Picture from BusinessInsider.com
Warning: Spoilers and rampant feminism ahead
I just saw Wonder Woman for the first time yesterday. And to be clear, I am not only a feminist, but I very idealistic feminist. So when I heard all the chatter about Wonder Woman being amazing and wonderful I was super skeptical. I heard all of that about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Game of Thrones, and I would not call either of those franchises feminist by a long shot.
But Wonder Woman. Is. Everything. To Me.
When I was a kid, I was one of those kids that played hero and medieval videogames. Even though I was a girl, and pretty much everyone else playing those games were boys, I did it anyways. When most the other girls my age were calling themselves princesses I was dreaming about being a knight. It’s actually one of reasons I liked the Narnia books so much- Lucy and Susan fought alongside Peter and Edmund. It spoke to the part of me that recognized my own ability to be a strong leader, when most people assumed that as a little girl I did not want to be strong, but a damsel in distress, waiting to be saved. Other than the Pevensie girls, I did not have women who were fighters to cultivate my imagination with. And when I found something adjacent to what I was looking for, they were objectified, sexualized and condescended. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, along with Jyn Erso and Rey, are the heroes that I wish I had when I was eight.
There are so many things I love about Wonder Woman, like love motivating her redemption (THEOLOGY!) and things of the like, and a few things I wish they could’ve improved on, but I want to focus on her appearance and aesthetic right now. For those of you who do know, or for women who don’t feel this pressure, many women feel like those around them (society at large) values them first and foremost for their appearance, especially if they are appealing to men. What I have noticed is that this boils down to the expectation that women are useful to men, either for sex and sexual pleasure, or marriage (and therefore sex and reproduction). I remember one day when I was younger, I wanted to cut my hair short and I was testing the idea out with my brother. When I told him I wanted to cut off my hair, his response was that I shouldn’t because boys like long hair.
At the time, that response was compelling enough for me to decide to not cut my hair. It may seem like a silly example, but it goes to show the extreme importance being appealing to men is placed on women. Even as a soon-to-be Princeton student (with short hair), one of the most common responses I receive after telling someone about that is whether I think I will meet someone in Seminary or if I can still get married after I get my Master’s degree in theology. I get the message that everything from my body, to my hair, to my education and career choice is only secondary to this prime directive of becoming somebody’s wife, or at least object of desire.
There were three times I cried watching Wonder Woman. All of them were during battle scenes. Why? Because Wonder Woman was the first time I’ve seen a woman fight in a movie without looking like she was adapted from a man’s “tough girl” fetish. The Amazonians had prominent muscles and fought like they were strong, not like they were created to be objects of fantasy. I specifically have strong feelings about this because I am muscular. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that “girls with muscles look like guys” or that I have specifically been told my shoulders or biceps look too big or that I look like a guy (my favorite- “you can’t be a girl if you have muscles!”). Eight year old me would’ve loved to see this island full of women who were strong, not because they were supposed to look like men, or because “strong is sexy”. They were strong because they were warriors. Their armor was armor, not lingerie.
I also loved that one of the villains in Wonder Woman was a woman. Usually, feminine villains are sexpots, playing into the “bad girl” fantasy (isn’t it sad that I can name a fetish for most of the women on our screens?). Otherwise, most women are portrayed to be either tough/bad girls, who are the only women capable of making bad decisions, or innocent/naïve angels. Dr. Poison breaks this trope because she is not capitalized on because of her sex appeal, but because she is brilliant and evil. I am trying to remember the last feminine villain I have seen that was presented in this way, and the only one I can think of is the White Witch from Narnia.
In the scene at the end where Ares is trying to break Diana into destroying humanity because they are not good like she is, Dr. Poison is the stand-in for all of humanity. Another part of feminism that I have experienced to be discussed less is the part of feminism that means we hold women accountable for their actions. This is important because when we rob women of their culpability, we rob them of their agency and therefore of their humanity. In short, the women in this movie are human (even if Diana is technically not) and carry the flaws that come with being human. They are not stylized tropes, but multi-faceted characters. I related to Diana in so many ways, but especially in her idealism. I am also the kind of woman that will see a baby and go “I must see the small child!” and then five minutes later yell at someone for being a hypocrite. I too am the kind of woman that will bask in the glory of ice cream and in the next moment stand up for innocent people who are the collateral damage of someone else’s power play. I needed to have Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman when I was eight, and I am so excited for the eight year olds, the girls especially, who have her to look up to now.