Wonder Woman isn’t a step forward for women; it’s a step backwards.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the entire culture surrounding it, including the contrived all-female screenings, hype about the female director, and hype about the “strength” of the leading lady, reeks of a patronizing and condescending appeal to my feminism. The lead is a woman! The director is a woman! Woman woman woman, vagina vagina vagina, girl power and stuff!
I’m supposed to be excited because the movie outwardly promotes female empowerment (to call it an “unsubtle” effort would be a gross understatement). Right. Because my self-worth depends on Hollywood’s validation and interpretation of empowerment and female competence. Also, apparently I’m so fucking retarded I need Hollywood to beat me over the head with shallow and pretentious “feminist” messages to fully understand the issue.
Strong female leads have not been absent from Hollywood. Anyone remember Ellen Ripley from Alien, Sarah Connor from Terminator, or “The Bride” from Kill Bill, just to mention a few? These characters, played by Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, and Uma Thurman, for whatever reason, have not remotely garnered the same kind of attention as “feminist” icons. Perhaps this is partly owing to the fact they were powerful, badass people not because they had vaginas, but because they simply happened to be women, unlike the new iteration of Wonder Woman. Alien, Terminator, and Kill Bill did not need all-vagina screenings, a female director, or a superficial marketing campaign to convey that women can get shit done, because the script, plot, and character development spoke for itself and unmistakably communicated female empowerment in a much more compelling and effective, yet underrated and subtle manner.
This is the essence of the issue. Ripley, Connor, and The Bride lead fantastic movies in which having a vagina is incidental, thereby faithfully and gracefully presenting the idea that women are human and equally capable of overcoming insurmountable circumstances. To contrast, Wonder Woman and its entire marketing scheme relies on segregating women as a special class of people and insisting on particularized treatment and accolade on the basis of the lead being a woman. There is nothing less feminist, simple-minded, and frankly, embarrassing than this in 2017.
It’s also notable that Ripley, Connor, and The Bride were normal human women who crushed opponents (be it alien, robot, or human) in a spacesuit, wife beater, and a ninja jumpsuit, respectively. This is to contrast with Wonder Woman, a superhero with perfect hair and special powers prancing around in a corset and miniskirt. I’m not about to knock corsets and miniskirts per se (because they are awesome), but if you think I’m going to unquestioningly accept Wonder Woman as a sign of progress, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
Film critic John Scalzi described Ripley best:
She’s not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued. Starting with Alien, Ripley was a fully competent member of a crew or ensemble — not always liked and sometimes disrespected, but doing her job all the same. As each film progresses, she comes to the fore and faces challenges head-on — she’s the hero of the piece, in other words […] Ripley isn’t a fantasy version of a woman. Science fiction film is filled with hot kickass women doing impossible things with guns and melee weapons while they spin about like a gymnast in a dryer. As fun as that is to watch, at the end of the day it’s still giving women short shrift, since what they are then are idealized killer fembots rather than actual human beings. Ripley, on the other hand, is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself. All without being a spinny killbot.
Can Wonder Woman top that? When I see the movie, I’ll decide whether it’s actually a good movie, but if it is, it will be despite its attempt at a feminist message, not because of it.