Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wonderings about Wonder Woman

So, I saw it. And now I'm wondering some things.

I wonder whether the people who loved it fall into one of two categories: 1) People who were already interested in all-things superheroes or comic book characters; 2) Women to whom the movie spoke about power, particularly female power, perhaps because they have felt less powerful in their lives, by virtue of being female, than they felt was right.

So, let me just say now that I fall into neither of these groups. I'm not that interested in superheroes and comics, and, in general, I have felt powerful in my own life and not held down by society's (Western, American, Mormon) expectations for me. I'm not criticizing you for having felt that way; I'm just saying this isn't where I'm coming from. So that's probably the biggest reason that the movie left me underwhelmed.

I'm not saying that it was a bad movie—it just didn't strike me as especially, well, anything. It was an OK movie, as far as action movies go. But nothing outstanding. FOR ME. I realize that this admission, and the further admission (which you probably already picked up on) that I don't even really care for action movies in general, means that I'm probably not qualified to even critique the movie and definitely not qualified to say anything interesting to those who loved this movie. Which, as it turns out, seems to be almost everyone who saw it! So .  . . I'm a loner, and chances are that at the very least, my comments will be boring to you, and at the most, I might offend. Sorry about that.

I'm just going to address a few of the "positive" things I've heard about the movie.

1. WW is a great example of a girl who is free—free of all the beliefs, expectations, roles, limitations about women that our crazy society (whether that means Western/European, American, or Mormon) imposes on women.

Hmmm. I can't say that I see this. I mean, yes, I see a girl being raised to believe that she is strong. No one will say this is a bad thing. But, really, "strong" in this situation seems to mean "as comfortable being physically violent, or at least aggressive, as highly trained Navy Seals," in particular. And although she does seem to want to seek nonviolent solutions, or at least hates killing for dumb reasons and using war as a problem-solver, I would have liked to see her be strong in other ways—in wisdom, for example. You could argue that she was smart (having read all those books, including the particularly-mentioned sex manuals, and knowing so many languages), but the director/story seems to bend over backwards to portray her as quite naïve, at least for most of the movie, which seemed to me to prevent her from seeming really smart.

I'm not sure why she is portrayed as naïve. Is it to show how shocking the violence of our society is? Strange that she'd be so surprised about that, considering how much of her growing-up time was spent in martial arts training, reading human history, etc. Maybe it is supposed to show true femininity or a peace-loving nature, to be so shocked at the evil in the world? Either way, that is less satisfying to me than if she had been shown to be strong in wisdom and understanding. What her naivete does, IMO, is to make her a pre-fallen Eve, childlike, when it is post-apple Eve, the one who consciously chose to progress and become more adult, who is the real superhero to me. And, in the case of WW, the "fall," or acquaintance with the fruit which brings a knowledge of good and evil, is something that happens to her (passively), not something she actively chooses. In this way she remains, to me, a symbol of the weak female to whom things happen, not the strong female that I recognize in the women around me who, having a full understanding of the evil around them, roll up their sleeves and get to work loving and serving.

2. WW decides, after seeing humanity in all of its weakness (post-"apple"), that she loves it anyway and finds it worth saving. Hmmm. Nice idea, but I'm not sure this is actually what the movie portrays. In the movie I saw, she loved one particular MAN, and did it all for him. Now this could be parsed one of two ways: either she is the typical boy-crazy female whose motivation comes from love (and seeking to be worthy) of one man, or she is showing us that a mature person can do the Christ-like thing of seeing good, and bad, in one individual, and also the Christ-like thing of loving others specifically and individually, thus finding them worth fighting for. This second option is, of course, much more worthy and interesting, but I'm not sure the movie supports this reading; the bad guys are certainly all bad, though it's true that the good guys are demonstrably flawed.

3. WW is a critique against violence: witness her fury at the concept of a machine gun. Ah, nope, I'm not with you on this one. How many hours a day was she training in violence on that island? And the first concern when she gets new clothes is whether she can kick in them? And how does she end up solving all problems—with more might and trickier violence (or cooler violent technology, her wristbands) than her enemy?

4. WW questions conventions in interesting ways: witness her question of why main-sexual-interest-guy won't sleep next to her. OK, well, I happen to believe that motherhood is an immensely important force in the universe. One of the reasons that marriage (and the honoring of marriage vows) is a good thing is that it is the best way to raise happy, healthy children. So I didn't think it was cute that she was naïve about the reasons why unmarried people should be careful about beginning a potentially sexual relationship. And that makes me wonder: where is motherhood in this movie? Look at the women on WW's home island: none of them are mothers in the actual biological sense. Why, then, do they have such obviously motherly figures? What are the breasts for, and why should we go out of our way to show them off?

I can't help feeling that at times, WW seems like a sexy Barbie doll trained to bat her innocent eyes at everyone and jump around doing cool acrobatic moves, free of the "restrictions" of motherhood and the way it ties women down. What if you took a woman and removed everything womanly about her, like motherhood, and a deep wisdom about the nature of humanity, and a desire to progress in that wisdom, and a desire to be in a deep, nurturing relationship with one man--except, of course, leave her with the womanly characteristics which are sexy—and then gave her a lot of training in violence so that she is a warrior? What would you have? I'm thinking what you'd have is a man with breasts.

5. I do share the yearning that many fans of this movie have expressed to see more (and to become myself) examples of females who are free from fear. And I do appreciate that WW showed us a woman not afraid to walk in scary places alone. I would really, really like to have that experience. In this way, I appreciated the vicarious experience of power that WW gave me. But there is one way that I feel unfree as a woman that this movie failed to address, and I feel great loss over this failure. That is, I don't feel free of society's expectations regarding my (and all females') appearance. I hate that I feel it's my duty to spend more time getting ready in the morning than my male acquaintances do, that I need to color my hair and keep my weight more particularly under control, etc. I hate that I lose time in my day to these things that I wouldn't if I were a man. You can argue that it appears that WW didn't spend much time in front of a mirror, but I think you'll agree with me that the choice of an extremely gorgeous, well-built, perfect-skinned actress didn’t make this particular "freedom" very clear. Oh, and the skimpy clothes had their own rhetoric as well. How would this movie have been different if WW had been a little heavier, a little less obviously gorgeous, and much more fully-clothed? (This, by the way, is why I think the choice for actress for Katniss in Hunger Games was so heartening. She was beautiful, but not stick-skinny, and what she said and did was always more important than how she looked. Katniss as a character had her own flaws, though; I admit that.) I, for one, would have found the character of WW in this movie a lot more freeing if she had been a little less of a sex symbol. But, I understand: sex sells. I guess the creators are betraying their own beliefs about men here, as much as their beliefs about women.

So there it is. I'm a Grinch, I know. I don't mean to stomp all over your spiritual experience, but the fact that so many women were moved by this movie says more to me about how much women yearn to hear great stories about themselves and their potential than about what good can come from this particular movie.

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