Wonder Woman: A Feminist Hero?

By Emmy Heyman

The recently released Wonder Woman film has gained great acclaim in the media for its portrayal and inclusion of a female leading lady. This superhero action film has challenged mainstream superhero flicks with its nod to feminism. The film tells the DC Comic story of Wonder Woman, an Amazonian goddess who leaves her island home to fight in the World War and combat Ares (Zeus’ son). The protagonist in the film, and the director, are both women; a rare situation in Hollywood. The trailer that advertises this film reflects multiple feminist choices made throughout the film. However, there are still areas of concern; the gendered portrayal of Diana (Wonder Woman), and the violent domination of men still permeate the story. The story, as evident in the trailer, resists hegemonic characteristics of Hollywood films, most notably with the inclusion of a female superhero, but still perpetuates dominant messages of beauty, agency, and gendered play.

The trailer opens with shots of Diana’s bare legs before we see her face. The audience gazes at the female lead from the bottom up, similar to how I would predict a man would check a woman out. This imagery sexualizes her from the get-go; by putting emphasis on her body, the trailer perpetuates the objectification of women and their bodies. Caputi discusses in The Pornography of Everyday Life, that women are objectified, via gender pornography, when they are “in a state of partial or even total undress, and what [they do] wear is coded as sexually alluring,” (375). The Wonder Woman costume that Diana wears is snug against her bodice and quite revealing. Later in the trailer Diana is taken to buy new clothing. She is seen trying on typical female business attire and she questions how she is supposed to fight in such an outfit. It is possible to view this segment as Diana conforming to gender norms by wearing female clothing that will inhibit her to fight, a traditional male activity. However, this scene can also be interpreted to view Diana as trying to resist and question hegemonic ideas surrounding female activities and garb, as evidenced by her questioning.

I understand movies as painting Heroes and Heroines as good, attractive, and powerful figures. This movie, for better or for worse, does not disrupt this image. Additionally, Wonder Woman furthers the “beauty myth”: “a homogenization of the desired female “look,” (Lemish 427). I see this unattainable female image overrepresented in today’s media as women who are tall, thin, and white, all characteristics that Diana embodies.

Diana further acts as a vehicle to challenge the dominant narratives around violent play and war. Schut and Bertozzi discuss how violent play, and violent games, are spheres dominated by men. The users and creators of violent video games “have a strongly masculine history that still manifests itself,” and if women enter this field, they are outnumbered, and not taken seriously (Schut 485). The subordination and weakness of women is implicit in the common remark, “you play like a girl.” Wonder Woman subverts this idea by having the prominent fighting character be a female superhero; “When a female steps onto the playing field as an equal, it is disruptive to deeply engrained cultural norms,” (Bertozzi 495). Diana resists the idea that men are the only players of war games. However, when Diana leaves the utopian island she grew up on, she is surrounded by the reality that men are the ultimate fighters. Therefore, while her participation in combat goes against the tradition that men are warriors, the trailer paints her as a fish out of water, as she is the only woman. It does not construct a society which is equally full of male and female fighters. I see the warrior plotline having a drawback; perhaps Diana’s participation in combat presents the message that for women to be taken seriously or to participate in a male dominated arena, they need to fight or prove themselves to male standards. Having a role model aggress towards men might perpetuate violence and aggression among girls. Furthermore, the film reiterates that play is male dominated in the real world, whereas in Diana’s utopian (fantasy) island women can be in charge.

Diana’s entrance into combat is presented as less of an individual struggle, and more for the benefit of society, a refreshing storyline and motive that deviates from traditional children’s movies. Artz concludes that in many Disney films “leading characters thoroughly shred any semblance of collective interest,” (453). This resistance to individualism is seen in the trailer as Diana helps Chris Pine’s character end the war. Yet, in the trailer we also see Diana asks her mother, “who will I be if I stay?” indicating that she is primarily going on a quest for her own benefit. Thus, her character is partially self-driven, a flaw in many children’s films, rather than promoting social responsibility.

The Wonder Woman trailer does a great job of showing how the film attempts to disrupt hegemonic themes typically found in the media. While there are several narratives that still promote dominant ideals, such as the sexualization of women, and the domination of men in combat, drastic strides have been made to equalize the playing field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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