Wonder Woman deftly traverses the choppy waters between realism and heroism. It also traverses the mess that is modern day feminism. I’m incredibly pleased with it, though there are naysayers. What they fail to recognize, or refuse to recognize, is the way the movie highlights a distinctively feminine physicality, healthy gender complementarity, and the might of womanly compassion.
a) Some comments on Modern Feminism
While there are a slew of little articles discussing the feminism in the movie – mostly drawing attention to Diana being a well-drawn character and a few of the subverted sex jokes – there’s already a few more “substantive” articles deriding its failures as a feminist film. From wanting to make clear Wonder Woman is only a bodacious fantasy figure to complaining the movie wasn’t a “woke-feminist manifesto”, you’re already hearing the outcry. I would be willing to bet that the upcoming weeks are going to be finding more of this outcry gaining traction among the Ivory Tower sort as the movie breaks the box office and becomes a major part of the cultural landscape.
This isn’t surprising. Wonder Woman is definitely feminist in a certain fashion, but not in the fashion that is currently in charge of the intellectual institutions. For the modern feminist, feminine as a category needs to be relativized beyond recognition (a similar point is made about manhood – let’s not get my blood pressure up about that). Womanhood is whatever a woman deems it to be, one’s sex is radically fluid, and anything which dwells on the specifically feminine is probably sexist and misogynistic. Woman needs to be understood only in relation to other-woman, to the point that lesbianism is the model of proper womanhood. That Wonder Woman failed to indulge in this nonsense in long period among the all-female amazons is probably of great consternation to the feminist brahmins.
b) Feminine Physicality
So what is the feminism we see in Wonder Woman? From the beginning, the physicality of femininity is on display. The warrior culture of Themyscira cannot shy away from this, and while far tamer than the likes of Frank Miller’s 300, it similarly exposes and relishes in this physicality. It is a physicality that is distinctly feminine, though, highlighted by Zach Snyder’s trademark slowdown spectacle. Curves and grace, a lightness of step, an embodiment that manifests and highlights creation (see the horsemanship exhibited). It’s the sort of difference that is shown between male and female gymnasts. Both are graceful, but the quality of the female’s grace is of a whole new level.
And yes, one sees outliers, but they are just that. And even then, the most butch of women have a grace few men can mimic.
These scenes are especially poignant for what they do not become – fantasies of the male-gaze. We never witness an unnecessary bathing scene, lesbian moments, or in-training wardrobe malfunctions. I would disbelieve the claim these weren’t discussed, and I applaud the decision to leave them behind. Instead, we get a purer vision of feminine physicality which stirs far more the heart than the loins.