(And by “men” I do mean all those who identify in some way or another as male, without necessarily limiting those people to their body parts or lack thereof.)
I’ve seen the 2017 Wonder Woman movie twice. I’ve rather little knowledge of the DC Cinematic Universe. I know of the many Wonder Woman story arcs without having necessarily read the whole thing. I know a little of the entire intent that William Moulton Marston had when he was creating his famous heroine.
That establishes my comics background.
In my country today, macho culture rules, and rape culture underlies nearly every single social interaction, and also there’s too much misogyny so that most women and people-who-identify-as-female must by necessity don figurative armor whenever they must interact with people of the male persuasion/s and pretty much everyone else in general, including other women and people-who-identify-as-female.
No, I don’t live in the US. I live in the Philippines. We are being ruled by an asshole, who was elected to his position by 16 million voters, a depressing many of whom have since revealed themselves to be assholes. We are being ruled by a murderer, a liar, a woman-hater, and an ass-kisser. He has surrounded himself with men who are all too happy to follow his turdish examples, who are all too happy to discard whatever principles they might have had in the name of power. Remember the saying about absolute power? Yes, the Philippines bills itself as a democracy, but really from colonization onwards it’s been a patriarchy, a kyriarchy, a society in which the loudest assholes triumph.
Which basically makes this place the Front — as in the front of the war — for a person like me. Female, queer, educated, separated from spouse who cheated on me and was emotionally abusive, mentally ill, trying to be woke, in my mid-30s — it’s like I actually am the all-purpose ready-made target and punching bag for rape culture and for macho culture.
And that establishes my personal background.
As I have said, I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice, and my takeaway is: this movie shows us, in often terrible and visceral detail, why feminism is so important. Why is feminism so important? Because look at the members of Diana of Themyscira’s team.
They do not overshadow her, and they openly recognize and admit that they cannot.
But that doesn’t stop them from being entirely human and recognizable and real.
Steve Trevor is a soldier, a pilot, a spy: and there’s no denying that men in those professions have been heavily glamorized as being heroic, being larger than life, having outstanding sexual prowess. He’d have been the actual main character of this story if anyone else other than Patty Jenkins had been the director. But thanks to her, we don’t, and indeed can’t, see Steve Trevor as the all-conquering hero.
We see him with his comforts taken away from him: those scenes with the Lasso of Truth, where he is stripped of everything he uses and tells himself in order to protect his heart/soul/spirit from the horrors of the war. And let’s not forget, one of those scenes has him self-inflict: he voluntarily seizes the Lasso and binds himself with it in order to convince Diana that he’s telling her not only the absolute truth, but also that which is killing him with fear and anxiety.
And, of course, there’s the entire climactic sequence for him, at the controls of an airplane that is nothing more or less than a weapon and an instrument of death: he doesn’t speak once he’s got the plane rising into the sky. He doesn’t need to. We see in his eyes, on his face, that he understands what he is doing, that he understands why he is doing it, and that he understands that he doesn’t want to do it. The camera, and our view, catches every single nuance of the fact that he is going to do something great and good, and that he is also going to destroy himself, willingly — and he flinches, as the camera doesn’t, and we see who he really is, and we don’t fear him or hate him. We salute his courage and determination, neither of which is eroded or harmed in any way by his naked fear of everything he’s doing at that moment.
Sameer is almost presented as the comic relief: until he shows that he is painfully, terribly aware of his situation and of the environment in which he lives. He wants to be an actor, he wants to spend all his time entertaining people, and he has been shut out of his dreams because his skin is the wrong color. He has no problems with admitting that fact to Diana — whom he’s seen performing some pretty incredible feats — he knows exactly who she is, that she’s the focus and the linchpin, and he tells her what was “wrong” with him and neither flinches nor makes light of it. He simply tells her his truth.
Charlie appears as a drunken sot and then he’s presented as not being one: to be very plain about it, he’s already lived through the horrors of the same war they’re all facing, and he cannot escape that war. He cannot be considered to have survived it, not when he’ll be carrying his demons with him everywhere he goes. We’ve seen war heroes succumb to their vices, but with him we see that he’s no hero and he knows it. We’ve seen war heroes fall into depression, but with him we see that it’s entirely possible for someone so afflicted to try and create some kind of hope in others — and for that same someone so afflicted to find hope in something that’s part of him. “Who will sing for us?” indeed: it takes Diana to understand that he is wounded, he’s a victim, and he’s still capable in his own way.
As for Chief: he meets Diana eye-to-eye and he tells her his story, and he is instrumental in telling her — and us — about the value of making something out of nothing. About the idea that each person is complicated and flawed. That’s a poor way of saying it, maybe. But he says, very simply, that people like Steve destroyed his people and people like him — just delivers the facts and leaves it to Diana to wonder, and to try and understand what being like him might be like.
What I am trying to point out here is that we see Diana’s perspective on each of these men, and we see her effects on them: and maybe she can’t understand them completely, but there’s no need for her to make that supreme effort. Indeed, she realizes that it’s impossible to do so. So what does she do? She recognizes that they each have their trials and their suffering — and then gives them the space they might need to be human anyway.
Too many people mock feminism and don’t actually realize that feminism is a Lasso of Truth all on its own: the mere mention of the term reveals the real mindset of the person acting or reacting to it.
Some think feminism means the women will rule the earth under a crushing heel.
Some think feminism means weakness and a preoccupation with what is superficial (and that includes body parts).
I think feminism means recognition. The recognition that I might be strange and complicated and flawed and allowed to be that way — and the recognition that everyone else in the world is allowed to be that way. Genitals don’t matter: self-realization, self-actualization, that matters.
And it’s to the credit of the cast, crew, and director that the Wonder Woman movie really is a story of self-realization and self-actualization.
I wish it might be possible to be Diana in this world. To show that we are all human beings, complicated and flawed and strange and hurting, and that we should never think of each other as inferior because of superficial differences. I know that’s an impossibility — I myself demonstrate that I can’t always do that, when I talk about people here in my own country — but I’m making a good-faith effort to try, every day, every moment.
Best I can do is to keep going, and to keep learning, and to follow the example of Diana of Themyscira.