I saw Wonder Woman last night, and I really liked it. And I hate superhero movies, generally. Here are some reasons I liked it.
Growing up fat but athletic (yeah) and not pretty, Femininity has never been a place I belong, if you will. If women in movies are strong and athletic and pretty, they’re also sad and damaged. This has never really motivated me to want to relate to women superheroes. I’ve never related to a woman character in a movie before and i’m not sure if i necessarily do to any in Wonder Woman either, but it has definitely struck me differently.
In my upcoming NetFlakes podcast on The Fifth Element I talk about the portrayal of strong women as being strong insofar as they are sexy, and that once their strength eclipses their sexiness, their womanhood is erased entirely. (This is especially interesting in a movie about a creature that is actually genderless in regards to the concept of the gender binary but stay tuned for the podcast for more on that.)
Fifth Element Case in point: the idea of this woman pretending to be our hero’s wife is a joke because despite being strong and capable, she is not sexy. Therefore she might as well not be a woman.
One of my criticisms of Wonder Woman was that I didn’t see enough buff warriors but clearly they were there but too briefly. Obviously these women are still beautiful and supposed to look beautiful, but they look unlike other “strong” women superheroines. They’re beefier. And they’re also happy to be beefier. (I really want the Amazons to have their own movie so these women can have more screen time.)
So the body diversity is better, but can always improve. But what struck me even more was that these characters are proud to be strong. They’re kind and compassionate and just happy.
Diana is unlike all other women superheroes I know of in that she isn’t angry or damaged, and her attractiveness doesn’t come from being damaged or needing emotional saving despite being physically capable.
Diana’s male counterparts quickly realize she’s the far more capable fighter and never demean her for it. Her romantic interest respects her; he isn’t waiting to show her that she needs him in order to establish a power imbalance in his favour. And Etta, the plus-size non-Amazonian woman, doesn’t resent her for being beautiful or strong or capable. They establish a friendship, not a rivalry. This is because Diana is written to be happy, kind, and compassionate, instead of the usual woman superhero schtick.
In every other superhero movie I’ve seen, the strong and capable woman must also be unhappy. Her strength comes from a traumatic past. I don’t want to pity the circumstances that drove a woman to be strong and capable. All that says is that once a man takes care of her, she can quit this life she never wanted. Diana was raised amongst a loving family who helped her become strong and capable and let her choose her destiny and follow her own path. This is way, way way too rare amongst women characters in action movies. Strong women are always strong out of necessity because of trauma and often talk about how they wish their lives were different. Except Diana and the Amazons. Diana chooses to fight when staying home would have been easier. No other woman superhero in a movie that I know of gets to choose. Being proud of strength, choosing her own life direction, and acting instead of reacting are elements that are far too seldom (if ever) equated with femininity in popular media. I talk about this lack of agency in women superheroes in my The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo podcast. Reacting to harm isn’t the same as choosing to fight.
Wonder Woman is proud to be and chooses to be strong;
Other women superheroes are strong because something sad happened to them;
More women characters with the agency to choose to be strong without having to be sad/damaged or sexually useful, please.