I think the most remarkably feminist concept behind Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is the fact that Diana Prince’s growth comes from a merging of both her feminine and masculine traits. In our society, which ridicules feminine traits and forces masculine ones on females for the sole presumption of coolness, Diana inhabits both as innate to her being. She fights and speaks up from a desire to help. She believes in the goodness of humans and the importance of love, all while without appearing weak. She has to learn to accept that evil comes not just from one singular villain but instead evil is an inherit part of being human. Something she acknowledges with compassion. Diana battles not from a place of just badassery but from the aspiration to release all from the sufferings of war.
However, despite wanting to enjoy the movie for it’s own sake I found that my brain couldn’t help implicitly try to see the cracks in this fully developed character. After years of seeing two-dimensional female characters mocked, I began automatically stereotyping Diana’s character development. Instead of witnessing a superhero discover the human race, I kept thinking about the feminine naivety of Diana and how a man has to inform her of how the world really works. If this were a male superhero, this would seem like a natural progression but the fact that Diana is a woman leads to her being pigeonholed her into an unnecessary gendered cliché.
It’s really such a disservice that feminine qualities have become so mimicked because this plotline is so much more interesting than most superhero films. I went into this movie expecting what most superhero movies have to offer: the ultimate embodiment of good fighting the ultimate embodiment of evil. A superhero has to face off against a villain. Period. Especially with the first film in a franchise, where the movie usually just serves as an introduction to the main character. Which in itself is fine, I’m not expecting profound ethical concerns every time I go see an action movie but this one actually got pretty deep. While it still wasn’t totally free of simplistic superhero morals, I have a lot of respect for this story making the divide between evil and good more complicated than most people want to believe. Considering the times we live in, I think it’s especially important to keep in mind that one man alone cannot make millions do evil; those millions have to have a little bit of evil within themselves to agree to go along with his ideas.
But I have to say that though I did love this movie I don’t think it completely lives up to its capabilities. For one thing, the racism and prejudice it employs for the three sidekicks, all of whom wear their nations’ traditional and often misunderstood clothing, shows an inability to fully envision visibility for all. Which I think this contradiction just shows how we can say we live by Wonder Woman’s ideals but don’t actually understand how to see others as flesh and blood human beings, probably best exemplified with Gal Gadot’s own anti-Palestine views.
I was also disappointed by the lack of bondage exploration. I would have liked to see a more feminist, modern dialogue on bondage. Updated as was done for James Bond, in Skyfall, with the homoerotic bondage scene. For there endures an essential bondage element to both the characters James Bond and Wonder Woman.
Finally, taking the good with the bad, I want to highlight the one moment that I feel truly captures Wonder Woman’s spirit. Walking along the busy streets of London, Diana stops to buy an ice cream cone from a vender. After a first taste her face melts into a blissful state as she praises, “You should be really proud of yourself”. Diana, a goddess and princess who is literally trying to save the world, sincerely and genuinely wants this man to know about the amazingness of his frozen creation. Which can be an extension of her belief in the importance of this one man’s place in the universe. Every person has a spark of divinity in them and they all deserve a chance to recognize their own light.