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JC Lau's blog about geekery, gender and other rants

#WeWantWidow! Do you?

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blue-bw-coverOver the weekend in downtown Seattle, you may have seen cosplayers dressed as Black Widow by the International Fountain, or you might have noticed your social media feeds were flooded with pictures of Black Widow. You might have seen that the hashtag #WeWantWidow was trending.

That’s because there was a multi-city flash mob to generate buzz and awareness of the lack of Black Widow on Avengers merchandising, as well as to show support for Black Widow to star in her own movie. Starting in Sydney, Australia at 12:00 pm local time, the “Widow Wave” spread across to Canada and the United States. In cities from Tampa to Ottawa, and from New York City to San Diego, hundreds of cosplayers dressed as Black Widow descended on the streets, while even more online supporters showed their support by changing their profile images to ones of Black Widow, and reposting images or tweeting using the hashtag #WeWantWidow.

The flash mob—which also happened to be first ever multi-city cosplay flash mob—is the brainchild of Kristin Reilly, who said she planned the event in response to growing frustration at Marvel and Disney (who own the Avengers franchise). “Marvel and Disney seem to be misinformed about their actual demographic,” she said. “There have been tons of posts asking #WhereIsNatasha since Black Widow is missing from most merchandise lines and was even replaced by a Captain America action figure from her kick-ass scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Marvel Avengers tee for boys. Image source: Disney Store

Marvel Avengers tee for boys. Image source: Disney Store.

This is not the first time that female characters have been missing from merchandise from Marvel and Disney films. #WhereIsNatasha was created after the first Avengers film, but before that, Guardians of the Galaxy also sparked the #WheresGamora campaign after the only female Guardian was cut from merchandise. And, before that, X-Men fans wondered why Storm’s screen time was so minimal in Days of Future Past. This is particularly troublesome where writers of the X-Men–a group of mutants from a diverse range of races, genders and cultures—intentionally make white men the focus of the film. (Likewise, the whitewashing of characters of color in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse has also been a notable point of contention.)

So, if women and people of color are so underrepresented in superhero movies, how does #WeWantWidow help? The message sent by Saturday’s event was a positive one: that fans (of all genders and races) wanted to see more of Black Widow. “We want to see Black Widow and other female super heroines given the same attention as their male counterparts,” Kristin explained. “And the only way I could see making that statement loud enough for Marvel and Disney to listen was to organize a multi-city flash mob. Seeing hundreds of images of cosplayers dressed as Black Widow along with thousands of online profiles being changed to her image makes our statement as clear as possible. I didn’t know if this would lead anywhere but I really felt so strongly about needing to stand up for fangirls, I wanted to at least try.”

Members of the Black Widow flash mob in Seattle. Courtesy: Jennifer K. Stuller

Members of the Black Widow flash mob in Seattle. Courtesy: Jennifer K. Stuller.

Kristin also notes, “As a society we need to continue male and female equality. If Widow is important enough to be recruited for the most important superhero mission ever, than her backstory deserves to be told, just like her male counterparts. It’s really that simple!”

Even though Black Widow ranked third in the amount of screen time received in Avengers: Age of Ultron, she’s missing from the movie merchandise. In writing this article, I checked the Marvel online store and came across the following anomalies:

  • There are fewer shirt designs with Black Widow on them than the other Avengers;
  • All the shirts with Scarlett Johansson’s version of Black Widow (as opposed to the comic book version) are for women;
  • There are no shirts for men with just Black Widow (comic or film version) on them;
  • The promotional merchandise for Avengers: Age of Ultron shows Black Widow a total of three times, while Scarlet Witch—the only other female heroine—appears a whopping zero times.

In fact, Black Widow’s absence is so noticeable that there are whole tumblrs devoted to this issue.

For maximum effect, the event was embargoed, with all discussion and planning happening via a secret Facebook event page. Each flash mob was organized by a City Captain, who was responsible for coordinating the event. Kristin wanted to thank the City Captains and Jay Justice—her second-in-command—for their contribution to the event. “[They] have literally been my heroes! They have been instrumental in not only finding a location for their local mob to meet, but also have gained further support from cosplayers and media outlets.”

More locally, Seattle’s captain, Jen Stuller, said that the local event was successful. “It was a gorgeous, sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, and we met by the International Fountain at Seattle Center. It was fun to see all the Widows—but also all the joy from passersby.”

This was evident from surprised onlookers who quickly took up the cause themselves, sharing photos of the Widows and adding the #WeWantWidow hashtag. It ended up trending on Twitter.

However, even though the flash mob is over, there is still a lot of work to be done. “The invisibility of women as heroes, the lack of women-specific merchandise (as in t-shirts cut for the female form), and the absence of women in merchandise geared towards boys, are all culturally problematic,” says Jen. And, again, it’s not just about Black Widow, she notes. “It could just have easily been a campaign that supported Gamora or Wonder Woman or Storm or Captain Marvel or Peggy Carter—which there have been.”

Jen says that #WeWantWidow gives fans “a positive way to celebrate both the character and our love of female super and action heroes.” It hopefully also demonstrated that there is untapped market potential in making superhero merchandise more inclusive, as there’s a larger demographic for filmmakers and merchandise producers than they originally thought. It also sends a message about the power of individuals to stand up for what they believe in—after all, Kristin started #WeWantWidow by simply sharing an idea with others online. “I hope this inspires more geek girls to stand up and continue to have a strong and positive voice for inclusion in our community,” she says.

This article was originally written for GeekGirlCon.

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