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.








Angels for A Capitalist Agenda: The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show


Victoria’s Secret has been gearing up for their 2016 fashion show all year. On Wednesday evening, the models strutted down the runway at the Grand Palais in Paris, one the fashion capitals of the world. The event gains a massive amount of media coverage every year, resulting large viewing audiences. This year, the show is expected to reach over 800 million people in more than 190 countries. With such a wide audience, Victoria’s Secret attempts to market their fashion show as an empowering experience for women all over the world. However, formulating female empowerment by portraying women as active, desiring sexual subjects not only encourages an objectification of women through the male gaze but also creates an expectation for women to enjoy their own objectification. The commonality of using hypersexualized “empowered” women in media and advertising is an extremely problematic post-feminist mantra that is used and abused over and over again in our modern capitalist society.

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is marketed as an opportunity to view women that represent the pinnacle of western idealized beauty, setting a standard that is impossible for most women to meet, therefore encouraging women to “self-police” their appearance according to absurd standards. According to Olivier Rousteing, a renowned fashion designer who turned out for the event, the show includes “a wonderful mix of pop culture and fashion” (Isaac-Goize). He went on to note, “Here you have the most beautiful women in the world daring to show how powerful, sexy and confident women can be, in all their diversity” (Isaac-Goize). According to the thought process that fashion designers and promoters of the show want customers to buy into, feeling sexy should be something every woman is able to participate in. Victoria’s Secret offers women this opportunity through the consumers’ choice to purchase part of the fashion line. However, this discourse creates issues for women. As Rosalind Gill writes in “Supersexualize Me!,” “A notion of women as completely free agents who just ‘please themselves’ – does not serve feminist of cultural understandings well” (282). Gill goes on to note that, “the emphasis upon choice sidesteps and avoids all the important and difficult questions about how socially constructed ideals of beauty are internalized and made our own” (282). “Choice” therefore, is an illusion created by media and advertising to convince female consumers to participate in a society that actively sells and exploits a hyper-sexualized and exclusive female body.

Victoria’s Secret’s portrayal of the fashion show as an “empowering” experience ultimately works to convince potential customers that sexual objectification of oneself can give one power. However, this power is only able to reach the desires of heterosexual men. Edward Razek is the executive producer of the show and chief marketing officer of creative services at Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret. According to him, “It’s a celebration of powerful women by powerful women who work very hard at what they do, live a healthy life and inspire legions of admirers. It speaks to diversity in a number of ways, as well as free-spiritedness” (Isaac-Goize). The idea of women’s power stemming from their sexual desire is a concept that has been determining female worth long before the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show began. In Laurie Ouellette’s “Inventing the Cosmo Girl” Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief Helen Brown was quoted in 1962 saying, “Sex is a powerful weapon of a single woman in getting what she wants from life” (266). This attitude of treating sex as a commodity exchange limits female potential for upward mobility to relying on men by fulfilling their sexual desires and expectations. Therefore, Victoria’s Secret’s promotion of “female power” is not about the women at all, but instead stems from the idea that women hold sexual power over men, that can be taken advantage of through self-sexualization and objectification. In accordance with this attitude towards female power, Ouellette mentions, “Expenditures on clothing, cosmetics, and accessories were presented as necessary investments in the construction of a desirable self” (262). By buying into the Victoria’s Secret franchise, women have the opportunity to dress up their full feminine potential with lace, ribbon, and sparkle.

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show reinforces unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies and reduces them to sex objects while veiling this agenda under the disguise of “female empowerment.” Unfortunately, this is a common marketing strategy adopted by modern media and advertising to further capitalistic agendas. Although mega-corporations like Victoria’s Secret are not going to give up this strategy despite the negative effects it has on its target customers, it is important that consumers are able to recognize the manipulative way media tries to brand hyper-sexualization as harmless. By acknowledging this dangerous discourse, women can alleviate their own self-critical gaze while continuing to fight back against the omnipresent male-gaze that media also relies on.

Reconstructing Netflix’s House of Cards

"Success success in politics should be attributed to intelligence and hard work."

“Success success in politics should be attributed to intelligence and hard work.”

“It is not simply the appearance and practice of male power which is most problematic, but rather the constant subversive denigration of feminine traits and their place in politics.  The result of such romanticized masculine power is the legitimation of dominance exerted over those embodying any hint of femininity.”
—Joseph Loyacono Bustos, Annalise Grigereit, Gabbie Pucciarelli, Lauren Robinson, Olivia Steveson

The Original House of Cards Promotional Poster
House of Cards

“Not only does Frank embody such a form of masculinity, but he utilizes its privilege to work his way up in the political sphere.  The character of Frank reinforces stereotypes of masculinity by being represented as manipulative and determined in his grab for power.”

The Original House of Cards Trailer

“Are the women actually comparable to the men in terms of power and influence?  Or as Rosenberg suggests, is the show too concerned with “insisting that all female journalists are sleeping their way to the top” to recognize real life discrepancies in male-female job ratios in the realm of politics and journalism?  This sexualization of women asserts the sexualized body as a crux of feminine power, reinforcing the inability of women to transcend their role as sexual objects.”

The Revised House of Cards Trailer

“Hegemonic structures insinuate that power must be both dominating and physical, and above all, exemplified by the domination of those less powerful than you.  Our goal was to highlight the arbitrary nature of such a power construct, portraying power that instead, is earned by hard work and intelligence.”