During a press visit to the Avengers: Infinity War set, Mark Ruffalo described the Hulk and Black Widow as “star-crossed,” a statement that set off a chain of “nope” responses across social media. It’s clear that these two characters are not done with each other, even though fans have had strong feelings about this relationship.
Though audiences had a number of issues with Avengers: Age of Ultron, much of the criticism focused on the Hulk and Black Widow relationship feeling forced. While this is certainly an excellent starting point for our discussion, there are problems with this relationship that are far more problematic.
Character Growth Does Not Require a Love Interest
As the sole female Avenger, Natasha Romanoff had a lot of pressure on her to be all things for all fans. She had to be a badass, a negotiator, a flirt -- the list goes on. What's more, she had to be all of these things while having some moments of vulnerability. However, throwing a love interest into an already busy mix muddles her development more than it helps. The forced relationship between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner assumes that female characters need to be romantically involved with someone to grow.
We see this in the timing of the events in Age of Ultron. It’s only after there’s established Natasha and Bruce “chemistry” that she confesses her tragic backstory. Because of how that conversation unfolds, Bruce feels like a monster because of the literal monster that simmers beneath, while Natasha is presented as feeling like a monster because she has been forcibly sterilized. In short, her hysterectomy is used as a way to connect with Bruce. While it's possible the intent was to present her as feeling like a monster because of the blood in her ledger, the structure of that conversation made audiences connect her inability to have children with her feelings of monstrosity.
Not only does character growth for females not require a love interest, it also doesn’t require stripping away something that’s so sensitive to many women. Natasha connecting with Bruce because of how she's felt after her hysterectomy is incredibly insensitive to women who have difficulty procreating or who cannot altogether. This topic isn’t touched upon a lot in media both because it’s an instant trigger, and it’s the starting point of another piece of cultural criticism. Namely, women still have to deal with having their value be defined by whether they can, or will, have children.
Natasha’s value and her character trajectory didn’t need to involve a love interest nor her inability to have children. The Avengers' male characters have had many other options available to them for character growth, and Natasha deserved the same opportunities.