Monday, June 10, 2013

Female Protagonists

Sunshine on Glass

For the last several years, I've been reading and watching almost exclusively female protagonists. It's harder than it sounds - in all forms of media there are fewer female protagonists and their stories are more limited. In the exceptions to my female-centric tendencies, there is almost always at least one female character I really like - Black Widow in Avengers for example - or I'm filling them in mentally - like I did when watching the Odd Couple movie. I've ended up re-watching a lot of movies and shows out of desperation for something high quality but still where women took up a significant presence, and one of those movies I've watched repeatedly is the Avengers; the next part will have descriptions of the first few scenes in the film, but nothing about later events.

Ironically, though the Avengers have three fairly important female characters (Black Widow / Natasha Romanov, Virginia "Pepper" Potts, and Maria Hill), none of them actually speak to each other. Sometimes I wonder how the movie would have been different if Romanov had gone to get Iron Man / Tony Stark instead of Agent Phil Collins, and had that long interaction with Potts instead of the banter between she and Collins. Don't get me wrong - the scene between Romanov and Bruce Banner / Hulk is an amazing piece of character building and sets up for later events between Romanov and Banner, but I have a deep hunger for a Super Hero movie that actually passes the Bechtel Test in a significant way. Hel, at this point I think I'd settle for two female Super Heros in proximity to each other - where is the Wasp (more than Ant Man's auxiliary, please), Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, in later versions even Storm showed up. By the 1970s there were two or three female characters added for each set, allowing for some natural interaction and team building between women; why in 2013 is a six person team being fronted with a single woman? Three are too much to ask, I know, but couldn't they have managed two? She-Hulk, instead of Hulk? It just seems incredible to me.

That being said, I adore Romanov's roles and scenes in the Avengers, as can clearly be seen by how often I've rewatched the film (much as I love Stark, I need more). In particular, I love Romanov's introductory scene, which is the second introduction of an eventual Avengers Team member, and how it sets her up in juxtaposition to S.H.E.I.L.D., Hawkeye - who she is closest too, and two other proto-Avengers (Stark and Banner) with incredible parsimony of words and action. To set the scene, Collins has been ordered to bring people in, and he starts with Romanov, who is in a classic film noir sort of peril, tied up to a chair with several bruisers around her and a gloating businessman antagonist. This is both setting up and subverting Romanov's trope of being the femme fatal - during the conversation (in Russian) a date is mentioned, and she's wearing a slinky black dress and is quite attractive. However, the dress is not skin tight, it is loose enough for the fight scene which will ensue, and this is a torture scene, not a seduction scene - both things which subvert the femme fatal - and how she moves through and ends this scene further subverts it, as her weapons are not sex and love but rather violence; this is no bosom heaving woman with a gun, nor is she rescued. This also sets up that Romanov's technique is to put herself in positions where she seems to be at a complete disadvantage, totally helpless and injured, in order to gain important information - she doesn't sex information out of people, she psychologically manipulates them through their hubris and sense of superiority over her. I love this subversion of the femme fatal because is takes stereotypical female weakness and makes it into a strength.


If they had wanted to rescue her - it would have been easy; Collins got her on the phone by threatening to kill everyone in the building, and clearly the businessman antagonist was craven enough to give in once, the likelihood of obeying a second time is high. However, Collins simply told Romanov she needed to come in, gave the carrot to accomplish his task (Clint Barton / Haweye's being compromised - a fantastic bit of character building, both in showing that Romanov is not a blindly obeying agent, and how important Barton is to her, which also becomes important for later events), and then she said that she needed to put Collins on hold. The next few minutes is the only extraneous battle in the entire movie; the businessman antagonist is not part of the larger plot in any way, shape or form. It is critical, however, to establish Romanov as a significant force and full member of the Avengers in her own right and to establish her self-determination; Collins is shown partway through bopping his head gently to the sounds of a fight on the other end of the phone, completely unconcerned, and she takes on what seem like uneven odds with a grace and skill which is simply jaw dropping. Seriously, if you haven't seen this scene, go take a look; I'll wait. "The Big Guy" referenced at the end of that clip is, of course, Banner - and the next scene highlights both Romanov's ability to persuade with facts, her willingness to set up different scenarios (for example, at one point she casually strolls over to one of the places she's hidden a gun), and offers a place for a call back later in the film when she points out she didn't "bat her eyelashes" to get Banner to accompany her - a lampshading of the femme fatal subversion she inhabits.

There are so many ways these critical two scenes could go wrong, could undermine her as an Avenger due to her gender, could set up a situation where she is not taken seriously as a member of the team, but at every turn in the Avengers she is treated both by the script and by the other characters as a respected and capable person. One interesting and critical time later in the film is when Steve Rogers / Captain America is unsure of something and looks to Romanov for direction; when she gives it, he accepts it without question, a delicate reinforcement of his level of respect for her despite his embodying 1940s values which traditionally sideline and ignore female contributions. The intricate narrative of this film (can you tell I love it, yet?) sets each individual Avenger up to be important in his or her own right, and that's a balm to my abraded feminist nerves. A final important point - never in the film is it implied that the relationship between Romanov and Barton is or could be a romantic one, which would have undercut and cheapened their relationship since woman are traditionally expected to defer to their romantic partners. Nor is Romanov ever set up as even a romantic interest for any of the other members, which could lead to the marginalization of Wasp which occurs due to her relationship with Ant Man in other incarnations of the Avengers storyline. They are all consistently comrades with mutual respect and understanding between them, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and that is a beautiful thing to behold.

Now, just give me a Romanov / Barton buddy film, and I will be a happy fangirl.

New Brighton

( More pictures here. )


Skin: De La Soul, Candace Creamer
Hair: Secrets Hair, Rohan (promotional)
Headphones: Adore & Abhor, Heaphones - Froggie
Eyes: De La Soul, Rainbow
Eyeshadow: White Widow, Signed
Eyelashes 1: SLink, Mesh Lashes
Eyelashes 2: Flugeln Brise, 05-A
Ears: Illusions, Seelie Ears
Lipstick: Adore & Abhor, Silent Star
Wings: Fancy Fairy, Azarelle
Hands: SLink, Enhanced Mesh Hands
Nails: Adore & Abhor, Fluttershy (promotional)
Watches: katat0nik, Nada Watches
Necklace: katat0nik, Bunny Jelly Bean (group gift)
Dress: katat0nik, Imaginative (Numberology Event)
Socks: Silentsparrow, Tentacle Socks
Shoes: Fashonably Dead, Jellies (All for 100 Linden)

Poses: Adorkable Poses

Location: New Brighton Pier
Light Settings: Annan Adored Realistic
Water Settings: Glassy

Photographed by Deoridhe Quandry
Post processing: Cropping, only

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