As the title attests, and as you probably know by now, I’m a guy. A cisgendered male, to be more specific, which for those not in the know means that I was born male and identify as one. And as a guy I’ve been writing about feminism on this blog since day one. While it’s always been my goal for the site to be a platform for female voices speaking out on those same issues [made reality in having Kat hop on board as well as the majority of our guest writers] the truth is that there are an essentially infinite number of topics and only so many bloggers.
That’s all to say that ideally this probably should’ve been tackled by a woman. While a given female perspective may not necessarily be the correct one, the fact of the matter is that they would be able to write from a level of understanding that I cannot. Yet here I am, covering Wonder Woman, arguably one of the biggest feminist icons.
Yesterday Entertainment Weekly shared an exclusive promo image from Warner Bros.’ upcoming Wonder Woman movie. Diana Prince AKA Wonder Woman, the titular character, played by Gal Gadot, is second from the left. The other women, from left to right, are her mother Hippolyta [Connie Nielsen],
Menalippe [Lisa Loven Kongsli], and General Antiope [Robin Wright].
As it’s made its way across the internet it has generally been regarded with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, which should be no surprise given the fact that Wonder Woman is literally the biggest draw for people lining up to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. When it comes out in theatres next year it will have been Hollywood’s first return to female-led superhero movies since 2005’s Elektra, and arguably stands for so much more than the Jennifer-Garner-played red-clad assassin ever could.
Make no mistake, I am very excited for it. Seeing the Amazonian on the silver screen for the first time is also the primary reason I’m seeing BvS in the next few days, and a Wonder Woman t-shirt that I shamefully purchased at Hot Topic [shameful for the store, not the product] is the only merchandise I have bought and plan on buying [the poster on the right was free]. In spite of that, or maybe directly because of it, I ended up with a number of thoughts about the promo picture released. While the first point is the shortest and has nothing to do with my gender, the ones that follow may be defended by readers who can better relate. Which is to be expected, and that I hope people feel comfortable doing if they want to.
Themyscira Looks Pretty White
While of Israeli citizenship, Gadot herself is actually “1/4 Polish, 1/4 Austrian, 1/4 German, and 1/4 Czech”. Her costars Nielsen, Wright, and Kongsli are Danish, mostly English, and Norwegian, respectively. Now I don’t want to go into how much whiter some White people are than others, but I’ll let their backgrounds speak for themselves.
As home of the Amazons Themyscira [formerly known in the comics as Paradise Island], on the other hand, has for a number of years now been presented as a multiracial nation. From the Brian Azzarello’s very well-regarded run on Wonder Woman, starting in 2011-
– to its depiction in the 2013 animated film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox–
– to, most recently, The Legend of Wonder Woman, a digital-first series that was published in print this year-
The general Whiteness of all the Amazons that have been released thus far has not gone unnoticed, prompting director Patty Jenkins to tweet a few hours after EW‘s article went up that:
At which point my criticism has to end there. I don’t know what the rest of the inhabitants of Themyscira look like, and for all I know they could prove to be even more diverse in race [and even body type] than I expect. That said, you don’t cast an actor like Robin Wright, who House of Cards has turned into a household name in a way that The Princess Bride never could, and relegate her to a bit part. In fact, the accompanying write-up does a lot to explain how central they’ll be to the film:
“This trio of immortals is responsible for both raising and training Diana [. . .] but they don’t always agree. Hippolyta, a revolutionary leader, longs to shelter her beloved daughter from the outside world, but Antiope, the Amazon responsible for Diana’s training, wants to prepare her. “She is the only child they raised together,” says Jenkins, calling from outside London, where she is deep into the film’s production. “And their love for her manifests in a different way for each of them.”
Including any more Amazons in such key roles would make it difficult for the film to make the most of its premise: sending Diana out from Themyscira and into Man’s World. Having a lot of minor characters played by people of colour isn’t something that I’ll ever be able to ignore, but bits parts are bit parts. Exodus: Gods and Kings was a film that had plenty of openings for non-White actors provided that they weren’t main characters, and the last thing I want is for Wonder Woman to follow that same tact with its diversity.
Amazonian, Heel Thyself
This is an issue that was first brought up way back in 2014, when the first official image of Wonder Woman was released by director Zack Snyder at a Comic-Con panel. While you can visit that link to see the entire fairly monochromatic picture what I’d like to call particular attention to is Diana’s footwear, pictured on the right. Various people online who know much more about women’s shoes than I do were quick to state that she was not, in fact, wearing high heels, but wedges.
It’s this same style of shoe that both Diana and Menalippe appear to be wearing in the promo picture we’re discussing. As it stands [pun not originally intended] it’s hard to make out exactly what Hippolyta is wearing, though one can sort of make out her being shod in similar fashion. General Antiope’s feet aren’t visible at all, and thus cannot be commented on. At the very least half of the Amazons pictured are definitively wearing wedges.
The last time that women’s footwear and action movies were scrutinized this closely was actually not that long ago at all, with Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in Jurassic World running away from a T-Rex wearing heels-
-which is a scene the actor herself defended pretty strongly. Aware that similar criticism might be coming her way Jenkins came out ahead of any disapproval, telling Entertainment Weekly that:
“It’s total wish-fulfillment,” she says, adding that the warriors have flats for heavy fighting. “I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time – the same way men want Superman to have huge pecs and an impractically big body. That makes them feel like the hero they want to be. And my hero, in my head, has really long legs.”
Over at ComicsAlliance’s coverage they pulled the exact same quote that I did, stating that this is “Probably why it’s very important to have a female director working on a Wonder Woman movie and not some middle-aged white dude.” This ultimately leads to the question of creative license and free passes.
Middle-aged White Zack Snyder, who is responsible for Wonder Woman’s upcoming, and first, big screen appearance is also the director who gave us Sucker Punch, a film that presented female ass-kickers in similar footwear-
-and has been cited by some as being “a Steaming Pile of Sexist Crap“, in part due to the outfits its characters are seen wearing. Yet Snyder is on record as saying that in regards to that it’s his hope that “by the end the girls are empowered by their sexuality and not exploited”.
While Snyder objectively goes to some pretty iffy places in Sucker Punch [his characters fight in WW2-esque trenches wearing school girl outfits], the fact is that the intent is generally the same, as is the execution, more or less. Were the “middle-aged white dude” to cite that his decision to give Wonder Woman wedges was because a “hero, in [his] head, has really long legs” he would be crucified [to put it lightly]. At the end of the day women wearing wedges or heels in battle [and the shots of Wonder Woman in the BvS trailers probably qualify as “heavy fighting] is impractical, and any defence for it from either a male or female director should be viewed with that in mind.
The Best Place for Breastplates
Okay, I realize that the heading title should be “The Best Shape for Breastplates” but that doesn’t sound nearly as good. The best place for breastplates is obviously over your breast. Anyway, I’m going to be writing a little bit about the armour on display in the promo picture.
As is plainly displayed above, all four Amazonians are wearing armour that has been shaped around their bodies, with their breastplates actually outlining their breasts. Before I really get into this I should probably pull yet another quote from EW:
“To me, they shouldn’t be dressed in armor like men,” Jenkins says of the women’s battle wear. “It should be different. It should be authentic and real – and appealing to women.” Jenkins and her costume designer, Lindy Hemming (The Dark Knight), crafted a look that showed off the women’s ripped shoulders and toned legs, in outfits that looked practical but that still featured the tropes of the comic book, in particular the braces on their wrists…
Now what I am not at all qualified to do is comment on what is and isn’t “appealing to women”. When it comes to what’s authentic, real, and practical, however, I can actually defer to a few articles that have laid out pretty plainly what does and doesn’t work re: “boob plate”.
Tumblr user martwhim’s post on shaped breasts in plate armour has actually been cited in other articles on the same topic, namely “It’s Time to Retire ‘Boob Plate’ Armor. Because It Would Kill You.” I’ll cite a few of their words, which accompany their sketch on the left:
“Look at the shape of the blue cups and the green line, think about the form of that on some beautiful ornate plate armor. A female warrior is charging into battle. In the midst of this, she trips! Or is pushed over, or takes a blow to the chest! So long as the force is on the front of her torso it really doesn’t matter for the conclusion:
She feels a sharp pain in her chest and hears the cracking of bone! Oh no, what’s gone wrong? Well she doesn’t have time to think about that, because she is now dead.”
Essentially, any force applied to the breastplate would be focused on that green line, which would result in a cracked sternum [as a best case scenario]. A comment from another Tumblr users acts as an addendum, with them also noting that this style of armour would “direct blows straight to the sternum as well, rather than making them glance to either side.”
martwhim also notes that “boob plate” isn’t even a necessity when it comes to portraying feminine fantasy armour, with Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman acting as a particularly excellent example. The breastplates the Amazonians are wearing certainly aren’t authentic or realistic, but are also decidedly impractical. And that doesn’t even touch on [no actual pun intended] the bare thighs every one of them appears to be sporting.
All of this connects back to what Jenkins was saying about a Wonder Woman who is “hot as hell, [fights] badass, and [looks] great at the same time”. Unfortunately the first and third points are very subjective, which leads me to my conclusion that-
As A Man…
…I find it difficult to confidently comment on any of this, a phrase I wish more politicians would use when approaching a broad swath of issues. The fact of the matter is that Jenkins states very plainly that the heels, as well as the entire creative direction surrounding Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazonians, are “total wish-fulfillment”.
The truth is that both she and I actually meet eye-to-eye on exactly what we want from the character. One of Wonder Woman’s key traits is the ability to effortlessly kick ass. Another large aspect of who she is, as with pretty much all superheroes, is to be attractive. The difference is that there’s no actual wish-fulfillment on my part, at least for the latter. I don’t know what it is to be a woman, desirable or otherwise. I have no idea what wearing heels or showing a lot of bare thigh is like, and any kind of resulting empowerment from that.
Maybe, as a man, I’m too caught up on what’s actually realistic and practical. Maybe Wonder Woman, at least as far as the director has her in mind, isn’t “for me” [though the way Hollywood dictates films are made means that it very likely will be]. At the very least I’m not the only one who has made these observations, and there are certainly women I’ve seen who agree with me.
What’s important to consider is that as far as creative directions are concerned Jenkins can only really only speak for herself; her wishes are the only ones she can accurately fulfill. Once all is said and done this film will have been directed by a woman and guided by a woman’s vision. Jenkins is but a single female striving to depict Wonder Woman, who represents all women at their best. It’s a task that’s bound to bring her under scrutiny and I, regardless of my gender, don’t envy her.
I have a few female opinions to add to this, although I’ll start by saying I appreciate your commentary regardless.
To start, I’ll admit that, while there are several things that bother me about the design, the breastplates are not one of them. I get that they’re not terribly functional, but they do seem badass, and I can support that. Also, Wonder Woman has always had an ancient Greek bent to it. This supports the molded armour (which you’ll find on men’s armour as well), but makes the addition of the heel to a gladiator-type sandal all the more baffling. You win some, you lose some.
One thing I would have touched on that genuinely bothers me about the character choices here is their physique. Do women need more body scrutiny? No. HOWEVER. If the men of comic book movies have to beef up (I’ll cite Thor as a fellow mythical god), why are Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons not expected to do so? They’re Amazons! Mythically, the most badass, built women ever. I’ve heard many females discuss how wonderful and strong Diana’s legs are with pride, and absolutely zero rave about the length of them. Linda Carter’s depiction of Diana had the same issue. I suppose I could buy that Wonder Woman is still incredibly strong while looking like a supermodel, but it’s disappointing to see the same old body type on an entire (albeit fictional) race of women whose unconventional body type (and the accompanying strength) is one of their most recognizable characteristics.
I won’t lie, one of the last things I wanted to do was be a guy who wrote/commented about women’s physiques, especially since I was already going in-depth into what they’re wearing to start with. The only mention I actually make in that regard is an offhand comment that I hope for more diversity in body type among the Amazons themselves.
As for Gadot, the thing is that she has actually bulked up since she was cast in the role. People had actually pointed to tweets like this one from 2014-
-which evidence her working out to attain that physique. As it stands what you see is what you get.
I’d always envisioned someone like Gina Carano in the role, the only problem being that she’s one of the worst actors I’ve personally ever seen. She has the physicality you expect from an Amazon, but not the expressive ability to portray the other facets of her character. Professional weightlifters like Samantha Wright are living proof that you can be feminine, “hot as hell” [to borrow a page from Jenkins’ book], and look like you could literally destroy a guy.
What the Venn diagram of jacked ladies and talented thespians look like I don’t know, and it may have some very narrow overlap. Plumbing the depths to find those women would have been nice, though. In general, however, it all goes back to “wish-fulfillment”, and exactly whose wishes are being fulfilled. Actually looking like a god [like the Asgardian Thor] isn’t particularly high on the list of those involved, or maybe it very much is and their idea of what one should look like is wholly different from yours [and mine].
After seeing Ronda Rousey’s acting chops (or lack thereof), I can see your point. Then again, I think you’ll agree with me that a lack of known actors with certain characteristics doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.
Of course I can understand why you wouldn’t want to comment on the physique of the actors chosen, and I’m glad you didn’t. Likewise, I tried not to mention Gadot by name since I don’t to disparage her in any way, but focus on the character choice made during casting; I’m pretty confident she’ll do the character justice (pun?) in every way she can.
Most Israeli Jews recently came from some other country. All Israeli Prime Ministers were of Polish Jewish/Russian Jewish/etc. descent. There’s nothing unusual about this.