understand Natasha's dream sequence at all, but, welp). So you are awesome and this piece is awesome.
Now that you mention it, I'm not sure I would have understood her back story if I hadn't been exposed to other fans who know the comics. I've never even so much as seen an Avengers comic book, so I'm pretty clueless on that front too.