Black Widow: The Evolution of an Objection

Ahhhh, you knew it was coming.  It was too good to be true, wasn’t it?  Two whole months without a peep of controversy from Charles Baker Harris? 😉 

*Bernie Sanders voice* “I am once again asking you to join me in examining popular media through a critical feminist lens.” 

Specifically, in examining the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe has handled the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow.

Thanks to the Delta variant, I still haven’t seen her new solo movie Black Widow. I’m impatient to watch it as soon as possible, and excited that the MCU’s first female superhero has received this long-overdue tribute. However, since Black Widow only fills in a small piece of Natasha’s arc post-Civil War and doesn’t undo her ultimate demise in Endgame, I feel justified in critiquing her overall arc without having seen it.

My opinions on Natasha’s arc have changed significantly over the years. Hence this post’s title, “The Evolution of an Objection.” Time and distance (and some great conversations with fellow Widow stans) have given me new insight into issues I overlooked before. Today, I want to dig into those issues.


Let’s start with the most controversial element of Nat’s story: her death in Endgame.

This is the area where my feelings have changed the most. When Black Widow sacrificed herself on Vormir to get the Soul Stone back, many fans accused the franchise of “fridging” Natasha (ie, unnecessarily killing her off to advance a male character’s arc). At the time, I pushed back against those claims, because I didn’t agree. You can read my Endgame thoughts here, where I praised Nat’s character development in making a heroic sacrifice to save her team.

I still stand by that post… in part. 😛 I stand by my argument that Natasha had a certain amount of agency in her own death. In choosing self-sacrifice, she showed the fruits of her redemption from a cold-blooded assassin to a loving friend. I also stand by my argument that female warriors need to be vulnerable to death just as male warriors are. If we cry “fridging” every time a female superhero dies, we’ll risk creating invincible women who can’t be affected by the story’s conflict.

In the lead-up to Endgame, I had written another post called “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in which I expressed a deep frustration with Marvel’s chronic unwillingness–nay, chronic inability–to let characters die and STAY DEAD. Prior to Endgame, the MCU was rife with fake deaths and magical resurrections, creating a low-stakes world which had little or no room for genuine tragedy. This felt dishonest to me, given that the MCU claimed to be a grand, sweeping epic where the fate of the universe hung in the balance. I was tired of easy fixes. I wanted the writers to grapple with permanent loss.

And they did. We lost Tony and Natasha.

Did Hawkeye kill Black Widow? How Natasha Romanoff Died in the MCU

Two years later, I still think it was a good choice to sacrifice two of the original Avengers. But when we dig into the way Natasha’s sacrifice was presented compared to Tony’s, I think we see some evidence of sexism, and, yes, “fridging.”

First and most obvious… NATASHA DOESN’T GET A FUNERAL.


Remember that iconic, landmark scene where the entire MCU pantheon came together to mourn Tony? Yeah. Tony. That was strictly Tony’s memorial service. It was not a joint service honoring both the fallen heroes. Which would have been the easiest thing in the world to establish, script-wise–all they’d have to do would be place some little memento of Black Widow on the water next to Iron Man’s, and watch them float away together. You’re telling me no one thought of that?? How many writers did you have working on this movie???

And nope, Clint and Wanda’s little dialogue exchange doesn’t count. That was a private moment between the two of them. For all intents and purposes, no one else at the funeral even acknowledged Black Widow’s existence. Which is absolutely ridiculous! The whole team was there! Maria Hill was there! Heck, even Nick Fury was there! Natasha was Fury’s favorite, and you’re telling me he didn’t frickin’ murder the first person who suggested they should have a funeral for Tony and not include Natasha?!?!

This omission sends a chilling message about a woman’s worth in our society. Even as she lays down her life for her friends, Natasha remains hidden in a man’s shadow.

Which is exactly what “fridging” is… shoving dead women in the metaphorical “refrigerator” and forgetting about them.

UPDATE: A week after I published this post, my favorite YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Productions, released one of their famed “Trope Talks” on this same topic–fridging–complete with a deeply insightful analysis of why Natasha’s death qualifies as an example of this trope. You can watch the whole thing right here. I highly recommend the video, even if you don’t agree with their ultimate conclusions. “Trope Talks” is an incredible writing resource and always provides great food for thought.


At this point, I’d like to broaden the conversation to include a topic which definitely has relevance to Natasha’s death, but affected her life as well. I refer to her forced sterilization by the Red Room and subsequent infertility.

Before we go any further, let me say this. Infertility is a sensitive topic. Infertility causes real-life women a great deal of real pain. Nothing I say in this post is intended to make light of their pain. ❤

However, it’s important to remember that Natasha Romanoff is not a real person. She is not a real woman who struggles with infertility. She is a fictional character created by male writers and film directors who decided she would be infertile, then made certain other decisions about how they wanted to present her infertility to the audience. Those decisions can (and should) be subject to critique.

In Black Widow, Marvel gives Natasha Romanoff a soul — 4 years too late -  Vox

Let’s backtrack to Natasha’s death on Vormir. Nat sacrifices herself to save Clint. Now, there are two ways we can interpret that choice. The first interpretation–and the one I gravitated towards when I watched Endgame–is that Nat saves Clint from his own suicidal guilt. (For context, Clint had just spent five years as a ruthless murderer terrorizing the global underworld, and he carries a heavy load of remorse for his violence.) Nat doesn’t want Clint to die believing he’s worthless. I can admire that.

But the second interpretation–and one it’s become harder and harder for me to ignore over the years–is that Nat saves Clint because Clint has a family, and she doesn’t.

Look, when you have two characters standing on a literal cliff and openly arguing about who is more disposable, who is the more “acceptable” sacrifice, you can’t shut your eyes to the question of expendability. You have to ask yourselves whom the writers see as inherently less valuable, based on whom they choose to kill. In this case, they killed the infertile woman to save the heterosexual married man.

“Woman who chooses not to have kids dies to save father of three” would be a bad enough headline. But this is even worse. “Woman who is biologically incapable of producing kids dies to save father of three.” We live in a patriarchal society which ties a woman’s worth to her ability to become pregnant. Women who fail to perform this “duty” have historically been shamed, punished, marginalized, and silenced. Even in our modern society, there lurks a deeply entrenched bias against a woman whose womb remains empty instead of bearing a man’s child, thus solidifying his economic and social legacy.

SO YEAH, it’s pretty screwed up that Clint scored survival points over Natasha because she wasn’t fertile and he was.


And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… it’s time to talk about Clintasha, kiddos.

It’s no secret that Clint + Natasha are one of my top five OTPs. I have ranted at length and at large about my frustration with the secret marriage subplot which destroyed any chance of Clintasha becoming canon. Now, you might be wondering how I can ship Clintasha if I’m irritated that Nat died in Clint’s place. I answer that Nat’s death was a problematic choice the writers made because they valued Clint as a man over Natasha as an infertile woman. Clint himself didn’t see Natasha as expendable. He didn’t stand there and say, “oh yeah, you’ll never get pregnant, so you’re worthless garbage.” On the contrary, he did his damndest to save her life at the expense of his own. Natasha just beat him to the punch.

At any rate, I’ve always wanted to see Clintasha become canon. That’s nothing new. What’s new is my awareness of the way Nat’s infertility played into her romantic prospects in the MCU.

clintasha rulz | via Tumblr on We Heart It

So here’s the timeline, right? Avengers hints subtly but clearly at a romance between Clint and Natasha. The Winter Soldier drops another small but significant hint–Natasha wears an arrow necklace in memory of an absent Clint. Age of Ultron pulls a U-turn and reveals that Clint is secretly married to another woman and has three children with her.

Age of Ultron also reveals that Natasha is infertile.

Furthermore, Age of Ultron shows Nat in a romantic relationship with another Avenger, Bruce Banner, which–this is very important–falls apart by the end of the movie.

Equally important: Natasha never has another relationship in the MCU films. She dies before she gets another shot at romance.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that these writers see Natasha as undeserving of a stable, lasting romantic relationship. In their eyes, her infertility makes her unworthy of being Clint’s partner… or anyone’s long-term partner.

If not, then WHY would they invent a whole new character to be Clint’s wife, while going to great lengths to highlight her status as a biological mother in contrast to Natasha? (Laura Barton is visibly pregnant during Age of Ultron, after all.) And no, I’m not saying this makes Laura Barton a bad person, or that there’s anything wrong with being pregnant and birthing a child! I am simply interrogating the writers’ motives and questioning their biases. Why would you make a point of telling us Natasha can’t produce babies, while simultaneously distancing her from the man she appears to have a genuine connection with, visually contrasting her with his pregnant wife, AND undermining her attempts to form new romantic partnerships beyond him?

Could it be… because you think infertile women are damaged?


Incapable of love?

In the immortal words of Olivia Rodrigo, “Well, screw that, and SCREW YOU.


Aight. *dusts off hands* That got a little heated at the end there, but I said what I needed to say.

I’ve always adored Natasha Romanoff, but only lately have I come to a full appreciation of her character. Which isn’t surprising, given the way she was sidelined from the beginning. Natasha deserved better on so many levels. She should have had her own film trilogy YEARS ago. It kills me that we’ll never see her full story. But in the meantime, let’s console ourselves with this lovely bit of Soft Clintasha (TM) fanart I found on Pinterest.

Got any thoughts?

Let’s chat!

23 thoughts on “Black Widow: The Evolution of an Objection

Add yours

  1. I think the writers dropped Clint and Natasha as a romance because they decided they needed Natasha in the final films and that she would get killed, but also needed Clint to go psycho murderer, and the only way to do that was for him to lose the thing he cared about the most — so they invented a family for him for that purpose.


    1. That could be one reason, yeah. It certainly does give Clint a motive for his crimes at the beginning of Endgame.

      I’m not sure which of these story developments were planned far in advance, vs which were decided upon as they went along. I know they switched directors several times (Joss Whedon to the Russos and back again), and I SUSPECT Whedon and the Russos disagreed with each other about Clintasha. But I can’t prove it. 😉


      1. Joss is an ENTP and notorious for doing whatever he wants with scripts, even if it screws up the larger arc planned, so it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he and the other director had different ideas about everything. It would be interesting to know which characters they planned to kill off for the sake of plot, or if they made the decision because the cast members wanted out — “Iron Man” and “Captain America” both refused to renew their contracts, so that’s why they wrapped up their stories.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. *shakes head @Joss*

        Ah yes, which is what gave us Steve’s lovely return to the 1940s and reunion with Peggy. I’m really glad they took that route, instead of a) killing HIM off too, or b) coaxing Chris Evans to stay longer.


  2. Thank you so much for writing this! It gave me a lot of food for thought, and even though I still enjoy almost all of her story, it does have me narrowing my eyes at some of the decisions made.

    She’s always been a poorly handled character (though I would say the Captain America movies gave her more respect and agency even in the subtle aspect of her standing beside instead of behind him, except That bubblegum scene), but Age of Ultron was especially a mess…

    I hope you get to see her solo movie soon, and I think you’re really going to love it. To me, it’s unlike anything else Marvel has made and left me feeling like many wrongs had been righted and ready to do whatever was needed for my fellow women.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, friend! ❤ I'm glad my post was meaningful for you!

      I agree! The Winter Soldier in particular gives Natasha a lot more respect and allows her more space to breathe, to be herself.

      GOOD! Good! That’s wonderful to hear!
      I’m very much looking forward to Black Widow, and I’m almost positive I’m going to adore it. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. *cries in this whole piece is exactly what I wanted*
    I do not watch Avengers- I only watch the standalone hero movies, because when the giant gang shows up to save all of existence, it annoys me to no end.
    However, excellent piece- I agree on so many levels. Infertility does not, and should not, make you disposable- reproductive capacity matters, but it should not define such a large part of a character… /:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. *cries with you*

      I definitely understand that annoyance with the “giant gang of heroes” premise. I get really annoyed when the big ensemble movies pretend they’re going to do justice to ALL the heroes, then mostly end up focusing on ONE OR TWO GUYS *cough* Tony Stark *cough*

      Thanks!! I’m really glad you liked my post!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting post.

    I feel like Age of Ultron is pretty much its own thing in the MCU, in terms of storyline and character arcs and all that. (Not saying this to discount your points about Laura Barton/the pregnancy/Nat’s infertility.) Whenever I think back to AoU, it feels ‘off’ in a way (even though I still do enjoy it).

    As for Nat’s death…I feel as though her arc was at an end (poorly written though it may have been at times). Clint’s was only just starting. All this time, he’s been a hero: first a SHIELD agent, then an Avenger, then a righteous renegade on the run from government overreach. But when his family got dusted, he fell far, and he fell hard. No longer was he a good guy, even if he believed his motives were right (and I think, deep down inside, he knew he was wrong). I really hope the new Hawkeye show has him coming to terms with what he did/became after the Snap. (Although I know it’s going to mostly be about his daughter.)

    Nat’s death isn’t fridging in the sense that her death wasn’t needed to push the male heroes forward in their journeys. They were always going to try to undo what Thanos did. As for the funeral, while I TOTALLY hear your side, I will say that I believe I know why it was just a funeral for Tony: he was the one who started the MCU, the ‘main character’ if you will, and I don’t think the writers wanted a split focus for that scene. As much as I love Natasha, she didn’t even have her own film with Endgame was released (which is a shame, honestly). So I understand why they played the scene the way they did.

    I don’t ship Clint and Natasha, but I LOVE their bond all the same. ❤

    Wow, this comment ended up being a lot longer than I expected! But I know you won't mind. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Eva! Glad you enjoyed it!

      I also see Clint as (partly) a “bad guy” in Endgame, and I find his fall from grace an interesting writing choice. I’m curious to see where they go with it in the Hawkeye show. Hopefully they take the time to actually explore his guilt and need for atonement.

      I know what you mean about the MCU writers seeing Tony as the “main character” and thus seeing his death as the most important event, which deserved a singular focus. But that’s exactly the issue for me: centering Tony, elevating him over the others, treating him as more important and his death as more worthy of public honor and remembrance. Especially when it comes to elevating him (a man) over a woman who gave just as much, if not more.

      In my opinion, the way Endgame wrapped up was simply wrong, and I can’t accept it.

      Thanks, buddy! I really all love your comments! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, that will be the one thing that could make me a tiny bit interested in the show–if they explore Clint’s feelings and guilt about what he did after the Snap. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Actually, you know what? I had thought about some of this. The funeral irked me SO MUCH. Like, make it a double funeral! It wouldn’t even change the scene that much! Ugh. I have complaints about this scene (not as much as my sister, though. Her insults are also marvelously witty).

    Liked by 1 person


      Literally just put something of Black Widow’s on the lake and watch it float away beside Iron Man’s arc reactor! HOW HARD IS THAT, YOU NUMBSKULLS? HUH?

      Thanks for commenting!! It’s great to hear your thoughts, as always!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Damn damn DAYUM KATIE YOU SPILLING THE TEAAAAA. *wipes puddles of delicious Feminist Tea™ off of lap with sophisticated napkin*

    This was an interesting post. I’m honestly still kind of just chewing on it. I’ve always felt like Natasha had her own agency within the MCU, and I’m personally (and analytically) more inclined to look at the actual character’s decisions rather than the authorial intent/biases. But I’m also a big believer in carefully inspecting authorial intent and motives . . . even though I’m always trying not to do that for the sake of Book Science™ xD. SO that being said, you can definitely see some underlying patriarchal biases from the writers, especially regarding the way they handled Nat’s romantic life and infertility??? Like you pointing this out made me low-key want to cry??? My precious baby Natasha is just as beautiful and just as much a woman even if she can’t have babies let her liveeeeeee *sobs*

    As for Clintasha, it feels like another Case of the Reylos™ where the writers were just like “let’s do it” and then “no, no, let’s not” and so on and so forth until it exploded in the BruceNat scheiße or whatever that was in Age of Ultron. *stomps foot in frustration* Natasha really *did* deserve so much more.

    Finally, I must chastise you about not seeing Black Widow yet. My dude, it is amazing, and Florence Pugh’s character is an absolute Patriarchy Breaker™ and I STAN SO HARD. I can’t wait for you to see it and to hear your thoughts on it.

    Auf Wiedersehen,

    Emily 🙂


    1. *GRINS* Glad you enjoyed it!! Yes, yes, we shall sip the Feminist Tea (TM) together. 😉

      Ahhhh, you see, with my historian’s training, I have no choice but to focus on authorial intent and authorial biases. 😉 But yeah, the patriarchy is STRONG with those movies, and I Cannot Approve.

      That’s what I’m saying!! Let her live!!! Ugh.

      “the BruceNat scheiße” *crying* THIS IS AMAZING, YOU MADE MY DAY, THANK YOU xD

      Well, I’d love to have seen the movie already, but… *gestures vaguely at The Plague*… Plus, I’m poor so I can’t justify spending $30 on Disney+ for a single movie, not even for my girl Natasha 😛 I’m excited to see it and talk about it with you soon, though!!

      Auf Wiedersehen!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a wonderful post! 🙂

    I haven’t seen those movies (I’ve only ever watched three Marvel movies and those were, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), but I remember hearing about them killing off Black Widow, and knowing bits and pieces about it…
    But I didn’t realize, they dehumanized her for her infertility! Or that they didn’t give her a funeral in the movie. That’s awful. And to make matters worse, her solo movie came out only after the character died.

    Anyway, I strongly agree with you and I enjoyed reading your post,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! ❤

      Arghhhhh, I know! It frustrates me so much that Marvel waited to give Black Widow her solo movie until after they'd killed her off. She deserved her own trilogy as much as Thor or Cap or Tony–and she deserved to LIVE.

      Thanks for your comment! It's great to have you around!

      Liked by 1 person

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