I never had Wonder Woman underoos or avidly watched the late-seventies t.v. series nor read the D.C. comic book in which Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941.
Despite all this, as a child of the eighties, Wonder Woman was a present force and I was aware of what she represented. Much like She-Ra, her otherworldly powers were expressions of earthly female strength and power. Whether or not you take issue with her coiffed hair and bathing suit one piece battle gear, as a child I innately understood that she was a badass and I could be one too.
For this years’ feature film reboot, I wasn’t expecting such a subtle yet clear expression of Wonder Woman or such an expression of the complexity of the female psyche; a gentle refutation of the thumb women have been under in one way or another.
Here are some ways I think the Patty Jenkins-directed film is a cathartic smashing of the patriarchy:
The whole first part of the movie emphasizes that although Wonder Woman, Diana, is a goddess, her advantageous powers are unknown to her and she must train and train harder to even access these physical powers.
The tribe of women she comes from, the Amazons don’t represent every female body type, nor should they, but they stand for a female beauty that developed through exercise and training is beautiful, functional and responsive because of that training.
The Amazons have a clear leader in Hippolyta, one who respects the strength and dignity of her followers. Diana’s mother wants to protect her from battle but finally bows to the will of her sister Antiope, who insists on providing the training she knows Diana craves and needs. It’s the type of female cooperation, stability, and leadership rarely seen in female ensemble films.
She is Worthy of a Quest
Some of my favorite fantasy films involved some type of quest. A young male deemed special is the only one that can complete the quest, save his culture or world from destruction and right all the ultimate wrongs. The young hero usually has a coterie of friends helping him that sometimes might include a female.
Although extremely helpful and sometimes integral in the mission to fulfilling his quest, with a few exceptions (think Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) the young woman is usually not the quest leader. I’m thinking of Atreyu in the Neverending Story, The Goonies, The Dark Crystal, The Last Starfighter, the First Star Wars trilogies.
Not with Wonder Woman. This is her quest to fulfill, the mission she has grown up training for. She’s the leader and Steve Trevor his her loyal co-companion.
Modernizing Male/Female Relationship Dynamics
Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) is never diminished to make Diana appear stronger. He quickly recognizes her as her equal (he has no choice really) and accepts his position with a fair amount of ease and maybe even admiration.
When they are on the boat together, Diana lets him know he isn’t needed for her to be a legitimate part of society. In fact, apart from procreation, he isn’t needed at all. But she does need him. His compliance
His compliance her quest, his skill, and his intellect are invaluable and later, she indicates he she desires him on an emotional level. In one of the more touching scenes, she allows herself to experience emotional intimacy by allowing him to slow-dance with her under the snowfall.
Later, in probably my favorite scene, in a crucial moment of self-sacrifice Steve presses his father’s watch into Diana’s hands before telling her that he loves her. She has his heart, his loyalty, and becomes the safeguard of his fatherly connection; of entrusting her with his personal quest when he can no longer fulfill it on his own.
A Woman Doesn’t Have to Compassion or Vulnerability to Be the Hero
Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot crafted a Wonder Woman that is unafraid, bold and a tough warrior whose compassion is a central tool in deciding which battles to fight and what enemy to go after. Far from being a liability, her sensitivity allows her to cut to the heart of the matter, fuels her sense of injustices and provides her with the emotional fuel to carry on with acts that are against what she desires and represents. In short, she gets it done.
Female Sexuality is Not Why She Gets Ahead
Yes, Wonder Woman is physically beautiful and Gal Gadot’s naturally lush face was a delight to look at as it volleyed between emotional vulnerability, self-assuredness, and determination. However, Jenkins made the astute choice not to focus on her beauty and sexual attractiveness as her main asset.
She and the Amazons are clad in functional, protective clothing that they happen to look fantastic in. Steve is attracted to her but not distracted by her. The males in the film are too busy being bewildered by her obliviousness to her “place” in society to spend time trying to figure out how to seduce her. And she doesn’t have the time anyway.
The Older Woman Isn’t Dead
Connie Nielsen who plays Diana’s mother Hippolyta and Robin Wright who plays Diana’s aunt and mentor Antiope are both fifty-one in real life. Both women are strong and naturally beautiful in the film, are needed by their communities and revered and respected by Diana. While portrayals of older women have improved, we still have a long way to go to towards depicting the reality and complexity of becoming an older human.
This Is a Comic Book-based Action Movie, After All, Lighten the *uck up!
The title of my article aside, I don’t want to put too much weight or analysis into the greater implications of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is a comic book superhero. She is innately exceptional. To dig too deep into the greater meaning of the film in terms of how it represents women would be undercutting one of it’s biggest accomplishments: it’s a fun, superhero movie where a woman is a protagonist. It was directed by a woman, men enjoy it for not solely sexual reasons and it’s making a shit-ton of money. For those reasons alone, the patriarchy is beat at its own game.