Two weeks ago, I was at WonderCon, and I got to spend a bit of time with one of my favorite people. She's got a ten-year-old daughter who is a nascent geek, and we talked a bit about her very mixed feelings about the iconography that her daughter is dealing with as she finds her way through pop culture right now.
I was struck by one story in particular. Her daughter's favorite character right now is the Black Widow, and my friend wanted to buy some original art for her daughter. Every single image she found, though, was exactly the sort of over-the-top cheesecake shot that you'd expect. No matter what pose they had her in, the emphasis was firmly on both boobs and butt, and my friend ended up so irritated that she had to finally commission an artist to draw the character with her shirt completely buttoned up.
Even so, there was a photo she took at WonderCon of her daughter standing with a cosplayer dressed as Black Widow, and that sheer geek joy that I remember so vividly from my own younger years and that I see on the faces of my own kids is just radiating off of her daughter in the image. To her, Black Widow is a hero, pure and simple, and all of the larger conversations about representation and exploitation don't factor in for her. To that little girl, she looks at Black Widow, and she sees someone who stands side-by-side with Captain America, someone who is strong and funny and capable, and that is incredibly important for every young person. It is important that kids (and adults, for that matter) be able to look at pop culture and see some reflection of who they are and where they're from, and for them to see that there is a place in this larger world where they will fit, no matter what it is that they want to do.