Johansson on the Hyper-Sexualization of Black Widow

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Natasha Romanoff is an assassin who uses men and their hyper-sexualization of her against them, mainly in regards to how they think they can take her on. The problem? That’s rarely been clear throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe—mainly because Natasha hasn’t had her time to call it out, in my opinion, but the hyper-sexualization of Natasha is something we can see clearly onscreen manifested in comments like Tony Stark’s “I want one” from Iron Man 2.

Talking to Collider is preparation for the release of Black Widow, Johansson discussed the sexualization of these heroes that we enjoy and how that has shifted from Nat’s first appearance to now:

Yeah. It definitely has changed and I think part of that change has probably — it’s hard because I’m inside it, but probably a lot of that is actually from me too. I’ll be 35 years old and I’m a mom and my life is different. Obviously, 10 years have passed and things have happened and I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself. As a woman, I’m in a different place in my life, you know? And I felt more forgiving of myself, as a woman, and not — sometimes probably not enough. I’m more accepting of myself, I think. All of that is related to that move away from the kind of hyper-sexualization of this character and, I mean, you look back at Iron Man 2 and while it was really fun and had a lot of great moments in it, the character is so sexualized, you know? Really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing or whatever — like a piece of ass, really. And Tony even refers to her as something like that at one point. What does he say?

Ashley Robinson, who was interviewing Johansson, responded with the line “I want some” that Tony Stark says about Natasha. The line itself is “I want one,” but the sentiment remains.

“I want some.” Yeah and at one point calls her a piece of meat and maybe at that time that actually felt like a compliment. You know what I mean? Because my thinking was different. Maybe I even would have, you know, my own self-worth was probably measured against that type of comment or, like a lot of young women, you come into your own and you understand your own self-worth. It’s changing now. Now people, young girls, are getting a much more positive message, but it’s been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and be a part of that old story, but also progress. Evolve. I think it’s pretty cool.

The shift in Nat’s story really came after Age of Ultron, for me. Well, to be fair, it started with The Winter Soldier, but then Joss Whedon turned her character into someone who was diminished to her ability to have children alone by the second Avengers movie, so it kind of ruined whatever forward motion we had with the character. She went from a character who was there to be a sex symbol and have an “ugh boys” line into a fully formed hero who knew what to do to get the job done.

By the time we get to Natasha in Civil War and beyond, she’s the kind of character who you know can get the information she needs without fail. We lost that “remember, Nat is hot” aspect of the story for the better. Yes, it is part of how she destroys the men who underestimate her but that’s not the hyper-sexualization that Johansson is referring to. It’s the comments that take Natasha from a fully realized being to, as she puts it, a piece of meat. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts commenting on how attractive Natasha is is one thing but making Natasha an object, saying that he “wants one” is a completely different thing.

I’m glad that Natasha’s character went through the journey and changed into the woman we saw on screen today but I’m even happier than we have these quotes from Johansson. She’s right about the journey that many young women take. For so long, we were told that those types of comments were compliments. We thought it was a good thing to be a possession of sorts. But as we get older and the conversation changes, we realize our worth isn’t tied to being compared to a piece of meat in the eyes of men.

Natasha Romanoff is finally getting her own time and I’m excited to see where the journey of Black Widow takes her. Especially with this understanding from Johansson of the importance of her journey.

(image: Marvel Entertainment)

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