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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?


12 thoughts on “Is Black Widow’s Hairstyle Sexist?”

  1. As a woman, I didn’t even notice the change in hair colour or style. I think the Black Widow is just like any other woman who likes to experiment with her hair colour and style.

    1. Thanks for commenting. From my pov I’m suspicious because of the Star Trek: Voyager scenario, plus I don’t know any women who have changed their hairstyle so much in 5 years. Most I know haven’t at all.

  2. I think this is a really interesting take on it. For me, it is about the use of women’s bodies as a canvas, and not as a vehicle for their selves. I think you might have tapped into something here. One of my favourite films is Under the Skin, a psychothriller with ScarJo, where they really play with the idea of her body being a public space. You might like it, but it is very weird. (:

    1. Thanks for your comment. I have indeed seen Under the Skin, which I agree is weird and I really liked it. It felt very inspired by the likes of The Man Who Fell to Earth.

  3. If it was just Black Widow, I would think it was a little sexist, but it’s not just her. Look at Thor. In his first movie, his hair was short and has gotten longer over the course of the movies, so long that it’s now pulled back. Loki also had really short hair in Thor and the last time we saw him, his hair was long too. Bruce’s hair was chopped off in IM3 but grew back before AoU. Captain America’s hair has been cut differently a few times since he was thawed out. Tony’s hair is shorter and styled differently then it was in IM1. It’s because she’s a woman that people notice BW’s hair but these movies span years -her first of which, Natasha was undercover- and it makes sense that a woman who works as a spy would change her look a few times.

  4. I agree with Jack, since Black Widow is a spy, her appearance would constantly be changing. It would be one of those habits that she built up to hold in the back of her mind. Also, I think Allie had a great point.

  5. Wow remember when hair triggers people? That’s crazy. Let’s not touch on how ALL the characters’ appearances change over the films, let’s focus on one female character and act like discrimination is afoot. Pretty typical hyper-sensitive mentality.

  6. I agree with several of the thoughts already posted. It makes sense for a seasoned spy like Nat to change up her hair. The hair change is just fine if it has a purpose(or if it doesn’t, and the character just likes to try different hairstyles). For example, Daisy from AOS. She gets a different hairstyle every season, and that’s because it’s showing her evolution as a character. She’s becoming her comic book counterpart, Quake. Plus the other male avengers change their hair as well. Steve’s gotten different hair, Thor’s definitely gotten different hair. But Bruce and Rhodey got different faces altogether!!! Ahhhhh!!!

  7. Style is an expression of personality, however in the case of a film it isn’t the character choosing the style it is the director, costume designer, marketing, etc. trying to depict what they feel the style should be for that particular film. This is perhaps one of the pieces lacking in continuity for the MCU. You also have to take into consideration the fact that especially with these films there is a merchandising angle the ‘suits’ are going after. Its not just the hair, why does Cap’s suit change in each film. It made sense in going from First Avenger to Avengers but it has continuously changed in each film. Same with Iron Man (to a lesser extent with War Machine), every film introduces a new suit, color scheme, or variation (forget about IM3 where like 40 variations appear). For the less iconic characters there is less available to make distinct changes to appearance between films. For Widow, along with Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch means attending more to detail in clothing and hair styling. Even Agent 13 and Maria Hill have had changes to appearance though more subtle. Even Falcon and Ant-man have had their super suits change between films and there will probably changes to all the characters in next years films, Guardians, Spider-man and Thor. A lot of decisions on appearance in film are based on focus groups, marketing “research”, and personal choice of the director, costume designer and stylist, but there is also a need to innovate in each film, and to produce new toys to be sold.

    BTW I haven’t heard anyone complain it was sexist that Leia’s hair changed in each of the Star Wars Trilogy, and even the new film, and she was even purposefully sexualized as part of a plot point.

  8. These are the kind of things that feminism is worried about these days. About Black Widow´s hairstyle. It is so dumb that it doesn´t deserve three lines of comment.

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