Monday, July 12, 2021

Sever the Nerve

Warning: Spoilers contained for Black Widow. Duh.
Does it matter that Natasha Romanoff is already dead and this movie should have probably been made after Civil War? Nah, we are just excited to have a new MCU film released after a two year drought! 

Released in theaters and on Disney Plus with Premiere Access, Black Widow is, in some ways, a response to the very successful Wonder Woman, an earlier movie led by a female superhero. Black Widow takes the concept of the female superhero and supersizes it with the Red Room treatment. We learn that there is an entire army of "black widow" operatives, all made up of little girls who were viewed as "trash", trained to be super spies that could rival the super soldier program that produced Captain America.

The montage that is shown over the film's opening credits perfectly sets up the plight of women. Set to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as sung hauntingly by Malia J, we see countless girls being taken into captivity and trained as operatives. It's sad and evocative and powerfully soul-stirring. 

Black Widow pits the idea of female disenfranchisement against the idea of toxic masculinity. The Black Widow Ops Program is an allegory for female sex trafficking, even sterilizing the girls against their wills (hilariously and horrifyingly described by Yelena). Enter David Harbor as Alexei "Red Guardian" Shostakov, a walking embodiment of toxic masculinity. He's past his prime, mansplains everything to his two very capable daughters, asks only about himself, and assumes Yelena's aggression is due to it being her "time of the month". I mean, Alexei even shares a name with the pig!

Black Widow is ultimately about family and relationships...

Natasha and Yelena are raised by a "fake family" of Russian operatives, and each walks away with a different view of the family: Natasha resents that the family was a cover and feels that it was never real, whereas Yelena still holds on to the warm memories of growing up with a mother figure and rejects the idea that the feelings were false. 

Natasha adopts the Avengers as her new family. That's not a new idea -- the Avengers have always been a a family of misfits. Alexei scoffs at this, asking where her family is now. He tries to show fatherly love, but he can only muster a story about urinating, and the lyrics to "American Pie". 

The black widow agents are a type of family too.  Girls stolen from their homes, and bonded together by abuse and terror. A sorority shaped by strife. Even when their brainwashing is broken, they still remain bonded as sisters.

The plight of women has its DNA all over this flick. Yelena sees the bruises on Natasha's back, a nod to domestic abuse victims. Ingrid forces Taskmaster to "smile", just as women are often told to do. Yelena makes fun of her sister's "superhero pose", the overly sexy pose that ScarJo often does, and which sometimes receives criticism for being sexist, degrading, and objectifying. And Natasha is even bound by a pheromonal lock, a parallel to the the Stockholm syndrome that abuse victims might experience with their abusers. 

In order to break free, Natasha must sever her olfactory nerve to overcome the pheromonal lock. Sometimes we have to get rid of toxic relationships. It can be painful and difficult, and we might not think we have the strength to break free, but when we "sever the nerve", we set ourselves on a path towards freedom, independence, and a life not bogged down by toxic connections. 

"I'm worse at what I do best, and for this gift I feel blessed. Our little group has always been and always will until the end."

11 comments:

  1. Toxic masculinity is a misanderous myth spread by misandrous people.

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    1. What surprised me the most is this article appears to be written by a guy. I thought the movie was funny and I liked Alexei's character, but you can twist anything into something else if you talk long enough. This article seems like it would be much more at home in the Huffington Post

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    2. Nope. I've seen people use their masculinity in toxic ways. I've seen toxic femininity too, but it's decimeter not as much as a widespread problem as toxic masculinity. I'm happy you've never experienced toxic masculinity, but my experience is different than yours, and I can witness that toxic masculinity definitely exists.

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    3. Thank you, thank you!! I've said for a long time that toxic masculinity implies the existence of nontoxic masculinity.. and therefore both toxic and nontoxic femininity. The only part I find frustrating is that nobody talks about the other three.

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    4. Thank you, thank you!! I've said for a long time that toxic masculinity implies the existence of nontoxic masculinity.. and therefore both toxic and nontoxic femininity. The only part I find frustrating is that nobody talks about the other three.

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    5. Excellent point, BonusMom! Toxic femininity definitely exists, as does regular, good old fashioned NON-toxic masculinity and femininity. But I think the rain you hear about toxic masculinity the most is because it's a problem, and it's prevalent.

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    6. From the Wikipedia Article on Toxic Masculinity: “The concept of toxic masculinity is used in academic and media discussions of masculinity to refer to certain cultural norms that are associated with harm to society and men themselves. Traditional stereotypes of men as socially dominant, along with related traits such as misogyny and homophobia, can be considered "toxic" due in part to their promotion of violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence. The socialization of boys in patriarchal societies often normalizes violence, such as in the saying "boys will be boys" about bullying and aggression.”
      I’m sorry, but explain to me how this is misandrist (check your spelling). Raising attention to negative aspects of culture and society does not equal hatred toward any one group, in this case males.
      As a male and the father of four daughters, I have had to overcome a lifetime of toxic aspects that I have adopted. I have had to learn to become more comfortable with my emotions as well as the emotions of others. I have strived, though not always successfully, to not put myself in a position of superiority to my wife or daughters. I have had to learn that there is no such thing as “woman’s work” vs. “men’s work”. I remember watching my grandmother make my grandpa and uncles sandwiches and wait on them hand and foot while they watched sports over the weekend and in the evening. They never lifted a finger to help wash the dishes, cook and clean, etc. That was “woman’s work”. This is just one aspect of toxic masculinity. Just because I have realized that I’m better off helping out around the house, being okay with emotions, etc., does not mean that I hate myself as a man or that I hate other men. Those who really know me will know that I LOVE being with men, inasmuch as the activities I participate in aren’t demeaning or degrading to others, including but not limited to females.

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  2. Obviously, you've never been catcalled, leered at, or securely assaulted by someone bigger and stronger who decided he'd take what he wanted. I have. Not all men are like that. Most have the character to behave like a decent human being, notwithstanding the "boys will be boys" aspects of social culture. (And if you're still reading, I've long since forgiven my rapist. What he did is between him and his Maker.)

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    1. I'm so sorry for your horrible experience! Good for you for being full of forgiveness. I'm sure that has helped you find peace. Thank you for your support!

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  3. As a woman who has survived sexual abuse as a child, raped ass an adult. Assaulted by a co-worker who told me I was eye candy. I'm a welder, dressed in dirty leathers, covered head to toe and covered in sweat. But I was still an object to him and others who have hurt me.
    This has shaped my life, my mental health and view of myself.
    Toxic masculinity does exist and when it is allowed it grants such things to happen. Stop thinking about this is something simple and trivial, as a petty argument between men and female and political views. This has destroyed lives, mine included and I will not just giggle and laugh that there is no such thing.

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    1. you are a survivor. I’m so sorry that those things happened to you. Toxic masculinity absolutely does exist, and anybody who says it doesn’t is ignorant. Thank you for sharing your story and standing up for justice.

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