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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? Avengers: Age of Ultron

Where Are the Women Avengers Age of Ultron

Like many of the others in the Marvel franchise, this movie depicts women as well-rounded people with lives, stories, and problems independent of men.

Warning! Two small throwaway jokes — which are not at all connected to the plot — are spoiled in the Wildcard section.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +10

+10
Is there a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story? (for an ensemble cast, or a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +17

+5
Is there a female character (either a protagonist or a supporting character with significant screen time) in a position of authority (politics, law, medicine, etc.)? [why this matters]


+1
Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority? [why this matters]
+1
More than one? [why this matters]


+10
Is there a female villain or antagonist? [why this matters]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: 0

[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -5

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men? [why this matters]


-3
Is a dead mother mentioned? [why this matters]
+3
Is a dead father also mentioned? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: +2

Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

+3
It’s just a throwaway joke, but in one scene, Tony Stark and Thor engage in a bragging contest over whose girlfriend — Pepper or Jane (neither of whom appear in the film) — is more brilliant. I cannot recall ever seeing men onscreen clamoring to be seen as the partner of a more clever woman than another man, or boasting about their girlfriends’ professional accomplishments.
-1
In the same scene, Stark makes an even briefer joke about “Prima Nocta,” the possibly apocryphal medieval law that allowed a nobleman sexual access to his female subjects, regardless of whether they were willing. Apocryphal or not, Stark is making a joke about rape. Playboy and rapist are not synonymous, and there has never been any hint before that all of Stark’s many partners were anything other than wholly enthusiastic.

TOTAL SCORE: +24

IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: With multiple women in positions of authority and power, and one depiction of a relationship between a man and a woman (Hawkeye and Black Widow) that is strong and emotional but not in the least romantic, this film, like many of the others in the Marvel franchise, depicts women as well-rounded, fully human people with lives, stories, and problems independent of men.


Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of Avengers: Age of Ultron! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) Read my review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)


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posted in:
where are the women
  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Nice to see the Back Widow/Hawkeye relationship is continuing in the same path. I still think the best dialog exhcange in Avengers was:

    Natasha (firing calmly): This reminds me of Budapest.
    Clint (firing frantically): You and I remember Budapest very differently!

  • bronxbee

    also one of my favorite bits in The Avengers movie…

  • Constable

    That’s odd because in the trailer version of that scene Stark’s joke is something completely different.

  • How is it different?

  • Danielm80
  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Minor Spoiler…

    There are many things that might make Natasha Romanov a “monster”, but having had her tubes tied as a young woman by evil post-Soviet Russian spymasters really isn’t one of them.

  • Danielm80

    SPOILER

    As someone pointed out on Whedonesque this morning, she was a monster before she had her tubes tied. Her tubes were tied because raising a child might make her less of a monster—less willing to kill people on demand.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I think that’s a… charitable read of that dialog.

  • LaSargenta

    I have to say, since Hawkeye is pretty much a minor member of the Avengers, I’ve been back in the comix and Mark Fraction’s stories are great.

  • That’s not even a joke. :-/

  • Who said it did?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Natasha. But my read is less charitable than others.

  • Danielm80

    There has been…more than a little debate about that scene. I’m firmly convinced that the “monster” comment referred to her time as a brainwashed killer, but I’m hoping we get a published version of the screenplay–partly to clarify this scene, but mostly because I want to read it.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    There has been…more than a little debate about that scene.

    Doesn’t surprise me. If for no other reason than that Whedonesque can be a pretty contentious place.

    I think the scene was awkwardly scripted, and I disagree with the choice to have the conversation turn on the question of fertility. I only bring it up, in the Where Are the Women post, because I think having Natasha place the worth of her humanity into her ability to bear children is worth commenting on.

  • Constable

    If it’s the scene where they are all trying to lift Thor’s hammer then I believe the line was, “I will be fair but firmly cruel.” Is that the scene in the movie where Stark says the rape joke?

  • I remember the scene you’re talking about in general, I don’t recall getting that impression. But even if that’s the case… well, she’s pretty fucked up, isn’t she? It’s not a stretch for her to have some messed-up ideas about herself. And there’s this, too: she’s trying to reassure Bruce that there’s no chance that they could have a baby together and pass on whatever they might pass on (either genetically or just as the parental influence on an impressionable child). AND she’s trying to convince him that they are more alike than he might realize. (Whether that’s actually true or not is another question.) She may be exaggerating her own situation simply to make him feel less alone.

  • I didn’t get that impression at all from the scene. But in general, when it comes to representation of women, it’s not an issue for women characters to be concerned about motherhood. It’s only a problem when that’s the only thing a character is about. Natasha has plenty else going on, so I wouldn’t see what you’re talking about as a problem. It’s something that complicates her character in conjunction with lots of other aspects of who she is, and that’s a good thing. And it actually opens up traditional aspects of womanhood that movies more typically focus on. We don’t often see women with conflicting or negative ideas about motherhood, and it is certainly the case that not all women are saintly maternal goddesses.

  • Yes, that line is not in the film. See the Buzzfeed link above.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I can’t disagree with any of this. I still think (even as a parent of 4 kids) that childrearing was an odd choice for that conversation to turn on. I get the need for the “we can’t be together” story beat, but.. eh… it didn’t work for me, and left kind of a bad taste in my mouth to boot.

  • And she was trying to make it a “we *can* be together” beat. :-)

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