Is Black Widow’s Hairstyle Sexist?

Captain America: Civil War features the first appearance of a much-anticipated icon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). No not Black Panther, but Black Widow’s new hairstyle.

Black Widow made her first MCU appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010), and that was followed by The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and now the Captain America: Civil War (2016). She has sported a different hairstyle in each movie.

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From L to R: Black Widow’s hairstyles in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War. All images © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I don’t recall any such attention to detail being paid to the locks of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or even Thor.

This scenario of constantly updating the hairstyle of Scarlett Johansson’s female hero, reminds me of Star Trek: Voyager. The show aired between 1995-2001, and starred Kate Mulgrew (now more famed  for playing Red in Orange is the New Black) as Katherine Janeway – the first ever female captain lead in a Star Trek show.

Kate has frequently lamented that ‘the suits’ spent more time worrying about her hair than they did about her character development. She grew increasingly frustrated at the constant messing with it. For those not familiar with the show, this video sums up pretty well how it was.

Is messing with Black Widow’s hairstyle sexist?

Kate Mulgrew reflects that this is a scenario that a male actor is unlikely to face, but female actors constantly do – especially in films and tv shows that have a large male fanbase.

The tinkering of Black Widow’s hairstyle – compared with her fellow Avengers – appears to be further evidence of this. It implies that – as far as the creatives and ‘suits’ are concerned – appearance is more important factor for a female character than a male one. And by extension, a female actor has to be more concerned about her appearance than a male one does.

I also wonder, like Captain Janeway before her, if Marvel Studio execs spend as much time talking about Natasha’s character development as they do about her hair?

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “Action is character.” Perhaps, for female characters, we need to amend that to “Hair is character.”

What do you think Black Widow’s changing hairstyles tell us about her?

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