A Brief Look at Wonder Woman and Feminism – by Kaitlyn McCafferty
I watched the new Wonder Woman movie last week with my mom. As far as superhero origin stories go, I left the theater satisfied and entertained. As far as female superhero stories go, I left proud and ready to kick some ass.
The importance of Diana Prince is often overlooked as she is relegated the token female superhero of DC—a grave mistake I have also regretfully made. She is, in fact, an extremely compelling character with a very interesting history. The creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, was a psychologist, inventor, and firm believer in the woman as a dominating figure. He believed in men living in a state of “loving submission” under women. Diana definitely reflects all of these aspects; she is a powerful, heroic woman with bracelets (or cuffs) of justice and a lasso that originally forced its captors under the command of its wielder. The dominance Marston portrayed often possessed very sexual, BDSM undertones. Though Marston’s particular viewpoint is not necessarily feminist in that it still subscribes to a set type of gender roles, it is definitely subversive to classic patriarchal ideals. I personally view the abundance of feminine power and dominance as very exciting. Creating a world in which men are submissive doesn’t have the same effect on society (economically, politically, and socially) that portraying submissive women does. Subversion, in my mind, is a form of activism; Marston created a very potentially meaningful character to feminism.
Director and writer Patty Jenkins realizes this potential in the new Wonder Woman film. I admit that knowing there was a female director for this film gave me great relief and happiness. It makes me very hopeful to know that Jenkins is now the highest-grossing female director in the United States. I’m a bit tired of white men dictating the vast majority of camera lens available. And while I don’t believe all male writers are incapable of portraying female characters, I am fairly certain no woman would ever write the atrocity that is the original Wonder Woman script Joss Whedon concocted. Whedon managed to write a Wonder Woman movie from the perspective of her male love interest Steve Trevor, disregard Diana’s backstory almost completely, have other characters call her a bitch on numerous occasions, and include a scene where an unconscious Diana is groped by men—among many other “oof” moments. We are all very fortunate this was not the movie that ended up being produced.
Last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Rucka, the current writer of the Wonder Woman comics, at U of O. He had a great insight into Diana as a character and explained some of the “no-no’s” on writing her. For instance, Steve cannot be the reason Diana leaves Themyscira; she must leave to save other people because she is a hero. He also confirmed that Diana is bisexual, reasoning that if she lives on an island of paradise with only other women and is hundreds of years old, her not having a relationship with another woman is unlikely. I enjoyed the nod to this in the movie immensely. Diana explains that the writer of the books on sex she read concluded that men are biologically necessary for reproduction, but ultimately unnecessary for a woman’s sexual pleasure.
I love that the film portrays Diana as a hero. It’s such a simple thing, but it made me so happy. In many scenes, I thought to myself, “So this is how guys feel watching action movies!” There are no unnecessary slow, lingering camera drags up a female character’s figure. The Amazons are strong and fearsome; their fighting styles aren’t completely relegated to advanced, bendy gymnastics. I love that Steve and her other male counterparts respect, trust, and support Diana and looked to her as a leader. I also very much appreciated Steve’s bath scene. It reminded me of Rucka announcing to us, “We are going to objectify the fuck out of Steve.” It was very interesting to see the tables of gender normativity turn in this scene.
One of my favorite scenes was when Diana follows Steve into the meeting room in England, despite him telling her to wait outside. Actress Connie Nielson—who plays Hippolyta—says of Diana, “When she walks into this room full of men, she doesn’t even realize that she’s not supposed to be in there.” It was so refreshing to see that. It was humorous to see her complete lack of experience with sexism, but in a very empowering way. It made me think that her disregard to it really shouldn’t be something funny; it’s sad that sexism is such an obvious part of our world that not knowing about it is humorous. On the other hand, making fun of misogyny and how bogus it is really does take power away from it.
In terms of intersectionality, I think the film could use some work. In Wonder Woman’s squad, there are two supporting actors of color. Their presence in the film is appreciated. Their characters were not exploitative or jokes. I know a couple people who dislike that they don’t have main parts and are rightfully skeptical of the franchise trying to use them to please a progressive audience. However, I also know people who are very grateful to have a presence at all in the movie. I personally think that it’s good; it’s a step forward. I also think that it’s good to criticize so that in the future, people of color can be more present and valuable in film.
All in all, I’m very happy for the existence of this movie. I trust Wonder Woman to contribute to a progressively more diverse and wholistic film world. I look forward to experiencing a more enriching variety of filmmakers in the future. I also look forward to feeling badass after watching more female superhero movies!