Warning: Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
I saw Wonder Woman, finally. I’d been waiting for it to drop for months. It’s just the kind of film I like, action, war, heroes and a bit of the supernatural. There was also the added thrill of an iconic female character, played by Gal Gadot, leading a Marvel franchise to spice up the experience. But I left the theater like, meh.
I wasn’t angry or even disappointed. It didn’t really inspire any strong feelings in me one way or the other. I laughed, I think I grabbed my chest once, and I rolled my eyes a few times. But still, meh. Wonder Woman, for all her power, her ferocity, her gumption, integrity and ability to inspire the troops with her bravery and take charge initiative, was – in the end – still just a woman.
Sure, she has super powers, super tools, and a critically important, world-saving job to do, but at the end of the day, she was – is – subject to the same silly stereotypes that woman have suffered and continue to suffer on the job. Three things stuck out in particular.
1. Her clothes were more important than saving the world. As soon as she left the Themyscira and landed in grimy old London, her first trip was to a department store so that Steve Trevor – Chris Pine – could get her appropriately dressed. Of course, she needed to fit in. I get that. No self-respecting superhero should reveal her hand and lose the element of surprise before the time of reckoning. But how it went down got on my nerves. First, Steve didn’t tell her where they were going, he simply led her where he thought she needed to go. She had to remind him that a visit to the dress shop wasn’t part of their deal. He was supposed to be taking her to the front. But her appearance, and his ineffective efforts to hide her distracting beauty, was apparently more important than ending the war of all wars.
I’ve seen and heard the same scenario play out so many times in the workplace. Not just the bit about being negatively judged based on your appearance, but how that little introduction to the world of corsets was handled. Men usually warrant explanations, even brief ones. Women, on the other hand, are usually told what to do and expected to follow without questioning.
And if you do question things, you’re made to feel like your questions are inappropriate and unnecessary. I can still vividly recall the time a supervisor rolled his eyes and threw up his hands as if to physically stop the words from leaving my mouth when I tendered an opinion about something. Good night.
2. Her needs took a back seat to his. Similarly, Steve continually prioritized his plans over Diana’s, also known as, what I’m doing is more important, and what you’re doing can wait. He didn’t even believe her plans to kill Aries the God of war were legitimate. The only reason I’m not complaining about that is because her innocence and naivete were part of the schtick, and he was at least polite about it. He didn’t rub her nose in the ridiculousness of her strategy, which was fortunate since she turned out to be half right.
How many working women have had their ideas poo pooed or dismissed simply because they didn’t come from a male mouth? Only to find those same ideas suddenly renewed, valid and being prepared for execution once adopted by a man.
3. She had to prove herself again and again. Diana saved him from drowning, charged across a battlefield alone and saved an entire village before Steve retired the whole, “I’m a man, I’ll take the lead because you don’t know as much as I do” stance. It was only toward the end of the movie, after she’d saved the day again and again, that she became a valuable member of the team.
Even then there were moments when Steve ignored her suggestions – her, an immortal God who saved his life by stopping bullets with her jewelry – and bossily charged ahead to run things as he saw fit. It’s the same in the workplace. Too often our extra efforts are taken for granted and not rewarded or appropriately acknowledged. If that had been Ironman or Captain America saving a village, they’d have gotten more than a few handshakes from some tired, grimy villagers. I’m thinking parades, commendations and a few well done’s from some influential big wigs would have been in order. It wouldn’t have been, here’s a beer, let’s dance in the snow because I’m tryna get the drawls later, and then, okay, on to the next job!
I was left feeling like this bad ass superheroine’s power, despite multiple demonstrations, had been muted by stereotypes, bias and assumptions. Like a junior-level admin whose performance has always been underrated finally earning – by the sweat of many, many brows – a somewhat grudgingly given respect.
Like so many other gender-related, would be triumphs the film fell flat upon close inspection. First female director for this type of film, fabulous! Leadership is key to create more equitable gender representation in film or any milieu. But what about the crew, the producers, the writers? Female writers in particular could have smoothed many of the film’s male pandering edges.
Further, writers of color could have pointed out the more questionable roles given to people of color, like young Diana’s ineffective caretaker – a mammy figure if ever there was one – or the monosyllabic brute Amazon who doesn’t even flinch when a thick tree branch is broken over her back. That one really irked me. Y’all, women of color do feel pain. We are not endless sponges created to absorb all of the abuse the world cares to dish out to us and then valiantly keep on fighting.
Note, I take no joy in critiquing the film this way. And occasionally I do get a perverse kind of pleasure from letting my inner snark have free reign each Friday. This should have been a celebration of femininity and power, an evolution of gender equality in cinema. It was a significant step forward on many levels. But it also seemed like so many diversity- or gender-related successes, half-done, a bit hollow with the participants utterly drained from the battle, and incomplete given the number of holes present in the “win.”
Whether women are in the workplace or on some mythical battlefield, for many we’re still just women first, even if we’re superheroes.