Why Black Widow’s sterilization scene in ‘Age of Ultron’ is astonishing

“You”re not the only monster on the team.”

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” these are the words of Natasha Romanoff speaking to Bruce Banner after they mutually reveal they”re sterile, incapable of bearing children. It”s no coincidence they say this surrounded by kids” toys in Hawkeye”s secret country home.

While I”m very curious if there”s footage of Bruce Banner talking about fatherhood somewhere on the cutting room floor, I do think it”s powerful that Black Widow has a soliloquy”s length to describe how fertility was irreversibly rendered from her, as a requirement of her job.

What is mind-blowing about “the sterilization scene” is that “Age of Ultron” director Joss Whedon and his screenwriters had the audacity to sneak a gender dichotomy into a $250 million movie featuring robots and flying cities. That this message is so rarely addressed in film at all is a testament to the cordoning-off of “women”s issues” – AKA “women”s-only issues” – in the cinemascape, period.

That message is choice, and specifically motherhood as a choice.

The fact that Natasha doesn”t mention adoption or fostering children honors the intent of this scene: it”s not about lovers sussing out the logistics of family planning, but a woman mourning the loss of an option.

Hawkeye – aka Clint Barton — exercised choice. His joining SHIELD was contingent that he”d get to have the wife, the kids, and the knowledge they”d be safe. In a clichéd phrase, he “has it all.” Whether Natasha ultimately wanted kids or not is besides the point: the Red Room”s policy of sterilization takes even the option of “having it all” away, insisting its female recruits cannot be the greatest killers in the world and have an emotional bond with their babies.

Yes, there are members of both sexes in this Marvel universe who are infertile. But consider the real-life statistical disparity that having kids helps the careers of men and hurts the careers of women. A job involving motorcycles, sniper shooting, code-cracking and ass-kicking certainly has its own list of preferred qualifications in this fictional world, but I find it still oddly refreshing that you can draw a direct line from Black Widow”s screenwritten experience to real-life glass-ceilings. Would a female superhero be lauded more or less if she had a secret family stashed somewhere?