Black Widow, Feminism, and Redemption

By Corey Patterson

***Editor’s Note: Corey originally wrote this piece in 2020 before the pandemic and before the Black Widow movie was delayed. If I was a better editor, I would’ve made sure to release this BEFORE Black Widow hit theaters. The original release date has been changed to the actual one. ~MB

The long-waited solo film, Black Widow, hits theaters throughout the U.S. on July 9th, 2021, and it would be an incredible understatement to say readers are excited. Her mysterious past and intriguing connections across the Marvel Cinematic Universe landscape gives film director Cate Shortland plenty of material to work with. There might not be enough room in a single movie to fit everything, especially when it comes to offering satisfying answers to fan questions.

Many of these questions have been left unanswered for a long time — Who are Black Widow’s parents? How did she become a part of the Red Room program? What did she do after her classified files were unearthed during the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier and she went on the run in Captain America: Civil War

While these questions are undoubtedly important, the mystery that has drawn many to the character is her supposed checkered past. We know she’s done many things she’s regretted while serving as a Russian operative, though few details have been provided. Nonetheless, fans around the world have found solace in a hero who was able to better themselves after making horrible mistakes. In fact, one might consider her the ultimate representation of redemption in the movies.

However, there are plenty who undoubtedly wonder why it’s taken so long for this film to be created, especially since people have been talking about it since her character’s debut in Iron Man 2. Some may reasonably claim this was due to production schedules, resources, and other similar issues. But one could also claim the delay was related to the perceived lack of audience interest in a “woman hero.”

Women and Redemption

Black Widow is the poster child for personal redemption, as noted, but her underrated status as a hero is a symptom of something in our culture that’s in desperate need of redeeming. And that is the overemphasis on males as the quintessential heroic figures and the devaluing of women in the same respect. 

The kind of redemption this situation calls for isn’t individual in nature, like Black Widow’s, but universal. Her past sins, whatever they may be, have no connection with the subjugation she and other women heroes face from society as a whole. This broader sense of redemption is concerned with the sins of human culture throughout history.

American feminist scholar and theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether has much to say about the relationship between women and the idea of humanity’s collective redemption in a theological context. In her seminal work Women and Redemption: A Theological History, Ruether puts forth the argument that the early Christian Church’s vision of universal human redemption involved correcting the imbalance of gender roles plaguing our world. She writes, “The classical Christian paradigm defines women as created to be dominated and blames women as deserving redoubled domination for resisting it, while feminism defines women and men as originally equal and denounces male domination of women as sin. Redemption then becomes transformed gender relations that overcome male domination, rather than a call to women to submit to it as their means of salvation.”[1]

Ruether believes the traditional notions of female submission to male led society are symptoms of the sin disease our world drowns in, not the prescription. She argues we need only look to the new humanity for salvation, represented by the Apostle Paul’s famous line in the biblical text of Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The subjugation of women isn’t rooted in the sin of individuals; it’s found in the sin of a patriarchal society as a whole. And this applies to our society’s treatment of women heroes, too.

The Redemption of Black Widow (and other women heroes)

So, what would it look like for the world of popular culture to embrace heroes like Black Widow as equals in the superhero genre, treating them as one in Christ? For one, we’d have more solo films focusing on the great women who fill the pages of our comic books. This is why Captain Marvel was so important — we were treated to a female hero who didn’t play a subsidiary role to someone else, showing how women can be recognized as heroes in their own right.

Black Widow is the perfect opportunity to present a woman hero who represents both the personal redemptions waiting for all of us as well as the more encompassing reconciliation process our culture is undergoing. This helps us see that individual sins are distinct from those of society. And with help from relatable heroes like Black Widow, we can see that even flawed people can fight for something greater, becoming heroes in the process.

Sources

  1. Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Women and Redemption: A Theological History. Augsburg Fortress Publishers. 2011.

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