Black Widow, Gymnasts, and How We Use Girls

I saw Black Widow just before the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, and, as I wrote at The Bulwark, the juxtaposition was an uncomfortable one.

The story of the girls reshaped and thrown away by the Red Room trainers isn’t so different from the story of USA Gymnastics over the last decade. With the Summer Olympics now underway, I don’t know how to balance celebrating the fortitude of the members of Team USA and rejecting the abusive system that chose and trained them. Natasha may end the movie standing amid the smoking wreckage of the Red Room, but American gymnasts are still fighting to dismantle the system of abuse that they grew up within.

I know now that some of the moments I saw as unalloyed triumph when I was a little girl watching the Olympics were in fact shadowed by abuse. In 1996, when I watched Kerri Strug land her second vault on an injured ankle, clinching the gold and collapsing in pain, I was moved by her strength and stubbornness. I didn’t realize that one of the people rushing to her aid was the team trainer, Larry Nassar, who would go on to take advantage of his position to sexually abuse gymnasts for decades. For years, I’ve been watching young women’s strength be celebrated—and marketed—by forces that have no real respect for the women as people.

You can read the whole thing at The Bulwark.

The movie was the second one my husband and I saw in theaters post-vaccination, and Alexi wrote a reflection, too. You can check out his review at First Things. Here’s a preview.

For bastions of the progressive capitalist entertainment industry no less than for Soviet supervillains, the age-old process of childbirth and family formation presents a threat to be managed rather than an opportunity to be embraced. Black Widow takes this theme in an unexpectedly heartwarming direction: Perhaps even the bonds of a fake family might be enough to topple a regime that hates family life.