Last month, I went to see “Wonder Woman” on opening day. I’m not the world’s biggest superhero film fan, but I knew how long it took for this one to get made; and when I read about how little promotion it was receiving, it annoyed me. So I decided that if the reviews were at least decent, I wanted to support this movie… though I half-assumed the lack of promotion was because it was a dud.
Surprise, surprise, the reviews were good! Even so, I was completely taken aback by my own reaction to the now-famous No Man’s Land scene, that moment when Diana, Princess of Themyscira, truly emerges in as Wonder Woman. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and go see the movie before reading further. Anyway, yes, I totally cried. The next day, I posted a link to a review on my Facebook fan page, adding “As a feminist and a storyteller, I encourage you to go see “Wonder Woman” in the theater. Let’s show Hollywood what happens when they give a heroine her due!”
I promptly got trolled with the following comment: “Oh drop this ‘feminist’ man hating garbage, you’re a victim bullshit…don’t know if you’ve noticed but these days Hollywood is filled with shows and movies with female leads and heroines…packed with them… find something else to whinge about.”
Despite having maintained an active presence on social media for many years, I haven’t encountered a lot of trolls. Some of that is probably due to luck, though in all honesty, I believe it’s also because my readership tends to be a thoughtful, compassionate lot. I know Don’t Feed the Trolls is conventional wisdom, but fresh from a bracing vision of female empowerment, there was no way I was going to let that comment stand unanswered. Plus, the other thing I thought was fascinating was that I had not, in fact, expressed a single negative sentiment. That was entirely his inference, apparently triggered by the word ‘feminist.’
So I posted the following response: “Dude! Seriously? How did you manage to infer SO MUCH negativity from a positive, celebratory post? That’s pretty remarkable. My condolences, it must suck to go through life with such a deep-seated sense of seething resentment.”
He kinda sorta backed off with a nonpology, while reiterating less aggressively that “there’s nothing really to complain about…(anymore)”, and I pointed out more gently that I had not complained about a blessed thing, and that the sentiment “Yay, the Wonder Woman movie is awesome, go support it!” does not carry the automatic subtext, “Fuck the patriarchy, Hollywood sucks!”
Afterward, I thought about it. In the past ten years, there have been around forty films set in the DC/Marvel universe. Some have had team ensembles—your X-Men, your Avengers—but most featured male leads. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Thor, The Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America… the list goes on and on. Not a one of these movies featured a solo female lead. It made me wonder what this guy was seeing in popular culture to make him believe female viewers had “nothing really to complain about… (anymore).” And in fairness, one of the first things to occur to me is that “The Hunger Games” has been one of the biggest action hero franchises in the past five years. For a younger person, that alone might create a sense that heroines are more than getting their due. Or maybe he was thinking of the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movies, or all those Underworld films in which Kate Beckinsale appears to kick a prodigious amount of ass in a black leather catsuit and duster.
Or maybe he was just a jerk viewing the world through misogyny-tinted lenses and it didn’t bear contemplating.
Either way, I couldn’t help thinking that there’s something different about a classic comic book superhero. They’re not just characters, they’re icons. Their images are part of the symbolic DNA of our culture, especially here in the U.S. Wonder Woman was the very first—and to my mind still the most iconic—superheroine in existence, making her debut in 1941. When I was growing up decades later, Wonder Woman was the only female member in the history of the Justice League, the only girl who got to hang with Batman and Superman and the boys. Wonder Woman was the only plastic superhero mask for girls at Halloween, the only pair of girls’ Underoos for sale at J.C. Penney’s.
Heck, I have a pair of recycled shopping bags emblazoned with an image of Wonder Woman and the words “Save the Planet!” that I just bought a couple years ago.
So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that seeing Diana Prince’s A Hero is Born moment brought to life on the big screen moved me to tears! And it was done so well. It’s not a flawless movie, but it’s a good one, and what it gets right, it gets very right. It gives us a heroine whose true superpower is her fierce sense of love and compassion. A heroine who is told “No, you can’t do that,” again and again by the men around her until she throws off her cloak, takes up her shield, claims her own agency and says, “But I am doing it.”