Friday, June 9, 2017

Lady Parts, Part Deux: Wonder Woman

Scene: A group of small children, ages 7-12, are playing in an enormous backyard. It's the mid-1980s and it's summertime.

Boy: I want to be Princess Leia.
Girl: You can't be Princess Leia; you're a boy. I want to be Princess Leia.
Boy: I can be Princess Leia if I want to be.
Girl: Fine, then I'll be Wonder Woman.
Boy: Wonder Woman doesn't have anything to do with Star Wars.
Girl: I don't care. I'm Wonder Woman and you can't make me change.
Boy: Fine. It's stupid but fine.
Girl: Wonder Woman isn't stupid. Stop being mean. Princesses aren't mean.
Boy: (Grumbles and walks away.)
Girl: (Stands in a defiant Wonder Woman pose.)

End scene.

This particular scene happened a few times when I was growing up. One of my friends always wanted to be Princess Leia when we played Star Wars in the backyard. I would always get mad because he was a boy and in my 7 year old mind, boys couldn't be princesses (Note: boys and girls can be whatever they want. Adult me gets it). Then one day I decided to be Wonder Woman instead and the world felt right. They were both princesses and strong and powerful. If he wanted to be Princess Leia, he could be. I wanted to be an Amazon.

Wonder Woman is my favorite superhero; always has been. Hers was the only comic I read regularly back when I read comics regularly and she was the only reason I watched cartoons like Superfriends and Galactic Guardians. I found Batman and Superman and all the other dudes exhausting in their dark pasts and unnecessary doubt of Wonder Woman's abilities. She's the only DC comic hero I enjoy. I watched the Lynda Carter series in syndication; she is the reason I wanted to be Wonder Woman. She was strong and smart and didn't take crap from anyone. That's who I wanted to be. I was obsessed with Greek mythology at that time and the Amazons were among my favorite characters. All of this was so different than everything else I was presented with: Disney princesses, Barbie, and even She-Ra, Princess of Power. Don't get me wrong; I loved Disney and Barbies too. But they weren't everything and they weren't adventure. Wonder Woman was adventure.

So to say that I was excited when I heard we were finally going to get a Wonder Woman movie would the the understatement of the year. I was excited and cautious; there hasn't been a good DC superhero movie in ages. Would this version of Wonder Woman become one more failure in the DC Universe? If it was, would it mean that we'd never see any of the other wonder female superheroes in their own movies rather than being sidekicks to the boys? This new movie is every discussion/debate/conversation/argument women have ever had about existing.

Which is exactly as the creator of Wonder Woman would want it to be. He'd want us to debate Wonder Woman and her role as a feminist icon because he created her to be one. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman to make people think about the roles women play in society. I recently finished Jill Lepore's book The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, part biography of Martson and part discussion of how Wonder Woman came to be. He was a psychologist, writer, lawyer, and inventor of the early forms of the lie detector. He was in his teens and early 20s during the suffrage movement in the US, hearing speakers like Alice Paul and Lucy Barnes discuss suffrage and the place of women in society. He knew Margaret Sanger, the mother of the birth control movement, and would marry a member of her family. He had a complex family situation. He believed women were equal to men and should work outside of the home, govern, and lead the lives they wanted to lead. He used his wives (read the book to get this full story) and Sanger as inspiration for his version of an Amazon. I think he would have loved how Wonder Woman was used in the late 1960s as a bridge between second wave feminists and older suffragist sisters in earlier generations. And he would love the new film version of his creation.

Martson would have jumped head first into the discussion around the women-only screenings of the film hosted by Alamo Drafthouse. He would have enjoyed Austin mayor, Steve Adler's, response to criticism that the events are exclusionary to men. I went to one of these screenings, at the Alamon in Ashburn, and it was wonderful. The ticket sales from all of these events went to organizations which support women and women's issues (In Christy's Shoes was the organization for Ashburn). These particular organizations need support more now than ever given the current administration's plan to dismantle anything remotely helpful for women. What I experienced was a fun evening, watching a great movie in a theatre full of wonder women. We did not, as I'm sure some people who complained about these screenings think, sit around and plot the destruction of man. We laughed a bit louder at some of the more adult humor in the film (There are penis jokes!). We sat in hushed awe at the women of this film, living their Amazonian lives. We cheered loudly when Wonder Woman entered No Man's Land. There were women in costume and so many great t-shirts (I wore a classic WW logo shirt). It was a group of women enjoying a great film about a superhero that means so much to all of them. Like when the lady Ghostbusters graced the world with their humor and awesomeness, nothing bad happened to the men of the world because we had some women-only screenings of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman was everything I wanted it to be: origin story, love story, and an opportunity for some really amazing women to kick ass. If you're not impressed by the Amazons, particularly Robin Wright as Antiope, you weren't paying close enough attention to the what you were watching. Gal Gadot is striking as Diana (Wonder Woman). She's also funny, smart, and strong; all the things I wanted to be when I pretended to be Wonder Woman as a child. The rest of the cast is great; Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Lucy Davis as Etta (a favorite of mine from the early comics), Connie Nielson as Hippolyta, and the bad guys, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya. I can't spoil the big bad for you but it's a good one. There's so much to watch and take in along the way. Patty Jenkins, the director, has made a DC superhero movie that is the right combination of dark and light. She and her production have captured what is wonderful about Wonder Woman and her love of mankind. Wonder Woman didn't leave Themyscira to follow a man; she left to help protect mankind from the evils of war. As she says at one point, "It's about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world." 

We need more messages like this from our superheroes, fictional or otherwise.

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