This summer, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman made history.
If for whatever reason, Marvel or DC decides that my life would make for an interesting superhero movie, the main character would be 16-year-old like any other 16-year old: fangirling, occasionally struggling with self esteem, discovering her identity, all the cliché stuff…and then one day she might wake up and realize that she has some Barbie-esque super power- one of her friendship bracelets is actually a weapon, or her Spotify playlist opens up to another dimension.
Wonder Woman, however, is a whole other story.
She can be brave, selfless, outspoken, witty, well-versed, and strong at the same time, all the while kicking ass wearing the most gorgeous armours ever.
As soon as this new blockbuster was released, with Patty Jenkins as director and the charming Gal Gadot as female lead, it took over social media by storm. It seems that all the controversy surrounding the movie before it was released has subsided, and the whole world is holding its breath watching Wonder Woman rise above the battle field and change the course of WWI.
Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, is now everyone’s queen, and the newest goddess of empowerment.
Wonder Woman indeed lives up to all the hype. I wouldn’t say it went above and beyond my expectations, but I got exactly what I wanted out of it: the liberating feeling that one can achieve anything- boy, girl, or anyone in between.
The movie follows Wonder Woman, Diana, from her unusual childhood growing up on an island that exists unaffected by time, and inhabited only by women, to her quest to kill Ares, the god of war, in order to stop WWI. The turning point comes when she rescues Steve, an American pilot who tells her about the war and is on his own mission to stop the war.
Even my parents, who do not fully understand or embrace the framework of feminism in Western media, greatly enjoyed the movie. That really shouldn’t be a surprise, since 10 minutes into the movie, the gender of the hero ceases to matter. What we have is a protagonist who is endearing and meanwhile inspiring as hell.
Gadot’s rendition of Wonder Woman is indeed everyone’s role model and dream boat at the same time.
What sets her apart from other female superheroes is that her identity is not attached to her femininity. She is free to be as sexy, courageous, bedazzling, bold and, in certain moments, despondent and shaken up as any movie character aspires.
The plot throws Diana in the patriarchal wartime Europe, but she moves through this new world with grace and dignity. Everything she does and says is commanding and confident, and while she is open-minded and has a big heart, she stands by her set of values and refuse to let anyone dictate what she does.
One of my favourite scenes is when she is sailing to London with Steve, and as Steve tells her that it’s not very common for a man and a woman who are unmarried to just sleep together, she shoots back that she has read all 12 volumes of Cleo’s treatises on body and pleasure. She then tells him that Cleo claims that while men are essential for procreation, they are unnecessary for things like bodily pleasure, leaving Steve speechless.
However, with her physique, intellect, compassion, intrepidity, honesty, optimism, charisma- the list never ends- is Wonder Woman perhaps too perfect that she is more of a triumph of imagination rather than a triumph of female empowerment?
Those are my doubts after the movie- Does a superheroine flying above No Man’s Land and singlehandedly winning a WWI battle sufficiently inspire badassery in real life? Is an immortal raised by female warriors relatable enough for women confronted by gender discrimination in all forms?
If you compare the typical Hollywood superheroes with Jenkin’s Wonder Woman, they seem to each have a darker backstory- they lose their loved ones, are somehow disabled in an accident, or go through some existential crisis. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, had a perfect childhood, and her risking her life to save the human race was really a choice: Apart from the fact that she is to some extent the “chosen one”, the “God killer”, she didn’t have to leave her island.
Another difference is that Wonder Woman emerges triumphant in every scene. She is never shaken up. She has no trouble getting what she wants and proving her worth in whatever mission they go on. Even when she is having a crisis, she questions anyone but herself. She fights for one noble cause, and the rest of the world can’t take its eyes off her.
So one might might that Wonder Woman had it easy.
But who said she is obligated to have a heartrending backstory, or a shattering existential crisis? For too long, women have been allowed to be anything but in charge of their fate in movies and TV shows. They have had all types of tragic backstories but no liberty to emerge a star and be in charge of their own destiny.
So really, a female superhero that isn’t tied down by any traumatizing past experience is not a luxury, but a necessity. The victimization of women is so prevalent in the texts and movies we consume, that we really deserve a heroine who is free to wear whatever she wants without worrying that it’s “sexualized”, and do whatever she wants without fearing that she’s being too reckless.
Rather than a heroine grounded in reality, Wonder Woman is our wildest dream that represents a reality that we deserve. She doesn’t teach us how to “deal with” the glass ceiling, and the often cold, harsh truths of women’s everyday life. Instead, she shows us what we should aspire to be.
She tells us that it’s okay to be naïve, and that as long as we are working towards our vision, it’s okay to kick some ass, smash whatever gender norms that come our way, and even have some fun.