Creators Are People Too, Lest We Forget
I know it’s probably not a great idea to start off a blog post about something as important as feminism with a quote from Hannah Montana, but here I go anyway:
We’re all human, and yet we’ve gotten to a point with social justice movements that we hone in on the mistakes in our entertainment and blow them out of proportion, rather than pointing them out and also holding up what was done right as a shining example.
When it comes to racism and sexism, it’s important to call out bias when we see it. Some things should become a taboo. A little bit of shaming when it gets to extreme racism, like chewing out someone who is horrible enough to use the N-word in 2015, can be productive: even if the offending racist doesn’t learn to be open-minded, at least he/she might think twice about saying the word in public and perpetuating their bias to future generations. The problem comes when we make people afraid to have a productive discourse about these issues. If we treat all racism and sexism equally, we’ll create and environment where people refuse to admit when they do something even slightly not-okay. When we do that, when we make it impossible to admit we have a problem for fear of the angry mob, we can never move forward and correct the issue.
I’m Going to Talk About The Avengers: Age of Ultron Now
You were warned. You were also warned by the GIANT IMAGE OF BLACK WIDOW at the top of this post. I’m about to talk about the latest Marvel cinematic universe movie. Some spoilers will be given beyond this point.
So immediately following the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, people freaked out and started harassing Joss Whedon on Twitter. He claims he deleted his Twitter not because of harassment, but because Twitter was eating his life and writing time. I totally get that, but I bet the Twitter outcry made it easier to pull the plug. He was getting threats of people forcing objects up a certain orifice, people telling him to kill himself, and general cruelty spewed at him in unimaginable volumes.
Why? Black Widow. Now Jenny Trout suggests that some of this bile might not have been from actual feminists, but Gamer Gaters who were trying to make feminists look bad. Indeed, threatening to anally penetrate someone just doesn’t seem like a threat women often would make, but support for this idea is purely circumstantial. Either way, there were real feminists being jerks to Joss Whedon.
Let me be clear, I’m incredibly disappointed in the rape joke Tony made. I didn’t even hear it in the theater because people were laughing so hard at some previous joke, but it’s not cool. And yeah, Black Widow was relegated to a role as a love interest and someone struggling with femininity and her inability to have children (I warned you about spoilers.) I can see why that upset people, but it’s also an important part of her character to explore. We tie so much of a woman’s worth in society to child-bearing, and a lot of women face an emotional crisis when they struggle with fertility.
I did not have a problem with the Hulk/Widow relationship. I felt like the connection made sense: these are the two characters who have killed people, not just failed to save them. But I do not speak for all feminists, and I respect the right of other women to be mad about this.
Still, I think we forget about all of the things Joss Whedon has done right. He put lesbian characters on a major network television show when most of the country was still not okay with that. The only gay people on TV when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was running were on niche cable shows or comedic relief. He created complex female characters on Firefly and Dollhouse and stood up to a torrent of misogynistic bile this summer during Gamer Gate. And let’s not forget Simmons and May and Skye on Agents of Shield (I’m still catching up on season one, so please no spoilers). He had specific constraints from the Marvel producers about what he had to fit in and what characters he was allowed to use. It’s not his fault that they gave him five white dudes and one woman to work with. Even in this one movie people are mad about, he had Dr. Cho and Maria Hill and Scarlet Witch being awesome. Scarlet Witch didn’t need her brother to protect her: she could tear apart an army of robots with her brain.
I went on this rant for a particular reason. Seeing this outcry against such a beloved creator for the portrayal of one character in one very jam-packed movie (when we’ve seen more facets of this character in three other films so far) is intimidating. It’s almost crippling, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to represent women and minorities in our work.
Women are strong. Women are weak. Women are logical and illogical and sensitive and cold and all sorts of things. Sometimes all at once. Because we’re human. We can’t expect every scene or every plotline of every work to display all of those traits at once. We can only try to make characters who are flawed and valuable and who take control of their lives (and maybe sometimes they don’t). We can only try to make characters that feel like real people.
And sure, we may screw up from time-to-time, and someone may call us out, as they have every right to. But we need to remember to shape our criticism in a way that doesn’t assume less humanity from creators than we ascribe to their fictional creations.
Creators, please don’t stop trying.