When is a human being most powerful? Does Wonder Woman show us what strength is, or does it give back to us what patriarchy and the white middle class have always said true strength is?
I have to admit that I haven’t seen the movie. But I’ve seen clips and read reviews, especially this article in Sojourners, entitled, “How ‘Wonder Woman’ Does Not Placate Audiences.” The author, like many, sees Wonder Woman as a feminist milestone, at least in part because “Jenkins [the director] shoots her heroine and her fellow Amazons, like male actions stars.” Wonder Woman “smashes through windows and beats back bullets as easily as any of her male counterparts….”
As I continue to reflect on the connection between love and power that I touched on in a previous post, I have two critical questions that Wonder Woman inspires:
One) Why is Wonder Woman white? Is feminist and divine power based in societal privilege? Though Gal Gadot is Jewish, and that’s good, viewers read “white” when they see her, much like we have white-washed Jesus throughout history. Harper’s Bazaar Magazine writer Cameron Glover says: “But the premiere of the Wonder Woman film is bittersweet for Black and other women of color, because even in this so-called ‘feminist’ film, erasure and a lack of inclusion is not only expected, but a given. When it comes to mainstream feminism, race and other identities often take a backseat to gender equality—and that simply isn’t good enough.”
The picture I chose for this post is meant to show a new image of a powerful woman, one of love-as-strength and strength-as-love, which women and men can both embrace. There are women warriors around the world who only a few see. They are often people of color who own little, and love anyway.
Two) Is Wonder Woman a female version of a male superhero, with too many of the patriarchal, violent ways of doing business? Having heard the stories of many refugees, I don’t want to completely blow off the idea of Wonder Woman’s mission. During a war, I imagine I would welcome salvation whether violent or not. Nonetheless, as a movie most of us watch in peaceful circumstances, Wonder Woman strikes me as similar to the violent, male-centered version of any other DC Comic movie.
Feminist scholar Carol Christ had this to say in a comment, responding to the article, “Saving Tomorrow: Wonder Woman and her Elevated Role in Shaping Our World”:
But do we really want anyone–male or female–to learn as a child that the way to be powerful is to kill the “other”? I do not. We need to change the paradigm. This apparently was what the original author of Wonder Woman set out to do.
My husband points out that the original Wonder Woman cartoons showed her having tools of power but never using violence. She’d turn the bad guys over to the cops. He thought, as a boy, that she wasn’t a real superhero due to that. But he sees now that was the paradigm of patriarchy.
As for the original amazingly feminist vision of Wonder Woman, a press release from the 1941 debut said this (from an article by expert Jill Lepore):
“‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston [a Harvard educated psychologist] to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men” because “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.” Marston put it this way: “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”
This new type of woman can know herself as powerful and embrace love as her strength. As Wonder Woman herself said, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”
What do you think? Have we moved forward with the new Wonder Woman movie or do patriarchy and white privilege remain unchallenged?