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Why I’m behind the feminism of Wonder Woman

Jun. 21, 2017
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“Wonder Woman” is principally a superhero movie, and it fulfills the demands of the genre. But unlike many other superhero films, whose formulaic approach to characterization and plot have become tedious over the years, Wonder Woman has built off the feminist movement to provide something more to viewers than a heroic, masculine film. It’s been lauded as the first feminist superhero film with a female lead that’s not only strong, but who also walks through the human world blissfully unaware of what she may and may not do in our society. She steps into an all-male government meeting, she carries a sword on the streets, and she naively she asks Steve (her love interest) when he respectfully won’t sleep next to her if it’s because the average man does not sleep.  

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman strikes a balance between innocence and purpose. And her ignorance of societal gender roles doesn’t stop at being merely endearing--during the No Man’s Land trench fight, it becomes empowering as well. She’s determined to help win the battle because it’s the right thing to do, even though Steve tells her it’s impossible to move between the trenches. She walks up the ladder, and inspires the other men to follow her across the field. 

Many women have said they cried during this fight scene, because it was the first time they saw an empowered women on screen.

This feminist take on the genre is a huge relief following Black Widow’s role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where, despite Johansen’s skill as an actress, her character was domesticated as she spent the movie flirting with men and made a quip about how she “always picks up after the boys” when she grabbed Captain America’s shield off the ground. Johansen’s coworkers inappropriately sexualized her character during the press tour, and to make matters worse, Black Widow wasn’t included in the action figure packs for the movie. Overall, Age of Ultron  was a large feminist disappointment, especially coming from director Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy.

Granted, Wonder Woman has its less inspiring moments, and in that way, I sympathize with the film’s feminist critics. Though Gal Gadot stands at a remarkable 5’10” and won Miss Israel in 2004, the male characters in the movie make a distracting amount of references to her beauty, to which I simply rolled my eyes by the 10th comment. It may have been intended to serve as comic relief, but it made me wish for a film that didn’t have to point out its main character’s gender every few minutes. Though I don’t think these comments ruin the film’s feminist standing, especially when compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the writing feels outdated. 

Buffy’s feminism comes from the fact that there were so few references made to her gender as the superhero; Buffy simply was the slayer (actually, all slayers in the Buffyverse are women). She didn’t need men hitting on her at inappropriate times to remind us she was a woman. Buffy’s challenge was not about overcoming what women can and cannot do, but rather the lessons learned growing up and the pain one inevitably feels during their lifetime. In many ways, the demons in Buffy serve as metaphors for the personal demons one fights throughout their life: depression, loneliness, break ups, death, and greed, to name a few. Buffy’s characterization rarely referenced her sex unless it was necessary to character development. 

Buffy was the first female superhero I saw on screen as a child, and I’ll never forget that her battle was about the loneliness of being the slayer, not the difficulty of being a woman. 

Despite this vital difference between Buffy and Wonder Woman, I think the new Wonder Woman’s feminism is monumental: it’s a film with a mostly female cast, a female director, and a superwoman that delights the people around her with more than just her good looks. It was the first Hollywood superhero blockbuster that depicted a woman with a fully-formed, three-dimensional personality. Since Buffy came almost two decades earlier, Wonder Woman can’t claim to have introduced a groundbreaking depiction of a woman. What Wonder Woman did do is did bring this representation of women to a wider audience, and introduce it to an industry that sees much less of this type of woman (as in, a woman as a person) than we’d like.

To the reviews that say the movie was trash or wasn’t feminist enough, I must respond by saying sometimes it feels misplaced to criticize art made by women and about women with great intentions and near-flawless execution. Feminism has many more battles ahead, but I don’t think there’s a fight to be had with Wonder Woman. Seeing this movie I felt a certain, rare awe seeing how far we’ve come for women’s rights.