Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Wonder of Woman

I want a girl with a mind like a diamond
I want a girl who knows what's best
I want a girl with shoes that cut
And eyes that burn like cigarettes...
...Who uses a machete, to cut through red tape
With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass
She is fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack
She's touring the facilities and picking up slack
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long, long jacket.”

'Short Skirt Long Jacket' by Cake
Songwriter: John Mccrea

The desire for a powerful woman, one taking charge, assuming leadership even in situations when leadership is not necessarily a required role, is not a new one. The world over, societies are largely patriarchal. As a result, this desire is fetishized rather than pushed to the fore as a natural, social role. In some ways, it could be argued that the fetishizing of both the submissive and dominant female roles, much like the fetishized “Madonna and whore” have a firm hand in what helps to maintain the patriarchal strangle hold. Rather than the celebrated strong woman, she is either reviled or lusted after, but rarely universally haled as a figure of admiration or a role model for ALL PEOPLE, not just the female children of our society.

"Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." - William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman creator, The American Scholar, 1943
All Star Comics #8, October 1941

A Quick History

Created by William Moulton Marston, an America Psychologist, and the artist Harry G. Peter, Wonder Woman was first introduced in All Star Comics #8, in October of 1941. Marston was married to Elizabeth Holloway Marston but the two famously had a long-term polyamorous relationship with Olive Byrne. These two women and their strong feminist ideals were a key inspiration for the creation of Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, Princess of Themyscira and Warrior Goddess of the Amazons. (Originally called Paradise Island, the name Themyscira was not given until 1987 by Greg Potter and George Pérez.) The name Diana Prince, while many believe is a shortening play on “Princess” was originally the name of a nurse she encountered while attempting to keep an eye on Steve Trevor, the military pilot she rescued.

Sensation Comics #1 (1942); art by Harry G. Peter

In the comics, and on the tv show with Lynda Carter we see Wonder Woman take on the false identity of Diana Prince. But rather than continue on as a Nurse she becomes a secretary. This common subservient role is one that, like Princess and Nurse, is a socially charged bomb of commentary that is often overlooked, but one that is frequently used to great effect throughout the series. In many ways it is a wink and a nod to those who are 'in the know' but goes over the heads of those who are not, who look down upon these roles – a statement made in many other works of fiction, such as the often misunderstood “FightClub.” There is power in these positions. 

Princesses are most often dismissed in fiction as weak, useless and subservient. Nurses are dismissed as lesser than Doctors, less educated, less knowledgable and lacking power. Secretaries are viewed as a menial position, also less educated, submissive and lacking agency. When in truth, these things are only true if the person within the role allows it to be true. This ties back into Marston's underlying themes of the BDSM culture of which he and his lovers were an active part. The roles of the dominants and submissives are all about personal agency, about choice. And the 'Dominants' aren't truly in control. If that confuses you, there is more education to be had.

Wonder Woman by Lyns (Mushroomtale)
Princesses are political figures with significant ability to affect change. Nurses receive significant amounts of education, are often as capable and frequently more active in their field work roles than many doctors. They are also forced to think on their feet more often. This gives them a significant amount of power, the power of choice over other people's health and well being in dire situations. Secretaries also often must think quickly and make snap decisions in moments of crisis as they are the front lines of an office environment. This doesn't sound like a “crisis” environment but any secretary can tell you, a high strung manager or CEO can most certainly turn it into one. And an ARMY secretary? It most certainly is. A secretary is the one making the phone call connections, making the appointments, s/he is the one masterminding that manager or CEO's time. That is a serious amount of control and one single mistake, or deliberate misplaced file can off-set major events or accounts. Watch “Better Call Saul” and see what happens when one set of numbers are transposed. THAT is the power a secretary can have if they wished to wield it with nefarious intent.

And yet society views them as lesser than. So why would Marston choose to have Wonder Woman be a Princess and, as Diana Prince, masquerade as these socially dismissed positions: to prove that point. These traditionally female roles, (it was the 1940s remember,) still afforded women a power men simply ignored, and women too often believed them.

Looking back now at these Wonder Woman stories from the ’40s, I am amazed by the strength of their feminist message.” -Gloria Steinem, 1972

My Wonder Woman

Classic Lynda Carter 1970s Paper Doll
I was born in 1976, at the very tail end, the day after Christmas. The TV series with Lynda Carter started in 1975 and ran until 1979. Now, I have memories going back to when I was one and two years old because, apparently, I am a genetic, I do remember when it was live, but most of my memories of the show were in the reruns going well into my elementary school years. I had the underroos. I wore the smock and plastic masks so popular for Halloween at that time (I believe I was Princess Leia the year before.) I remember dancing in circles in the living room and that mom had bought a length of yellow yarn for me to carry as my lasso... until I tried to tie up my younger brother, then it was taken away. In my defense, if he'd told the truth, none of that would have been necessary. It was about Justice.

I can't honestly say if my often vilified sense of honesty and over-developed sense of justice is a result of my very early fandom of Wonder Woman. It may just be a personality trait that, like a peppercorn medley, came together from many sources. I'll leave that to my therapist and psychologist. But, I can say she played a part in it. I don't think I can deny she did. She was the only Female Superhero I knew most of my childhood until my high school years. The next best thing was Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and thewomen of Star Trek. And yes, they were freakin' superheros. They didn't wear capes (well, Leia kinda did... poncho counts, right?) but they kicked ass and took charge, but more importantly they stood on their own two feet without needing to be told what to do or be saved all the time. Sure, they had people to support them, but they could stand on their own when it mattered.

I didn't see a lot of shows like Buffy until I was older, so there were a lot of characters I lacked. Wonder Woman, Leia and Ripley became the cornerstones of my Heroism. And each one stood for a different set of strengths. Ripley was survival. She was the one who did what needed to be done with or without help. Leia was a leader, a woman who saved herself, who shut out the blabbing men's voices naysaying and talking over her and told them how it was going to be and then did it. She saved the men and she still did it with grace and beauty. She was still a 'Princess,' still a 'lady' when it was time to have poise. Then from Wonder Woman I learned the passions of Honestyand Justice. And many will tell you I have a SERIOUSLY overblown savior streak. If I get it in my head that I have to fight for someone or something, I go all out to a fault at times. They'll also tell you that my sense of honesty, while I strive for tact, is a level of directness most people are not used to and are often uncomfortable with – but I don't believe in “little white lies” or “polite lies”... they're all lies, and lying does not come to a good place, ever. It only ever ends in broken trust. Dishonesty is a show of disrespect, and I always feel bad if I am dishonest, no matter how small the lie.

Lynda Carter, Carrie Fisher, Sigourney Weaver (l-r)

Wonder Woman, for me, was- and is- a role model in a way I think a lot of people did not internalize her. I hear talk about strength and independence. My parents would probably tell you that I, annoyingly so, always had those. She gave me something else:

The courage to trust in my voice.

The New Film

Wonder Woman, dir. by Patty Jenkins; 2017
As a filmmaker, I've spent my whole life making lists of the movies I have always wanted to make. Wonder Woman was, at the very least, one I expected I would at least have seen long before I turned forty years old. But no, I am forty and it only just happened this year. Forty years it took before I saw one of my greatest inspirations on a big screen.

What the actual fuck people?!

...*deep breath*

I don't want to say a whole lot about the film, because it's still in the theatre, and it's amazing, and everyone needs to go see this movie. EVERYONE.  I cannot praise Patty Jenkins enough. Seriously.

What I do want to write about it is the power that it has, the importance of it, why we needed it. Too many people do not understand the necessity of representation, or even what that actually means. We have become so used to seeing a 'default' human, typically a Caucasian and especially in action films, a Caucasian male that it isn't until we don't that we realize that IS all we see. When Salt came out, then Lucy, suddenly everyone was shouting “YEAH, BADASS!” The men were fetishizing the powerful woman, taking charge, assuming leadership and, in this case, kicking their asses. Meanwhile women were marveling at the sight of a person, like themselves, doing all the things they far too often only ever see men doing. What the women were seeing was Representation

Hints of it crop up here and there. Great examples have existed. Angela Bassett in 'Strange Days' was a favorite of mine (or anything really.) The previously mentioned Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Sarah Michelle Gellar was a favorite for many on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But there were non-violent representatives too. Nichelle Nichols as Uhura on the original StarTrek. Believe it or not, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope of 'Parks and Recreation' is one of my absolute favorite examples. She was a woman working in government with goals - not dreams - of being president, goals that she pursued with a set plan, and she was persistent, likable and it was fantastic.

By Knighthawk Photography
But most of those women, you notice, are also Caucasian. Representation is lacking. What about the Asian women? What about the Latina women? The Native American or Pacific Islander women? The African women? The default is still set to Caucasian even when the toggle does get flipped to 'female'. And still that does not cover any number of other groups: LGBT, Mental illness, disabilities... and so on. Intersectionality should be the goal, not “This is a woman film.” “This is a Gay film.” Etcetera.

Wonder Woman, the film, puts a lot forward without directly punching the audience in the face and saying:



ETTA CANDY IS OVER-WEIGHT AND SHE'S AMAZING!” (Imagine that *rolls eyes*)

These things just ARE. THEY JUST ARE.

Messages are given throughout the film, things rarely – if ever – said in any other film. At more than one point the line between “Good Soldiers” and “Bad Soldiers” is smeared to make the point that “WAR IS BAD. PERIOD.” A very brief commentary is made that the US soldiers, the “good guys” were the same soldiers who genocided the Native Americans but were now the “good guys” fighting to prevent such atrocities in Europe without much remorse or care for what they had done in their own nation. WWII took place almost exactly 100 yrs after The Trail of Tears in America. It is not a lightly made statement but it is not a punch to the face. You either catch it and absorb it, or you don't. It is one of many smears of the morality that people attempt to make to prop up the Heroes of war to separate out the Villains. In this respect, Allan Heinberg is due great praise.

The subtlest and most beautiful of messages are the ones not spoken. The beauty and grace of age and form worn proudly by the women of the film. I've not spoken to a woman yet who did not notice the wrinkles, the fine lines, the folds of skin or fat, the JIGGLE of flesh, mucle and fat as women jump and land, kick and punch. These are demi-goddesses and goddesses and they are REAL. They are not air-brushed or CGI'ed to be perfect to be without the perceived flawsof society.

The ONE TIME people would expect it is acceptable to make them look “flawless” Patty Jenkins, in her admirable wisdom, chose to leave them as they were. And the statement of that is more than can be said in words. That the reality of humanity, of womanhood, IS perfection, IS the divine, IS POWER. This amazing goddess, impenetrable, with strength beyond measure, has crow's feet... like mine, has folds of skin at her armpits... like mine, has thighs that jiggle... LIKE MINE. The most beautiful woman standing twelve foot tall on a silver screen above me, like a true goddess waiting to be worshiped... is human. In every way.

That is the most powerful take away from this film, and believe me, every woman I have spoken to took that away.

Gal Gadot (pronounced: gal guh-DOTE) was not afraid to contort her face and scream that battle cry in an “ugly" scream. She wasn't posing and poised like a ballerina in every shot the way 'Sucker Punch' made sure the girls were always pretty. There were times she was squatted down like a football line backer, strong, powerful, not graceful or 'pretty.' And the fighting was dirty. The women didn't fight delicately. Yes, the shots Patty Jenkins used, that were cut into all the trailers, these amazing aerials leaps are incredible – they're freakin' goddesses!! - But they fight dirty. Antiope (Robin Wright) all but cold-cocks her niece. That's not how "ladies" fight. That's war. They're warriors. They aren't afraid to dig into the dirt, to shoulder down and plow into the fray. Diana makes some choices which, when you sit back and think about them later, they too fall into a moral grey. You may question yourself... if she truly believes what she believes, then why did she kill this person or that person?

She is a goddess but she is not a “Mary Sue” - she is not a character/being without flaw, without conflict.

And in that she is perfect.

Aside: here is where the philosophical discussions begin on the Amazonian touchstones with Bushido and where Justice and Revenge intersect what choice is made, or if the choice is the same. I also reference back to my previous link with the comment on the Benevolence of war.

This is all I will say about the film beyond it must be seen. Please, go see it in the theatre and weep like I wept. Weep for the victory of finally having this much needed representation of a heroine beloved the world over, and weep because it is a beautiful, moving film.