So, obviously, in raising a daughter, I think constantly about the messages she's getting from us as her parents, from media, from her friends, from society. I know that at some point I will have to have the "this is how you try not to get raped" conversation with her. We try to instill in her the confidence that comes with knowing that she has value and a voice and that her gender has nothing to do with the right to be heard.
Anyway, last night, The Girl, her dad and I were sitting outside, eating at a local burger place and I was scrolling through news on my phone. And the story that I happened upon was one about Mark Ruffalo's Tumblr post regarding the (inconceivable) "I don't need feminism" movement. It's a real thing, y'all. It's not made up.
Anyway, Ruffalo, God bless him, seriously, posted on his Tumblr a quote from Libey Anne regarding the movement: Here's the link
I'm not sure I could love Ruffalo more. Also, if you didn't read the whole thing, you really should follow the link and read it, the above is just the TL:DR version.
The story then got around to talking about how Ruffalo was defending Joss Whedon's treatment of Black Widow in the new Avengers: Age of Ultron. Certainly there were a number of feminist fans that were disappointed to see Black Widow's character seemingly reduced to a romantic interest for Banner. I understand the frustration. (Though, for what it's worth, I will say that I never felt like the introduction of a romance for BW reduced her story or her complexity in any way.)
During a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), Ruffalo was asked about this very issue and here was his response:
I think it's sad. Because I know how Joss feels about women, and I know that he's made it a point to create strong female characters. I think part of the problem is that people are frustrated that they want to see more women, doing more things, in superhero movies, and because we don't have as many women as we should yet, they're very, very sensitive to every single storyline that comes up right now. But I think what's beautiful about what Joss did with Black Widow - I don't think he makes her any weaker, he just brings this idea of love to a superhero, and I think that's beautiful.
If anything, Black Widow is much stronger than Banner. She protects him. She does her job, and basically they begin to have a relationship as friends, and I think it's a misplaced anger. I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women. The guys can do anything, they can have love affairs, they can be weak or strong and nobody raises an eyebrow. But when we do that with a woman, because there are so few storylines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there's not much else to compare it to.
The Girl: Not only are there not enough, they're all named after men.
Me: how do you mean?
The Girl: Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman.
Me: Wonder Woman's a little different, she's not based on a male character.
The Girl: well, she's the only one.
My thought? I'm raising a firebrand and I couldn't be prouder.
**Now, before my comics and superhero fans start making lists of strong female characters, STOP. No, seriously, stop for a second and remember that my kid is 9, she's not really into comic book universes, she's just responding to what she's seen in terms of mainstream movies and TV.
I know that there are so many great and strong female characters out there who are not derived from their male counterparts. I KNOW this, so please don't hand me your lists. That is not the point, the point is that my kid came to this conclusion on her own with what she's experienced on her own.
She LOVES strong female characters in her cartoons, movies and books. She spent half an hour one day going through a pile of old World of Warcraft The Card Game cards because she only wanted to find a Sylvanas (the Banshee Queen who leads a faction in the WoW). If I had to push her to think of other strong women, she'd come up with them, I'm sure. She loved Black Widow, and she loves Gamora and Nebula from Guardians (though, obvi, Nebula is a villain), she adores Raven and Starfire on Teen Titans.
However, when she sees those women's characters not included in mainstream after-movie marketing on products she uses, her tendency is to believe that they aren't integral or important. Why should she comment about Black Widow when she sees Avengers GoGurt, bedding sets and lunchboxes that only feature Thor, Capt Marvel, Ironman and Hulk on it? Or she sees clothing and toy sets at Target that exclude Gamora from the Guardians or that trade Black Widow for Ultron?
Kids notice. They pay attention. They get the message. Despite loving so many other strong characters, she got the message (and was able to articulate it) that female superheroes are only allowed to be derivative of men heroes and they're often not much more than side kicks and they just aren't all that important. She wholeheartedly agrees with Mark Ruffalo that we need more superhero women.