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Fuck Yeah, Black Widow

Fallaces sunt rerum species

Здравствуйте from FYBW, your one-stop tumblr shop for Black Widow news, no-prizing, and oversaturated .gifs. Some MCU, mostly comics. Often overwritten. Always overthinking.

Black Widow created by Lee, Rico and Heck & is © Marvel Entertainment.

[Trauma Warning: Slut-Shaming] Let’s Talk About Sex

Foggy: When were you going to tell me Natasha was back in town?
Matt: Natasha is back—
Foggy: Yeah, yeah. So?
Matt: So what?
Foggy: That’s a big “no” then? No on the nookie?
Matt: That is a no.
Foggy: Wow, that doesn’t sound like her at all.

Dear Tumblr— it happened. I finally faceplanted on one too many “Black Widow: Avengers Whore” type comments that my displeasure crystalized and formatted itself into some tl;dr. My superpower is that I have opinions on the internet.

Since 1990 there have been approximately 40 issues of Black Widow comics, comics where she starred or co-headlined. In the space of those 40 issues, she has had one (1) sexual encounter. I’ll reproduce it here because I’m still surprised they got away with that much nipple.

Watch me dance. If I am a winter, Alexi Andreovitch, then your love is the summer sun that melts my snow.

My point isn’t that Natasha Romanov has gotten less play in two decades than Steve Rogers has since his little timebullet naptime. It’s that the winking-and-willing caricature of her sexlife isn’t at all a part of her own stories.

You see, Natasha’s world is brutal and dehumanizing: it takes whole people and whittles down their important parts to names in a file. Sex exists primarily in the context of (but not necessarily as) intimacy, the superlative danger. They will gobble you up if you are ever truly naked. And that tension between love and duty is the tenuous ground Natasha must navigate.

And Natasha does navigate. Her ability to love, and to lose, and to return to love again with a full heart and without regrets is, to my mind, the deepest testament to her strength of character. But it does not come to her easily. Natasha’s romances tend to be tragic, overblown affairs mimicking a four-color Tolstoy; they are not usually casual.

I know you don’t need me. But please, Natasha. Whatever else we are… Let me be your friend.

And so we have these sequences with men Natasha has managed to be retroactively involved with for over half a century, a flashback where her heart was her own to give freely and a set of panels where she struggles— but ultimately decides— to let someone else in.

She doesn’t always. Writers have done their level best to introduce male supporting characters, allies, that Natasha has no interest in sexually. Nick Crane, Phil Dexter, Black Rose, when a new dude is introduced, the question is not “but when will she sleep with them?”

That’s what happens in her own comics, anyway.

In 1991 the USSR finally collapsed, and Marvel, whose superhero universe was born from Cold War competition, published quite a few stories reacting to the great political shift. In a few Black Widow graphic novels, Natasha confronted the fall of the wall through the ghost of her Soviet-hero husband and the ghosts of American empires past, finding equal parts optimism and alienation. Iron Man #315-317 explored the fall of the USSR by dressing Natasha up in fishnets and fetishizing her Soviet past for Tony Stark’s sexual gratification.

Probably the most interesting discrepancy is how Matt Murdock appears in Natasha’s stories and how she appears in Matt Murdock’s.

Matt gets used a lot in Natasha’s stories, as a foil, a moral yardstick, and a friend and confidant. They were definitely once lovers, but if there’s an emphasis on that aspect of their relationship, it’s firmly on the once.

Matt: Look, if this is another round of the how-do-you-fit-into-my-life conversation, I—
Natasha: Don’t flatter yourself.

Though I feel obligated to point out Matt’s strange laserbeam eyes PEW PEW, what I’m driving at here is that when Natasha calls up Matt, it is not because she’s looking to seduce him and the story doesn’t even nod to that possibility. Meanwhile, over in Daredevil

Matt: Natasha. It’s the Black Widow. When I was fifteen, I used to dream about things like this happening to me.

In Daredevil #61-64 Natasha isn’t looking for sex, either. Her motives and complications are revealed part by part until it becomes manifest that she’s not Matt Murdock’s adolescent fantasy girl, but someone who does her own things for her own reasons. But the story starts with sex, it starts with this idea Foggy Nelson has, that like Fred Durst, poet of our times, she did it all for the nookie.

It’s the wrong impression, but it’s an impression that’s at least entertained.

Don’t misunderstand me— someone needs to troll the prude out of Daredevil, and Natasha’s probably the only one who can without winding up in a refrigerator somewhere. I’ve argued strenuously in favor of naked-Natasha-in-Bucky’s-apartment. But I submit that these kinds of scenes are much more essential to the narratives of dudes whose comics they appear in than they are to her own.

And really, I don’t want to write another one of those posts that tries to argue against slut-shaming by tallying up the amount of sex a character has. That’s pointless; there’s no magic number at which point a woman becomes unslutty. Women are going to be called sluts whether they sleep with fifty men or with zero, whether they dress in black catsuits or in burquas. They will be called whores no matter what; it’s just one of misogyny’s party favors. It’s something we call women to remind them they ought to be ashamed of themselves. That’s all.

So yeah, I’d argue that Natasha Romanov, sex-first, is generally a figment of myth and/or advertising copy. And that the dangerous she-beast who sleeps with dudes to steal their secrets is more a conception of her codename than a true blue character trait. But one real and constant thing about Natasha’s own stories: she gets called a slut.

It’s not just Guardian Devil, it’s not just this evil bald dude calling her a whore, it’s not just Ivan’s nano-STD conspiracy. It’s a bland form of supervillainy, the easy answer to the question: what can we call her that will hurt? Female superheroes generally face a constant stream of specifically sexist nonsense from the bad guys. Writers like to make them easy strawmen to punch.

But it doesn’t, not deep down, not enough to get her to reconsider or recant. Because she has sex because she wants to. It’s not because of daddy issues or low-self esteem or some hidden past trauma, or any of the secret explanations fiction likes to give us for quote-unquote promiscuous women. Natasha doesn’t always respond, when people call her a whore. But when she does, it’s with the truth: it’s an insult that says more about the accusers than the accused.

My fucking hero.

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