Since her introduction through DC Comics by William Marston in 1941 (Hanley 14)the superhero Wonder Woman has been an icon for female empowerment, embodying the inner strength of women everywhere. She was created during a time of severe inequality between the sexes and women’s oppression. As she was not only a princess but the most powerful warrior among her people, Wonder Woman ignored typical gender expectations at the time. Her comics demonstrated the eternal power every woman and girl had and not only suggested equality but completely obliterated the notion that women were lesser in any way (Hanley 11 (Intro) )While the underlying intentions of her character remain true, in more recent years, depictions of the character had become more sexualized which decreased her valour (Irwin and Held 68). Wonder Woman faded into an old television show character from the 1970s (Hanley 217) and a character who was previously associated with feminism. However, the 2017 Wonder Woman film has done wonders to revitalize the character in a way that makes her more relatable to women and girls. This film has given the character a platform for issues that are relevant, and this has resulted in the character transforming into a more accurate feminist icon today.
Though Wonder Woman comics continued being published, there was an absence of the character in television and film. Regardless, the character continued to be a nostalgic icon for female empowerment. Realizing this, in 2015, the United Nations hosted its annual Summit. At this summit, seventeen goals for sustainable development were approved in January of 2016. The United Nations hoped that the implementation of these goals would force countries to maximize work in fighting poverty, climate change, and inequality, and make successful changes by 2030 (The United Nations ) . While gender equality has always been fought for and progress indeed has been made, many women and girls around the world continue suffering discrimination, discernment, and violence. In response to this continued struggle, the United Nations made their fifth goal out of their seventeen targeted towards gender equality, and more specifically, female empowerment (The United Nations ) . In October of 2016, Wonder Woman, the iconic female superhero, was named the representing ambassador for the fifth goal put in place by the United Nations (The United Nations) .
Cristina Gallach, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Representative, stated, “It is an example of how we are working with diverse partners and making new alliances to reach out to audiences everywhere to know about and understand the Goals, and, in this case, about gender equality,”, in regard to the partnership between the United Nations partnership with DC and Warner Bros (The United Nations) . This movement was wholeheartedly supported by Warner Brothers Studios and DC Entertainment. Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment and of Warner Bros. Consumer Products stated, “Supporting the United Nations campaign for female empowerment is a weighty responsibility and one that all of us at DC and Warner Bros. are proud to take on.” (The United Nations) . Wonder Woman was chosen as the ambassador for such a powerful movement because her physical strength and desire for justice represented the key focuses of the campaign impeccably; the key focuses being talking about restrictions on women and girls, fighting violence and abuse based on gender, supporting gender equality, and being a voice for women and girls in the real world, fighting to make a difference every day (The United Nations) . But unexpectedly, the decision faced mass criticism.
Even though Wonder Woman had been long associated as being a symbol for female empowerment, her more recent depictions articulated her in a more sexualized way. Contributing to the backlash was her unrealistic and near unachievable beauty which failed in making her relatable to everyday, real-life women and girls. Just as quickly as the character obtained the ambassadorship, it was revoked (Roberts).
Unfortunately, these criticisms of the character were held by many. She was a bold fantasy figure and a sex icon directed towards men. Though that was not the original intent of the character. Wonder Woman was created by a William Marston in 1941 (Hanley 14 )She was fashioned during the midst of World War Ⅱ during a time when women were told they did not have a place in society. As stated previously, not only was she a princess but she was also the most powerful woman amongst her people. This character defied gender expectations at the time and was the perfect icon for female empowerment. Come the 1950s Wonder Woman wanted to lead a normal life and come the 1960s she gave up her superpowers (Hanley 11 (Intro)) The 1960s saw the beginning o the Women’s Liberation Movement (Litherland), and the most iconic female superhero was not present. In the 1970s, Wonder Woman made it to the small screen, being depicted by Lynda Carter (Hanley 217). The television show did not hold the message of female empowerment, but instead the superiority and distinct features of Wonder Woman as a character herself. The qualities that had been previously associated with the character had been altered in the television show, altering her strength as unattainable and turning her into a role model that no woman or girl could ever emulate (Hanley 169). After the television series came to an end, Wonder Woman did not appear onscreen until 2017. The Patty Jenkins directed rendition of Wonder Woman came into theatres in 2017 and was the biggest blockbuster film directed by a woman, earning over one-hundred million dollars in the films opening weekend (Nash Information Services). This was also the first D.C. film released that year. In this film Wonder Woman is proven to be the ideal feminist icon; embodying justice, peace, and a feminine sense of emotional intelligence which is combined with the characters classic heroine qualities such as strength and nobility.
The film begins with a modern Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, reflecting on her childhood. Diana grew up among the Amazons on the island Themyscira. Themyscira was formed by Zeus as a sanctuary for the all-female warrior society, where they could live, and train in preparation for the inevitable return of Hades (Jenkins 00:06:15 – 0:09:05). Though, their lives on the island was viewed as peaceful, being compared to that of paradise (Jenkins 00:09:00 – 0:09:05) On Themyscira, in a society free from misogyny’s influence, Diana’s upbringing and education were not influenced, or governed by gender roles. Therefore, Diana does not understand the concept of the supposed difference between men and women, and what they are or are not supposed to do. The only argument regarding Diana’s upbringing and future role is between Hippolyta, and Antiope; her mother and aunt. Her mother knows that Diana is not a typical Amazon and has worries that if she trains as a warrior, it will be much easier for Ares to locate her; as she is the god-killer and is destined to end his torment. Her aunt thinks that Diana should be equipped and trained, and she will only be truly protected from Ares if she is prepared to take him on (Jenkins 00:10:40 – 00:12:32). Eventually they agree, and Diana begins her rigorous training.
Throughout her training, Antiope repeats the phrase, “You’re stronger than this, Diana.” (Jenkins 00:13:27 – 00:13:30), whenever she falters. Not only did Diana grow up in a world free from the influence of sexism, but she grew up with constant reaffirmations of her strength and capability. Diana is strong, compassionate, and is secure in her identity. This goes to show what little girls would have to gain if they too grew up in a world free of the distortion sexism brings to society.
Diana’s compassion is the main characteristic of her personality that makes her the most relatable to women. Not only her compassion, but her empathy truly shows when Steve Trevor, an American spy and pilot crash lands on Themyscira (Jenkins 00:15:30 ). After he reveals the news of World War I, Diana decides to leave with him sure she can stop the conflict, convinced that it is Ares influence on the German people that has caused the war (Jenkins 00:28:12 – 00:35:50).
Diana and Steve begin their venture from Themyscira to London, England by boat. On their journey, Diana goes into more detail on the Amazon’s duty which is ridding the world of Ares. She explains to Steve, “The God of War is our responsibility. Only an Amazon can defeat him. With this (referring to the weapon). And once I do, the war will end.” (Jenkins 00:39:37 – 00:39:53).
Steve responds to Diana saying, “Look, I appreciate your spirit, but this war is… It’s a great big mess. And there’s not a while lot that you and I can do about that. I mean, we can get back to London, and try to get to the men who can.” (Jenkins 00:39:55 – 00:40:10 )
Diana immediately counters Steve with, “I am the man who can!” (Jenkins 00:40:10 – 00:40:12). Not only does this support Diana’s assurance in her ability, but this also shows her obliviousness towards the societal views during the time she was about to be introduced to; which also is relatable to young girls today.
Arriving in London, Diana has her first experiences seeing a new place, a human baby, ice-cream, and a society that deems her unworthy of equality. Before going to see Steve’s superiors regarding his intel, Diana and Steve meet with Etta Candy, Steve’s secretary. During their introductions (Jenkins 00:48:51 – 00:49:03), Diana asks for the definition of what a secretary is. Etta explains, “Ooh! Well, I do everything. I go where he tells me to go, and I do what he tells me to do.” Diana seems shocked by this, and expresses her distaste, expressing that a secretary’s job sounds like slave-labour.
Not only is she unimpressed by Etta’s position, she is similarly unimpressed with the female clothing style of the time. While examining a corset, Diana questions Etta, if this is the type of armor they are made to wear here in this country. Etta explains that no, corsets are not armor; they are tools used to keep women’s tummies in (Jenkins 00:49:14 – 00:49:27). Diana does not understand this, and questions as to why, to which Etta does not have a legitimate response. While trying on clothing, Diana complains about how physically uncomfortable it is to wear (Jenkins 00:50:15 – 00:15:18), expressing that it is tight, itchy, and choking her. Diana, utterly flustered with the limitations the clothing has on her physically, asks Etta, ‘How can a woman possibly fight in this?’
Etta replies, “Fight? We use our principles. I mean, that’s how we’re going to get the vote. Although, I am not opposed to engaging in a bit of fisticuffs, should the occasion arise.’ (Jenkins 00:49:45 – 00:50:10). Diana cannot fathom the absurdity in this world around her. The notion that women must physically manipulate their bodies for fashion is absurd. The idea that a clearly capable woman such as Etta, who is a suffragette no less, is spending her time servicing the needs of a man is absurd. A female being valued less, is an absurd concept altogether, and Diana’s reactions to seeing the inequality of the sexes encourages and reminds women today to feel the same way.
Diana’s frustration with her poor treatment is most evident in the scene where she enters the war room. She is angered by the treatment she receives by even being in the room overall. During a meeting regarding the intel Steve collected on Dr. Maru’s technologies, and Ludendorff’s plans, a general decides that nothing can be done with what information they have. Diana is utterly outraged. She yells in response to the lack of action that it not only despicable, but unthinkable, and ultimately confusing (Jenkins 00:59:00 – 00:59:33). Diana questions the general with, “You would knowingly sacrifice all those lives, as if they mean less than yours! As if they mean nothing?’. She does not understand the lack of care, the lack of interest in this war the superiors seem to have. Diana also cannot fathom the idea of a general hiding behind a desk, and not fighting alongside their soldiers (Jenkins 00:59:00 – 00:59:36).
Eventually, and finally in Diana’s case, she and Steve along with their newfound team make it to front. Certain members of the team make comments demeaning Diana’s abilities simply based on her gender, before they even enter the battlefield (Jenkins 01:03:39 – 01:03:41). Diana has to physically prove her strength, by throwing a grown man across a room (Jenkins 01:03:42 – 01:03:50), for the team to even consider her to be capable of being there. After the physical altercation, one member of the team notes that he is afraid, but physically aroused (Jenkins 01:03:57 – 01:04:00). Her power, though intimidating, makes her appear more as physically attractive, than as threat. In today’s day and age, female military soldiers often endure the same treatment. In Heroines of Comic Books and Literature: Portrayals in Popular Culture, Maja Bajac-Carter compares Diana’s, and other comic book heroines, treatment to that of modern female soldiers stating, “Female soldiers communicate and negotiate the specific challenges encountered in their daily lives, combat operations, sexism and patriarchy in the military, sexual assault and violence, and occupational/organizational challenges.” (Bajac-Carter, Espinoza and Jones 73). This makes Diana an even more fit, and accurate representative for women who face such discrimination everyday, as she faces the ridicule, yet, endures.
When finally entering battlefield, Diana’s reaction to the destruction, and the horrors of war are not like most action heroes. She does not revel in the violence or express her desire to fight; she is disgusted. After talking to a woman, who lost everything and is taking refuge in the barracks, Diana’s mission shifts. Diana in this moment, does not want to strictly to follow her mission of defeating Ares, but wants to help those who are not able to fight for themselves (Jenkins 01:12:57 – 01:14:17 ) . Though Steve argues with her and explains that saving everyone is not what they came here to do, but Diana has an obvious revelation and replies. “No. But it is what I’m going to do.” (Jenkins 01:14:14 – 01:14:17). Diana’s obvious empathy, and desire to help those around her, is her greatest quality. Empathy is a very feminine quality and attribute; and that is her hidden, and most unique superpower.
Patty Jenkin’s, and actress Gal Gadot, did such a wonderful job of developing the character in a way that displays the power in being a woman. Diana continued to fight alongside men, and against men, and was never intimidated or beaten down, ultimately beating Ares, and unleashing her inner Goddess (Jenkins 02:06:02 – 02:06:10). This film has revamped the character in a way that connects women to her, and to her experience. This version of Wonder Woman has completely transformed the character into a true, and more accurate feminist icon; a true ambassador for female empowerment, with a label or without.
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