Gender, Heroins, and Villains...
The Avengers,
The Silence of the Lambs,
& Remix...

by: paul muhlhauser
& daniel schafer

Avengendering of the Lambs:


What do The Avengers and The Silence of the Lambs have in common?
They're both movies?

Quid pro quo

While the answer's
not wrong, there's
more to it than
that. We'd say that
to answer our question
with ambiguity is a smart move because, at first glance, The Avengers and The Silence of the Lambs don't seem to have a lot in common. See

We're not saying they're exactly alike...

Clarice and Black Widow Animationloki-lecter-animation


We are saying that the similarities between the two heroines, villains, and the trope they participate in promotes sexist stereotypes in different ways. And, at the same time, we are also saying that these characters challenge sexist stereotypes.

In our our comic, we analyze how Black Widow and Clarice Starling participate in and negotiate "Consulting a Villain" in different ways. We also discuss other tropes used and describe how gender is figured in each character's consultations.

Avengendering and Feminism

"Avengendering" is our feminist term for avenging gender inequality and understanding how rhetorical tropes maintain and transform stereotypical and sexist gender assumptions.

The way we examine Black Widow and Clarice Starling is feminist. For us, feminism

is a way of thinking—of observing the world, asking questions, and looking for answers—that may lead to particular opinions but doesn't consist of the opinions themselves. One could be pro-choice or in favor of equal pay, for example, on purely moral or liberal political grounds without any basis in a feminist analysis of gender. In this sense, feminism refers to ways of understanding such issues from various points of view, all of which share a common focus of concern [gender inequality] (Johnson, 2006, p. 113).

We appreciate Johnson's definition because feminism is not confined to a particular point of view. His inclusive definition embraces various feminist perspectives, which is what we explore in Avengendering.


If it's difficult to see the similarity between the scenes, go to the remixes ("Remixed" link in navigation bar) where Clarice Starling consults with Loki and Black Widow consults with Hannibal Lecter.

One features...*
  • spandex
  • superheroes
  • S.H.I.E.L.D (an international govt. agency)
  • Aliens and demigods from another dimension
  • a monetary record. It's the fastest film to reach one billion dollars & it's owned by Disney too (Wikipedia)
and is...
  • probably not going to win Academy Awards
  • probably not assumed to challenge stereotypical gender tropes
The other features...*
  • a skin suit
  • serial killers
  • F.B.I.
  • Psychologists and autopsies
  • a $130 million gross- behind Terminator 2, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Beauty and the Beast— pretty good run for a movie released in 1991 that doesn’t feature the Governator, Kevin Costner (when most people thought he was still cool), or Disneyification (Box Office Mojo)
and is...
  • an Academy Award winner
  • probably assumed to challenge stereotypical gender tropes
*So most of the differences are easy to figure out. Here's some help for differences that might not be easy to see.
  • We assume that serial killers and superheroes are different though their behaviors suggest otherwise (i.e. both seem to kill for pleasure without much empathy.)
  • We assume spandex is different from a skin suit though both are used to objectify people in these contexts.
But they both feature...

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

At a second glance...
It is easier to see the similarities in those two scenes to the right. In those scenes, we see that Black Widow and Clarice Starling share more than fauna in their names. They are intelligent women pitting their wits against men who are evil masterminds.

And in this type of battle, Black Widow and Clarice Starling share a trope-"a common pattern in a story or a recognizeable attribute in a character that conveys information to an audience" (Sarkeesian, 2010).

The trope they share is a slightly modified version of TvTrope's "Consulting a Convicted Killer" in which a killer, who is behind bars (or glass in our cases), is consulted by the authorities about a case or situation because he/she has a "killer's" insight and may be able to help catch a killer at large. Black Widow is trying to get information from the already captured killer (Loki). Similarly, Clarice Starling is trying to get information from a captured serial killer (Hannibal Lecter).

We call our modified version of "Consulting a Convicted Killer" "Consulting a Villain." It's where a heroine consults with and engages in a battle of wits with a captured villain to solve a problem. For Black Widow the problem is the reason Loki allowed himself to be captured. For Clarice Starling, the problem is figuring out how to capture a serial killer using Lecter's cryptic clues. We modified "Consulting a Convicted Killer" because Black Widow and Clarice Starling engage in a battle of wits with villains and Black Widow is not trying to capture a killer. We want to emphasize the intellectual engagement of both heroines.

Gender, power, & tropes.
What do The Avengers and The Silence of the Lambs have in common, again?

Quid pro quo


Quid pro quo

Is the portrayal of Black Widow in The Avengers sexist?

That's a
good answer.
Black Widow is
a complicated
character. It's unfair
to call her a completely sexist

We're not...
arguing The Avengers is without sexist representations of Black Widow. An early poster for the movie and Kevin Bolk's parody of that poster reveals visual sexism in the marketing of Black Widow; she's the one in the back protected by "mighty" men while displaying her backside. Rollover the image to see the parody.aarow

BW's right...
Avengendering enters into that Twitter discussion and shows how Black Widow's character resists being read one-dimensionally and tröpically.

*This isn't the whole conversation, but it shows most of the important interactions that occurred between Tweeters.

The conversation is in chronological order so some of the responses are delayed. To pause the conversation move the cursor over the feed.

Second: She's a trope-femme fatale

Her name, "Black Widow," is another way of calling her a femme fatale: a black widow is an attractive woman who seduces men and kills them. Black Widow's name, then, guides audiences into seeing her as a femme fatale. It seems like she is going to be a seduction expert and will most likely kill any men who cross her path.

Though she focuses on the "evil demon seductress" trope, Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) describes the similarity between the femme fatale trope and the evil demon seductress trope. The main difference between the two is superpower or supernatural ability. Like Black Widow, a femme fatale doesn't have superpowers. Here's how Sarkeesian describes a femme fatale:

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

For the full version of "The Evil Demon Seductress."


If we follow Anita Sarkeesian's definition of a femme fatale—"human women using sexuality to manipulate men"— then Black Widow is not exactly a representation of this trope beyond her name. In the scene with Loki, she does not use her sexuality to manipulate him. If we take Sarkeesian's definition of the femme fatale at face value, then Black Widow does not represent this trope. She is not "a stereotypical sexist trope" as Sarkeesian suggests.

On the other hand, if we take a more general view of the femme fatale trope, as Sarkeesian and @oliveiranth seem to in their Twitter discussion, then a femme fatale trope is the following: a woman who "uses faked emotions and pseudo vulnerability to manipulate men into giving her information" (@femfreq). Black Widow certainly fits this definition. However, @rhiannon1307 makes a good point:

So you're basically denying her the right to use a certain talent and ability? Hm. Somehow can't see how that makes you a feminist.

When Black Widow's educational context and/or profession is denied, it is easy to view her as a femme fatale; she is just another woman stereotypically using emotions to "get" what she wants. However, as a spy, Black Widow is trained or educated in subterfuge. She uses her wits (i.e. vulnerability and emotions) to trick the trickster, or as @oliveiranth puts it, "she uses them as an extremely effective weapon. That is remarkable if not PC." For Black Widow, being a femme fatale is a conscious act or move from any number she could have made. She has a meta-awareness about herself, manipulation, and gender. She's more than a "tired old femme fatale trope" because she is an expert, because she makes gender a conscious manipulation for the audience.

Furthermore, perceiving Black Widow as femme fatale presumes that her emotions are inauthentic or "fake" and her "vulnerability" is "pseudo." In more words, it isn't difficult to read the scene between Black Widow and Loki as a "true" or "authentic" confessional where Black Widow is being honest. If read in this way, Black Widow becomes more complicated, even more so than Clarice Starling. Black Widow has more agency in controlling and using her feelings as tool for manipulation than Starling. Black Widow doesn't trade emotions for information as Clarice Starling does with Hannibal Lecter. If there is an allegory here, then The Silence of the Lambs might be said to teach audiences women's power lies unquestionably with emotional currency. Starling's trade with Lecter is emotional prostitution where intimacy replaces a body in allowing Lecter to "get off." In contrast, The Avengers teaches audiences women's power is dynamic. It depends on context and intelligence for performance.

First: She's an unsuper heroine
Black Widow has NO superpowers. Her lack of a supersuit, of superstrength, supersize, or a supertool is sexist in The Avengers. It's a way to keep Black Widow from being too gifted or too strong. It's a way make her a representation of that common trope: a damsel in distress. Black Widow's lack of super-anything creates and maintains a gendered superhero order where superheroes, not superheroins, have the greatest physical powers and women will need to be rescued.

Black Widow is "super" and not exactly a damsel in distress. She is—supercourageous—because of her super "deficiency." In the scene between Black Widow and Loki, she proves her mettle. Her lack of superpowers makes her courage “super.” With the exception of Hawkeye, all other Avengers have a superpower to assist them with courage. They have no reason to fear for their own wellbeing. Superpowers are a kind of "liquid courage": Superheroes are "drunk" with superpower and don't have to imagine consequences as readily as Black Widow has to. Entering into a conversation with the superpowerful and crafty Loki (i.e. the demi-god is a powerful and clever adversary) is a courageous thing to do. Black Widow's courage makes her more than a sexist character. She is a transcendant superheroine. She battles with tremendous bravery when she could have stereotypically run away or relied on her more powerful teammates for rescue.

Third: She's a trope-Smurfette
The Avengers team represents the sexist Smurfette trope in which women are tokenized and surrounded by a group of men. There can be a superheroine on a superhero team, but there can only be one superheorine. More than one superheroine can be seen as a distraction the the "true" or "authentic" power of superheroes, of men. The superheroine is an abberation and unusual. In other words, the Smurfette trope supports the idea that "normal" women are not "super" or should not be more powerful than a man. Here's how Sarkeesian describes this trope and it seems to fit Black Widow: Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

For the full version of "The Smurfette Principle."

Although Black Widow is being Smurfetted, the amount screen time she has in the film moderates the sexism of her tröpic portrayal.

For us, it's important that among Avengers, Black Widow has the third most screen time (33:35) (Cruz, 2012). That's a little over four minutes less than Captain America who has the most screen time (37:42). Furthermore, Black Widow "got the most unbroken dialogue scenes of any of the six" Avengers (Cruz, 2012).

If we consider dialogue to equate with intelligence and sophistication, then The Avengers portrays Black Widow as more than a "pin-up girl" or sexist stereotype. Black Widow is not only an action figure, she is an intelligent figure too. Her dialogue with Loki is an example of this important screen time.

I know what the writers are going to argue. They're going to enter into an important conversation about me started by popular and insightful vlogger, Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) on Twitter. I'm ready for it.

Sarkeesian describes herself as a "feminist pop culture media critic who produces an ongoing web series of video commentaries from a feminist/fangirl perspective."

As the Twitter box to the right illustrates, her comments about me led to a discussion on the scene between Loki and me. @femfreq's started the discussion with this comment: "The Avengers' Black Widow is not subverting any sexist stereotypes, she's clearly just the tired old femme fatale trope." aarow

I think Black Widow did a bloody good job dealing with me. After all, I myself, am troping too. First, look no farther than my "Forehead of Doom" and "My Brain is Big" to see how my evil intelligence is visually constructed. I also deliver a "Hannibal Lecture" to Black Widow, where I unsuccessfully attempt to "turn the tables" on her interrogation using my bloody high intelligence. In all, you can even call me a "Manipulative Bastard." I'm a "master manipulator of emotions and perspectives...[I] always have a plan, but rather than do any work, [I] play on other characters' emotions and then watch the victims destroy themselves as they waste their energy on fighting against fake dangers or their friends." It nearly worked. Midgard was nearly mine.


We found it important that @femfreq writes, "'Politically Correct' is a term by the right to silence conversations about oppression and privilege." Ironically, using the term "trope" or "femme fatale" can be another way to silence conversations about oppression and privilege. These terms act as synecdoches or parts for whole and hide considerations of context and makes it more difficult to understand oppression and privilege. By using blanket terms, like "trope" or "femme fatale," @femfreq gives presence to some things and absence to others:

By the very fact of selecting certain elements and presenting them to the audience, their importance and pertinency to the discussion are implied. Indeed, such a choice endows these elements with a presence (Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969, p. 116).

We think that @femfreq's comments created a presence that in turn created absence for important contexts. Using the trope, "femme fatale," for instance made it easy to ignore contexts showing how Black Widow challenges this trope. Context shows what's absent and helps describe how Black Widow is not so easily or simply categorized.


Quid pro quo

Not exactly.
Again, is the portrayal of Black Widow in The Avengers sexist?


Is Starling in The Silence of the Lambs an empowering female character?

Quid pro quo

There are a lot
of people who
would agree with
a hesitant "yes?".
After all, she is a cadet on her way to becoming an FBI agent in an occupation where there are few women. She puts herself into potential danger by visiting Lecter and apprehending Buffalo Bill, herself. She isn’t the recipient of any overt sexualization as the result of a revealing costume, obviously suggestive dialogue, or anything else that a Tomb Raider-esque character may be subject to simply due to the fact that she is a she.

Clarice Starling

I agree. People say that SOTL (The Silence of the Lambs) is a feminist text because I’m a female character who, as an almost FBI agent, has a dangerous job, and goes above and beyond the call to catch the bad guy. In this case, in order to catch Buffalo Bill, I had to interact with another serial killer, Hannibal Lecter.

In a male-dominated profession it’s easy to be tokenized or marginalized, but I believe I avoid this by not sinking into a stereotyped puddle of feminine befuddlement when faced with pig-headed sexism or dangerous situations.

Nicely Put, Agent Starling!
As gender studies and film scholar Diane Dubois (2001) argues, Starling is a strong character because “she does not respond in the preferred, coyly ‘feminine’ manner” when subjected to harassment or other unwanted attention (p. 299). But we don't believe Starling or Dubois completely.

Consider what New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby (1991) said in his review of SOTL. In exchange for Lecter's insights to capture Buffalo Bill, Starling supplies Lecter with her own emotional and psychological currency. She confesses and reveals personal information to him. Canby points out that Lecter gets aroused by this trade and by psychoanalyzing Starling. For us, this is Lecter's version of taking physical advantage of a woman or coercing sex from a woman.

Lecter is, therefore, only helping Starling so that he can gain something from her sexually, even if it is not physical.

Starling doesn't seem to have much power besides her psycho-sexuality and/or emotional capital; it’s, therefore, difficult to see her as a strong feminist character.

First: She's a not a trope-not femme fatale
At a quick glance, it's easy to see that Clarice Starling is not a representation of the femme fatale trope. After all, she doesn't seem to be using her sexuality to manipulate anybody.


Starling can also be considered a femme fatale. Another glance at Anita Sarkeesian's description of this trope makes it a little easier to see how Starling embodies this trope. Here's how Sarkeesian describes a femme fatale:
Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

For the full version of "The Evil Demon Seductress."

Sarkeesian, in her narrow definition, states that femme fatales are "human women using sexuality to manipulate men." Starling does this. Sexuality, in the context of Lecter and Starling's relationship, is the quid pro quo dialogue they have. As Vincent Canbry (1991) observes, "For Hannibal, they (their dialogues) are a turn-on." Starling doesn't use her body as a sexual tool in the way we normally think about seduction, but rather uses honesty and confessions about her past and her insecurities to "seduce" Lecter.

Sarkeesian's more general definition of a femme fatale may also apply to Starling. In this definition a femme fatale "uses faked emotions and pseudo vulnerability to manipulate men into giving her information" (@femfreq). And while it is an unusual reading of Agent Starling, she may in fact be using "faked emotions" and "pseudo vulnerability" to manipulate Lecter into giving her information. Just as Black Widow can be read as expressing "true" and "authentic" emotions dishonestly when in dialogue with Loki to get information, Agent Starling might be said to be honestly using "false" and "inauthentic" emotions to garner information from Lecter. In other words, it's difficult to determine where "true," "false," "authentic," and "inauthentic" emotions and vulnerability are occurring and not occurring. It seems that these sorts of actions can operate simultaneously where one is expressing "truthful" and "authentic" emotions manipulatively. It might, therefore, be better to define femme fatale more generally as one who uses emotions and vulnerability to manipulate men.

Second: She's Kirk to Lecter's Spock

In Stark Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with the Enterprise crippled, Spock points to the fact that Khan’s actions suggest “two-dimensional thinking.” After a brief pause, Kirk springs into action, ordering the Enterprise to dip vertically, and pounce on the Reliant, to Khan’s great surprise. Khan's ship is crippled by several well-placed torpedos and phaser blasts. Much like the relationship between Lecter and Starling, Admiral Kirk is famously able to attack Khan in Star Trek II, only after Mr. Spock hints toward a previously unnoticed flaw in Khan’s battle strategy. We get the feeling Mr. Spock could have just done this himself. See:

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

Though it seems we should appreciate Clarice Starling's accomplishments —her rescuing of Catherine Martin without assistance and against the odds, when considering more carefully how she succeeded, the luster comes off of Starling. With Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter we see the "Spock Trope" occurring in how Lecter leads Starling to the whereabouts of Buffalo Bill. Starling acts her own, but only becasue she knows what to do after key facts are pointed out by Lecter. As with Spock and Kirk, Lecter is the teacher and Starling is the student. We might even say Starling is like a starling—a bird who learns and imitates songs from others.

TV Tropes makes a similar tropic observation describing Lecter's lecturing as a "Hannibal Lecture" where a villain or

loon asks more armor piercing questions, which turn into comments, which turn into deconstructions, which turn into declarations about how the interrogator has failed in different ways. Pretty soon, the loon is doing all the interrogating and all the answering, with the poor 'interrogator' doing nothing but nodding their assent and crying.

However, we think TV Tropes's description misses the teacher/student relationship because of how information is shared (quid pro quo). And we see this as an important aspect of Clarice Starling's character. See what we mean:

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

In their scenes together, Starling and Lecter share another similarity with Kirk and Spock: they represent pathos (Starling and Kirk) and logos (Lecter and Spock). While Starling's character is strong and compelling in that she does seek guidance from a terrifying villian and was not too prideful to take Lecter's advice, Starling becomes a stereotype when we consider her relationship to Lecter. She is not the expert in criminal psychology (i.e. the teacher). And while she is a problem-solver, her solving of problems are guided by logical Lecter whose hints and games reveal Starling's emotions. In this sense, her "true womanhood" is exposed: she's not emotionally or logically equipped to be an agent or to be "man." Like a starling, Clarice is only able to mimic logos and problem-solving. She cannot perform these skills on her own.

Finally, unlike Kirk, Starling has little ethos. She is not a captain or an agent; she's in training. Though Starling may eventually rescue Catherine Martin and graduate from the academy, her ethos is very suspect for audineces. What after all, did Starling actually accomplish? She trusted a serial killer whose affection for her was enabling. Perhaps this is unfair since there were numerous Star Trek episodes and films and we only examine one of the SOTL films, but Captain Kirk, at least, did not always rely upon Spock. He often planned and schemed without Spock's hints.

Third: She's not a trope-not smurfette
In our discussion of Black Widow, we mentioned that women may be included in groups of men, but usually only one woman is permitted to join. The Silence of the Lambs can be to challenge this trope.

In The Silence of the Lambs, there are three women who receive screen time. There's Starling, Starling's academy classmate, Catherine Martin, the woman Buffalo Bill abducts, and Catherine Martin's mother (a senator). If we end our analysis here, then, certainly, Smurfetting is not occurring in The Silence of the Lambs. From Sarkeesian's description of the Smurfette trope, there doesn't seem to be any Smurfetting in SOTL: Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

For the full version of "The Smurfette Principle."

If we consider a little more closely what's happening, Starling even though she is the protagonist and heroine, is being Smurfetted. In other words, Starling is at the intersection of a group of four powerful men—Jack Crawford (her mentor and academy professor), Hannibal Lecter, Dr. Chilton (the head psychologist of Lecter's prison/psychiatric ward), and Buffalo Bill. Though certainly Catherine Martin and her mother are powerful female figures, the core group of characters is composed of only one woman: Clarice Starling.

And while the Smurfette trope is certainly occurring, it's status can be seen in positive terms similar to Black Widow's. As the heroine the writer/director/producer makes it clear that she is not only the most important character in the movie, they are emphasizing how an intelligent woman working in a stereotypically male field succeeds despite being subject to the pressures of sexism. There may be smurfetting but in this context, it helps us recognize the gender imbalance and appreciate Starling's struggles and success.

Clarice Starling had little choice but to consult me when Buffalo Bill kidnapped that young girl. She could never think like him. She could never understand his motivation much less his strategy. I possess the mental elasticity to predict Buffalo Bill’s actions as you can see from my Forehead of Doom. Clarice should have known better than to enter a quid pro quo with me. She should have known better than to answer my questions. But she had to, you see. To save the Ms. Martin. Or at least have hope that she could save her. I was able to probe her deepest insecurities, to break down her façade of strength and confidence, to show Clarice that she is but a sobbing child. I enjoyed her as I enjoyed fava beans and chianti.

Earlier we argued that the use of tropes created a presence for Black Widow suggesting that she is a sexist and stereotypical character. We found that this presence isn't completely accurate.

We believe a similar, but opposite, presence has been created for Agent Starling. Commentary and critical reviews often argue she is a strong feminist character (Dubois and Kempley) because of her strengths and refusal to give in to cultural norms that govern what a woman should be, do, and look like. While these assessments justifiably highlight certain aspects of Starling's character the presence they create ignores how Starling is both objectified and used by Lecter, likely against her desires, and for his gain.

While we agree that there are aspects of Starling's character that are strong, she is not necessarily an ideal feminist heroine. She is, instead, often a stereotypical and sexist character.

Quid pro quo

So is Starling in The Silence of the Lambs an empowering female character?
Not really.


What trope do
The Avengers and The Silence of the Lambs share?

Quid pro quo

That's not incorrect!
They aren't perfect,
but these remixed
scenes show the
similarities between the heroins and villains.

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

Download video: MP4 format | Ogv format |WebM format

Quid pro quo

The forehead of doom!
What trope do the The Avengers and The Silence of the Lambs share, again?


What can be
learned from Avengendering?
Tropes are
skin or spandex

Quid pro quo

Correct! We think
tropes without
considering more
context is grabbing "low-hanging fruit" as @oliveiranth tweets to @femfreq about Black Widow being a femme fatale. Such identifications are not always helpful and, as we've hoped to show, not an accurate way to assess either Black Widow or Clarice Starling.

We believe it is helpful to examine tropes as patterns of one instead of patterns of many. Rather than disregard Black Widow because of her spandex, because of her name, or because she manipulates a man, we should look a little more at her unique situation and context—at what makes her different, challenge, and break the "tired old femme fatale trope" (@femfreq). Spock might say that we need to move beyond two- dimensional thinking.

For us a represntation, like history, can't repeat itself exactly. There're always different contexts to consider when conducting tropic analysis. While tropes certainly are effective lenses for finding patterns, in the generalizations and categories they create, they conceal complications and can keep a conversation about a character reduced much like our simple quid pro quos.

Again, we're not exactlty saying they're identical...
Clarice and Black Widow Animationloki-lecter-animation
But we are saying that there are important similarities between The Avengers's Black Widow and The Silence of the Lambs's Clarice Starling. Besides both being strong female characters, both characters participate in the "Consulting a Villain" trope where they match wits with men who are evil masterminds. These similarities help us read, see, and understand differences between the two characters and the contexts they negotiate. Our analysis allows us to look a little more three dimensionally, as Spock might say, at how blanket generalizations of Black Widow (i.e. she is a sexist and stereotypical character) and Clarice Starling (i.e. she is a strong, feminist character) are not always helpful or completely accurate.

Black Widow...
She is more than her spandex and tropic identification as a femme fatale. Bethany Joy Lenz (2012), for instance, disagrees with the assertion that Black Widow is just another heroine that’s part of the superhero story to look good and be rescued. Black Widow, instead, has her own complex storyline that is developed throughout the film. She spends much of the film making a mockery of sexist expectations—that she must be an emotionally weak, sexual plaything who needs rescuing. In fact, she uses these expectations to her advantage to extract information from the “bad guy.” Black Widow is aware of sexist stereotypes and proves them wrong. She has meta-cognitive awareness of the roles she plays; she might be said to subvert gender expectations and allow an audience to see the artificialness or cultural constructions of these expectations. While she may not be an ideal role model or champion of feminism, but she can be considered a feminist hero.

Clarice Starling...
She can be considered less than her power suits and tropic identification as a feminist character. Jonathan Rosenbaum (1991), for instance, points out that Starlng is, albeit in an atypical fashion, used and objectified by a male character (Lecter). For him, The Silence of the Lambs is not a feminist text. And Rosenbaum's point is well taken. At first glance it seems that Starling is a feminist character. After all, she is suceeding in environments dominated by men (the FBI and the FBI Academy), and she is working a case using her intelligence to solve problems. However, Starling is not really doing as much with her intelligence as one might expect from an FBI agent or one assumed to be a strong feminist character. Lecter gives her the answers in the form of riddles in their game of quid pro quo. And he manipulates her into satisfying his need for her to confess and reveal her secrets. He craves and, eventually, suceeds in consuming her vulnerability. For us, it seems that Starling is the stereotype. She is at the mercy of a man to succeed. She runs "errands" for Lecter to confirm the clues he's given her to solve the case. And, if we consider Starling's confessions as sexual devices, then Agent Starling is certainly a femme fatale.

We hope that by reading Avengendering we have engaged in a quid pro quo with readers and that they've gained insights from our text. They've provided us an audience.

While we are saying they are similar in a number of ways, we do think the differences between the heroines and villains in The Avengers and The Silence of the Lambs make excellent juxtapositions for understanding the complicated ways gender is presented in film. We hope our juxtapositions have helped explain how tropes must be analyzed because they often conceal important contexts that may complicate them.

Quid pro quo

What can be learned from Avengendering, again?
Tropes are skin or spandex deep.

Works Cited

1991 Domestic Grosses. (n.d.). In Box Office Mojo. Retrieved from:

Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs" (Lecter's head on Spock's body) [Online image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Anthony Oliveira. Twitter. (2012, May 9). "Discussion about Black Widow and The Avengers." Retrieved from:

Bauer. A. (n.d.). Jonathan Rosenbaum [Online image]. Retrieved from:

Bennett, H. (Producer) & Meyer, N. (Director). (1982, June 4). Star trek II: The wrath of khan [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Bolk, K. (n.d). Avengers booty-assemble [Online image]. Retrieved from:

Cola, C. (n.d.). Rita Kempley [Online image] Retrieved from:

Consulting a Convited Killer. (n.d.). In TV Tropes. Retrieved August 19, 2012. Available from:

Cruz, G. (2012, May 7). "The avengers: How much screen time does each hero get?". Vulture. Retrieved from:

Dubois, D. (2001). 'Seeing the female body differently': Gender issues in The Silence of the Lambs. Journal of Gender Studies, 10(3), 297-310.

Ebert, R. (1991, February 14). "The silence of the lambs." Retrieved from:

Feige, K. (Producer) & Whedon, J. (Director). (2012, May 4). The avengers [Motion Picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.

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