Wonder Woman: How to save the world

Wonder Woman hero quote

I don’t watch trailers. They’re basically 1-to-3-minute spoiler videos, and mama don’t play that. Autoplay is off on all my social media, I hustle by posts containing titles, and on the rare occasion I get to the theater, I close my eyes and jam my fingers in my ears during previews. My husband tried to override this during the trailer for The Last Jedi by narrating it at my face and I sang the Meow Mix jingle to drown him out.

I’m telling you this so you know how serious I am when I say I went into Wonder Woman with a blank slate. I had no expectations.

But I did have hope.

As a kid, I read my mother’s collection of reprinted Wonder Woman comics over and over. At the time, I didn’t realize her story was revolutionary: a beautiful woman with a tender heart who also has power and agency, who falls in love and stays the hero of her own story. The Golden Age issues are the only ones I’ve ever read, so that’s the Wonder Woman I wanted on the screen.

I’ve also been increasingly thirsty for a new version of the “strong female lead” in my media. Books and video games (#femshep) are doing well, but apart from Imperator Furiosa, I have to reach all the way back to Lieutenant Ripley in my moviegoing lexicon for a badass heroine with a heart in a starring role. Most attempts are traditional masculine traits paraded around in a traditional female body, which cut the representational mustard for a while, but no longer.

While I was hopeful, though, I was also nervous. Lino and I went to see Wonder Woman for our anniversary date night, and we have…differing political and social opinions. Like, you wouldn’t believe the fight we had after Avatar and we do not speak of the post-Lorax debacle. And since the buzz has been hugely positive from feminists, there was a high chance that we’d walk out of the movie less married than when we went in.

First I was right, then I was wrong.

I was right that the Wonder Woman on the screen is the Wonder Woman that inspired me as a little girl. She’s strong and clever, sweet and caring, decisive and protective, charming and smart. She’s everything I remembered brought to life.

And I was wrong that my husband would hate it. He didn’t walk out fuming about emasculated men and a “feminazi” agenda nor did he dismiss the story as trite and self-serving. He didn’t watch it just to humor me. He genuinely enjoyed it.

You know why?

Because Wonder Woman does what so many books and movies and TV shows don’t: treats its characters like real people.

Not just Diana, but Steve, too.

Diana trains in secret to become the best warrior the Amazons have ever seen. She rushes a machine gun nest. She throws a tank. She’s the god-killer incarnate. Diana also coos over a baby. She has a one-night stand. She makes bad decisions. She’s crushed when her lover dies.

Steve is a man of action who lies for a living. He’s patriotic to a fault. He’s a bit of a player. He tries to control Diana several times. Steve also respects Diana’s boundaries. He helps rather than scoffs. He has feelings other than fightdrinkbang. He takes a support role instead of taking over.

This is the kind of story we can never have enough of–the kind where people are strong and weak in their own ways and come together as complements to make change, make a life, make anything.

Power-with, not power-over.

All of these ideas were racing through me as we talked in the car afterward, but my heart was so full I could barely make words. It was actually Lino that said most it. Unprompted by me, he talked about how great it is to see men and women portrayed as different but equally valuable, without cutting down one in favor of the other or making the “strong female lead” basically a man with boobs, and about how important it is for Hollywood to follow Wonder Woman‘s example in the future.

I cried the ugly cry. Not only did he not hate the movie, but he loved it for the same reasons I did.

You guys, this is how you save the world. One story at a time.

If one movie about a tank-throwing, baby-loving, decision-making woman and a country-loving, feelings-having, play-backing man can reach the heart of a self-proclaimed “feminist-intolerant” person, imagine what our world would be like if every movie, TV show, game, and book embraced the message that real people make the best characters, that women can win the day, that men don’t lose value when they aren’t in charge. With any luck, our one-year old daughter will never know why it was such a big deal that Wonder Woman was made in the first place. What a world that would be.

I know that’s a tall order for businesses of all kinds, not just entertainment. Keeping us separated is profitable–I get it. I don’t have any expectations.

But I do have hope.


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