Let’s talk about Wonder Woman. Please note: This post comes with spoilers.
Before watching the movie on Friday, I avoided reading any commentary about the film because I wanted to be unswayed by critics who might have accidentally passed me a pair of rose-colored glasses to wear before entering the theater. Gal Gadot’s smile was already enough to have me seeing pink hearts whenever anything remotely related to Wonder Woman came up.
Unfortunately, just a day after watching the film and delving into critique of the movie, all of my first impressions — even those about Gadot’s beautiful smile — have been challenged.
I would first like to clarify that I did enjoy the film. There were plenty of beautiful, badass women (Robin Wright, aka Buttercup from The Princess Bride) kicking ass and looking graceful as all heck. For a large part of the film, I definitely had this smile of childish awe on my face because I was just so enamored by all the women looking so sexy, powerful, and inspiring up there on screen. (You can ask Candle Boy for confirmation.)
Yes, of course it’s completely ridiculous to fight a war in armor that covers about the same amount of your skin as does a dress you might wear clubbing. But there’s also a form of power to be found in this lack of clothing.
The fact that these powerful women choose to go into physical battle with such little clothing reveals that they are not ashamed of their bodies. The Amazons know that their bodies are strong, powerful, and beautiful, and they’re unafraid of displaying this. They serve as an example of what all women should be able to experience: a sense of confidence and pride in their bodies and the ways they present themselves.
That being said, however, now that I’ve had some time to put my own glasses back on and return the pink hearts to where they rightfully belong with Candle Boy and Harry Styles, I have my own concerns.
For the love interest of the film, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) had an inordinate amount of screen time — as did many of the other secondary characters in this film. I appreciated that Steve wasn’t merely reduced to being a plot point, as many female love interests are in male superhero films, and I recognize his importance to Diana’s origin story, but I don’t think he deserved all the attention he was afforded.
Trevor does recognize that he is Diana’s sidekick and remains faithful to Diana’s mission, even if he doesn’t always believe it himself. When Diana insists on “going to the front,” he tells her it’s a terrible idea, but pledges his allegiance to her and finds other men to also support her. After Diana crosses No Man’s Land (#iconic) and takes decisive charge after arriving at the village, Trevor grants Diana this leadership.
But embedded alongside these moments are also ones where Trevor was reluctant to let go of his authority. During the fight in the alleyway, when Diana was quiet and nimble, Trevor made an overly grand show of punching just one man in the face to end the fight. This was something Diana could have done herself, far too easily, so Trevor’s move feels like a slight to Diana.
From another vantage point, the look Trevor sends Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief when Diana commands them to follow her into the village can also be interpreted as, “I don’t know why she’s taking charge, but we might as well just follow her since she got us here.” It’s impossible to be certain what Trevor’s sentiments are at this moment, because he doesn’t utter a word.
These are slight offenses, to be sure, but when they continue to appear in a film that’s trying to be feminist, it feels odd. These shows of male reluctance to follow women or general male bravado happen so commonly in many women’s daily lives. Shouldn’t these have been the moments that most certainly should not have made it into this film?
Anna North, a writer for The New York Times also notes that the light, humorous objectification of Trevor’s body is “playful and self-aware,” as well as “a welcome break from the culture that frequently lays the heavy burden of hotness on women.”
I do agree; it was incredibly refreshing to watch a film during which I didn’t have to roll my eyes at any side boob shots (like I always seem to be doing on Black Widow’s behalf, particularly in Captain America: The Winter Soldier). It’s clear that director Patty Jenkins went out of her way to ensure that her camera didn’t place a woman at the center of the male gaze in this film.
That being said, I do not view lightly the objectification of Trevor’s body, nor his and Diana’s conversation about “pleasures of the flesh.” Threaded throughout these interactions was still evidence of the male ego. Most notably, the male ego as it related to the size of his penis.
When Diana walks in on Trevor bathing in the hot springs, she asks, genuinely and innocently, if he is average for men. Trevor chuckles, “I’m above average.” This is meant as a joke, a sort of humble brag that reveals his modesty, but I merely found this irritating — especially after watching Diana and Trevor’s interaction on the boat later.
During the two’s thinly veiled conversation about sex, Diana makes it abundantly clear that she’s read 12 volumes about “pleasures of the flesh” and states very matter of factly that these volumes allowed her to conclude that men were necessary for reproductive means, but unnecessary for pleasure. It’s a statement that causes Trevor to go quiet, for good reason.
I loved this dialogue. Diana’s conclusion about men being unnecessary for sexual pleasure not only suggests that sexual and/or romantic relationships happen between Amazon women, but also implies that women can — and should — take charge of their enjoyable sexual experiences. Sexual pleasure does not revolve around men, which is so often how sex is portrayed in contemporary society.
After some time to process though, the tones of these two scenes don’t seem like they should fit within the space of the same film.
I do not find fault with Diana asking more about men’s bodies, given that Trevor is the only man she’s ever seen. I do, however, find it unnecessary for Trevor to so literally assert his manhood in the space of this film — especially since Diana does later sleep with him.
The commentary about Trevor’s size and their following sexual interaction undermine the strength of Diana’s personal conclusion about sex. Although Diana claims that women don’t need men, she’s still seen as succumbing to that traditional, heteronormative structure within her own film, where she’s meant to empower women, challenge deeply entrenched sexist interactions, and strengthen the feminist cause.
If any of us dare to claim that we’re strong, independent women who don’t need men, then Wonder Woman, of all women, doesn’t need a man.