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The Female Perspective: Was It a Joke and Was It Even Funny?

Welcome! This is a Tri-weekly blog* by Author J.L. Metcalf where I discuss anything and everything that strikes my fancy. If you have ideas on what you think I should write about, please send me an email via my website!

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*All views expressed in “The Female Perspective” are those of J.L. Metcalf, not Great Stories, Inc.


What would Black Widow think of what Evans and Renner said? Hmmmm...
What would Black Widow think of what Evans and Renner said? Hmmmm…

I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking over my blog post for today. I go back and forth between a few different topics until I land on one that really speaks to me. Today, it’s not a simple idea to write about it, it’s one that is complicated, nuanced and tricky as heck. Today, I want to talk about how we all live an a culture that has knee-jerk reactions to stuff and sometimes I have to wonder, is that stuff really worth the anger and hub-bub?

I want to start by saying that nothing in here is meant to insult anyone and I hope that it can all be taken in the grand spirit of debate.

The reason I wanted to write this blog today is because of the Jeremy Renner/Chris Evans/Scarlett Johansson story that broke over the weekend and why it matters more than we want to think it does. 

First we’ll start with the Renner/Evans “joke”. If you haven’t seen it, watch below.

When I watched this I sighed to myself thinking, “this is a joke for two boys in a locker room or at a bar, not for an interview millions will see”. It’s a slippery slope because of a few different things, first off, Black Widow/Scarlett Johansson deserves more than this kind of treatment. My feeling about it as, who cares who she hooks up with? Why does she have to hook up with anyone? Oh yeah, because she’s a woman, silly me, I forgot.  The fact is, I like Evans quite a bit, he has shown to be a kind person and yeah, he’s Captain America, so I know my opinion on this matter is viewed through an “I want to like you” lens, which makes it hard to be angry. The question then arises, is this even worth being “angry” about?

Sometimes sexism just slips out. Sometimes it’s well-intentioned but doesn’t consider the bigger implications. Sometimes it simply doesn’t land as it was meant. None of which means the person doing it is inherently “bad.” But that’s exactly why we bring it up. – Nerdist.com

The fact of the matter is that it’s sexism, well-intentioned and “accidental” though it may be, the whole thing stinks of sexism and that seriously bums me out. You want to think that because Black Widow has been such an amazing force in the Avengers movies that this won’t happen, but it does. Johansson gets asked if she wears underwear under her suit, I mean, really? What the heck does that matter and I know, as a woman, that I could care less! I want to know how she does her stunts, does she do her stunts? Stuff like that.

Black Widow the character get’s repeatedly pushed aside on marketing materials for the Avengers and you will be hard-pressed to find her on any of the new toys and merchandise. Why? Is it because she’s a minor character? Nope. Is it because she doesn’t do anything important? Nope. It’s because the execs who create the marketing think she is less than for some reason…oh wait, not some reason, it’s because she’s a woman.

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I truly hate saying things like that, I feel like it makes me sound like an angry feminist but the fact is, I can be an angry feminist. I am angry that Black Widow doesn’t get her due (but PLEASE make a movie about her) when she is as good or even better than some of her male counterparts. The first time you meet her she is tied to a chair and kicks all sorts of ass without missing a beat. AWESOME.

So there are some problems here. Little things that, when added together, ultimately paint a bigger picture about the under-representation and lack of respect for the women of the superheroverse. A woman with sexual agency who is confident and secure in herself is a great, progressive step forward in terms of female representation. But it’s unfortunate that we’re still defining her by with whom she sleeps or flirts. Even if it is “just a tasteless joke about a fictional character.” A character that’s a very real entity despite the fact that she’s made up.

We’re not looking for another apology or a moratorium on jokes, just trying to bridge the understanding gap that seems inherent between those that understand just how subtle, insidious, and socially reaffirmed sexism can be. – Nerdist.com

The fact is, Evans and Renner apologized (though I’ll say that Evans’ apology was classy and seemed sincere whereas Renner’s was kind of…blah) which is perfect and it should be enough but for some reason, it’s not. We don’t need more apologies, we simply need it understood that when you are in the public eye you really, truly have to think before you speak and no one’s perfect, I don’t pretend to think that for a second, mistakes happen but sometimes, those mistakes are more insidious than people think. Sometimes they prove the point that sexism is alive and well in the world and it can happen at the most surprising moments and while I don’t really want to get annoyed at every little thing, I do feel the need to state loudly and clearly, THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK.

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Renner mentioned in his apology that Black Widow is a fictional character, why is everyone getting so upset about a remark made about a fictional character? Why is everyone so hyper-sensitive? Why can’t we have fun anymore?

Well Hawkeye, the reason is that we got the joke, sure we did but women have been the butt of this joke for a LONG time and we’re sick and tired of it. It’s time for a new joke, it’s time for some new material because right now, in this world we live in, those kinds of jokes simply aren’t as funny as they used to be. There is an edge of malice behind them that hurts, we want to laugh but sometimes, we ladies want to cry because it’s not right. Yes,  I realize that those that hate feminism will get up on their high horse and remark that the “feminists have lost their sense of humor again! Let’s all stop telling jokes because the feminists are mad!” But that is not what this is about. Not even close.

They were joking. They’re good guys. Why do you hate fun? We’ve been over this.

But there’s another more important question that Renner’s apology highlighted: Why get upset about something as trivial as remarks about a fictional character? Put it like that, and anyone who took offense sounds like a moron, arguing in the comments section about whether Batman could take down Tony Stark. It’s just fiction! Don’t get excited!

But there’s nothing less frivolous than fiction. You’d think the star of the mind-blowingly successful Avengers franchise might have realized that.

…Fiction matters. You don’t have the luxury of getting to know most people. But fictional characters you can learn inside and out. – Washington Post, “What Jeremy Renner Really Got Wrong About Black Widow”

The fact is, apologies have been made and articles have been written and the outrage has been felt. We need to move on and deal with stories that matter more in the grand scheme of things and right there is where I get stuck. Isn’t this type of quiet sexism what causes the problems today? Isn’t ignoring it or moving on what makes it so slippery, so invasive? It’s a conundrum for me because I don’t want to be angry. It makes me tired. I don’t want to hate Evans or Renner or any of the Marvel characters because I’ve seen them in other talk show venue’s and they all genuinely love and respect each other. It’s a joke, right?

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Therein lies the problem, sometimes joke’s just aren’t all that funny. Sometimes they’re sexist and we have to speak up, even if it makes me sound like an angry feminist.

More than anything, I’d love to hear what Johansson has to say about all this, if anyone has seen a response from her about this “controversy” forward it along to me! Tell me your thoughts on this type of “joke”- funny, not funny, sexist or stupid? Sound off in the comments!

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