The following post is spoiler-free for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
This past week (also known as ‘Avengers premiere week’ in some circles) has been full of internet in-fighting over Age of Ultron‘s feminism (or lack thereof) . . . though virtually everyone joined in on a collective head-shaking over these comments made by Jeremy Renner (“Hawkeye”) and Chris Evans (“Captain America”).
I personally didn’t have a problem with Natasha/”Black Widow”‘s baby-longing (the entire relationship between Bruce/”Hulk” and Natasha/”Black Widow” is another story). I absolutely don’t find motherhood to be a vocation at odds with so-called ‘radical’ feminism, and I don’t need my female characters (nor non-fictional women) to sacrifice traditionally feminine qualities in order to be considered a feminist role-model.
But I also find the media representation of women who are childless (that is to say, not of their own volition) exponentially disproportionate to that of child-free women . . . and that is a problem.
The Cold War of the 2010s is an epic show-down between parents and the child-free.
It’s a problem of perceptions.
In our most judgmental moments, we fall into these kinds of broad stereotypes:
To parents, the child-free are at once pitiable, enviable, and untrustworthy. Either they are rolling in gobs of disposable income a la Scrooge McDuck, or they are living hollow lives devoid of love and connection . . . or they are pedophiles lurking in movie theaters where the latest animated movie is screening.
To the child-free, parents are sleep-deprived zombies who are incapable of having intelligent conversations . . . who have sacrificed their hopes and dreams to spend their days anxiously debating the minutiae of crib bumper brands.
Obviously, (or, let’s hope that it’s obvious) these generalizations are rarely, if ever, representative of reality, yet they persist in our media . . . why? Is it laziness? Ignorance? A concerted effort to reinforce a simplistic world-view?
Shonda Rimes is universally lauded by ‘social justice warriors’ for her creation of fair-and-balanced fiction that realistically represents POC and women especially. Cristina Yang is perhaps the most salient example.
Yang is a perfectionist to whom career is unapologetically prioritized over relationships. She has had two abortions on-screen — displaying no shame or post-traumatic mental anguish over her choices. Through Grey’s Anatomy‘s eleven seasons, viewers have seen Yang as vulnerable, cutthroat, sexual, nurturing, supportive . . . and experiencing virtually every other emotions a non-fictional woman would.
I will know and understand that I made a choice. I choose medicine. I choose me. I choose that over the remote possibility that I might one day regret not having a child. And by the way, it’s all right to never want kids. Some people don’t ever want kids!
Her friendship with Meredith Grey is wonderful to watch. Unmarred by the destructive ‘cat fighting,’ Cristina and Meredith are able to compete professionally while remaining supportive of one another’s accomplishments.
When Meredith becomes a mom through adoption in Season Seven (and then again, biologically, in Season Nine), Cristina enthusiastically throws herself into the role of “coolest aunt in the world” without expressing regret or indecision over her choice not to have children of her own.
Yeah, well, that’s not nothing. Okay, how about this? You write in the will that I get your children three weeks every year. We’ll travel. I’ll take them to get their first tattoo, someplace clean. And I’ll teach ’em how to put a condom on a cucumber.
In short, Cristina Yang is the prototype for honest writing of the child-free.
So, to circle back to Age of Ultron (you had to trust we would get there eventually!).
Is Natasha/”Black Widow”‘s maternal longing a sneaky ploy by director Joss Whedon to undermine his movie’s only female protagonist? I think that’s quite a bit of a stretch.
But (and this is a big, tight, sexy butt . . . sorry, zoned out there a moment objectifying some male Avengers) . . . but would it have been appreciated if, instead, Natasha had been written as contented in her auntie role? Absolutely.
When it comes to the gamut of women’s reproductive choices, women who actively avoid motherhood are woefully underrepresented.
Women like me.
I love coloring books, Disney movies, YA fiction, and play food (seriously, these etsy listings!). I have, for many years, worked with children (and absolutely loved doing so) and am so anxiously awaiting my newly-married friend’s first baby that I’ve already begun a mental list of ‘must buy’ first books. But I definitely don’t want children at this point in my life . . . I may not end up ever wanting them.
If I stay child-free, I won’t magically transform into a child hater or spend my lonely nights staring off into the middle distance and bemoaning the state of my unused uterus. I’ll still be me. Exhilarated by traveling to new places, reading four books at a time, and laughing much too loudly. Let’s see something like that on the big screen.
Further Reading (inclusion in this list does not signify endorsement of the ideas expressed):