Originally posted June 30, 2017
Yesterday I saw Wonder Woman for the third time. It’s definitely my favourite movie in a long while—and I watch a lot of movies. And it’s Wonder Woman that I’m here to talk about today!
Spoilers ahead for Wonder Woman. You have been warned.
A while ago, I saw Digital Spy arguing that, because of Steve Trevor’s role, Diana isn’t the hero in her own movie. This post discusses how Steve could have been cut from the movie. I’m not addressing Digital Spy directly, here, but I will be talking about that view of the movie. To be honest, I’m afraid I think that that view of the film rather misses the point. Not to mention that this film has some great messages.
So, let’s get into this.
First things first, I will say that the film could have worked without Steve. It could. But that’s a different debate, because I’m talking specifically about the argument that the movie is flawed because of him—because he prevents her from being the hero. In a way I’ve actually come around to agreeing with this, but it’s a strength of the film. She doesn’t need to be the one, sole hero because being a hero is part of what the film has to teach us.
Let’s quickly break down what we learn in the last part of the film. After killing Ludendorff fails to end the War, Steve (a character I adore please thanks) gives us this: He wishes that he could say there’s one villain to blame, but we—humanity as a whole—might all be to blame for what’s happening. Then appears Ares, the tired, bitter man who wants humanity to destroy itself, to reaffirm this. He may have given humans ideas for weapons and poisons, but the choice to use them was humanity’s.
We all know the superhero set up. A villain sets out to cause chaos or take over the world and the hero stops them. Wonder Woman diverges from this, and does so brilliantly. Yes, we have Ares. Yes, Diana defeats him. But as she tells us, she’s learned that there is light and dark in every human. It’s our choice which path to walk. A superhero, even one badass as Diana, can’t overcome this core aspect of human nature. Because of this, it would be inappropriate if it wasn’t a kindhearted human who saved the day—in this particular instance, following this particular message.
Diana gains trust in humanity. Humanity shows that that trust isn’t misplaced. She sees the real good in people. First when she meets good people willing to help, then when Steve sacrifices himself to save the day, and then when people from different sides of the War hug each other in relief and happiness. And, in the next scene, a celebration of peace. Humanity will never be perfect, but through what she witness she gained faith in humanity’s strength.
Does this mean that she’s not the hero? Maybe. But we can’t deny that she’s a hero. She has deep compassion and determination. She shames generals for not fighting alongside their soldiers. She crosses No Man’s Land and saves a village when no one else could have led such a mission. She fights. But she puts love first. She worries about everyone. She’s on the edge of tears when she just hears about the pain of others. That makes her a hero.
Okay. Look. There’s no denying that there’s an issue of sexism and feminism here. I mean, this is Wonder Woman. The argument is that Steve having the role that he does takes away from the feminist power of the movie, and makes Diana a less empowering figure. Apparently it’s not enough that she’s strong and brave and compassionate. Apparently it’s not enough that she’s willing to stop and help every suffering person that she sees. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that she loves deeply, and that she teaches the man she loves as much as he teaches her.
Seriously. It’s hard being a woman. You never can seem to reach the impossible standards that are set. Man, we can’t even be feminists right. Emma Watson a bit of boob—her boobs, making it her right—and she loses her feminist card. Buffy Summers has an unhealthy relationship, something many women can relate to, and she loses her feminist card. Similarly, we have the thought that Diana isn’t a feminist character because the story dared to let her have a positive man in her life, who did a positive thing. If a woman doesn’t meet whatever arbitrary standard is applied, then bam. A feminist no longer.
Feminism should never be a weapon to use against women. Feminism has nuance. It’s for all women—queer women, trans women, disabled women, women of colour. Wonder Woman is a feminist film because Diana is a good woman who overcomes external struggles and internal conflict, and ends up a stronger, wiser, and better woman for the experience.
The movie isn’t perfect, I know. I celebrate fiction because it can’t be. And sure, you could have told the story without Steve. I’ve already made my argument that the point is humanity’s ability to overcome its own darkness. Diana and the people she meets learn from each other.
We see Etta and her desire for women to gain the right to vote. I could write an entire post about the genius and vulnerability of Dr. Maru, and what she can teach us about female solidarity. And Antiope. There’s a range of female characters in this film and it’s dripping with feminism. It reminds us that people are good and evil and moral choices are our responsibility. Diana isn’t even exempt from this. She turns down an offer from Ares to save the world by ridding it of humanity, Ultron style.
How to we feel about so much of Diana’s strength coming from the influence of a man? Well, it’s true that male heroes’ wives, girlfriends and daughters are killed to motivate said hero all the time. The death of a loved one is a real and powerful motivator, the problem coming when the women killed are denied an arc or character of their own.
I think that Steve provides Diana with trust by reminding her, completing his own arc with a selfless act, that people can be good. This death doesn’t motivate angry revenge. Diana’s story is one of learning to trust without naivety. And yes, she could have learned this some other way, but I’ve had enough negative men in my life to value the positive ones that fiction gives me. Women need positive male role models too. Feminism demands it.
And hey, at the end of the day, Diana fights and defeats Ares, the god of war. And she does it because if she didn’t, then he wouldn’t rest until she was destroyed. It doesn’t even matter that she’s the only one who could have killed him. When it seems like she is alone, and like all hope is lost, she stands up and she does what she needs to make herself safe. And that’s about as feminist as it gets.
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