June 6, 2017
Wonder Woman wasn’t just the feminist film I was hoping for; it was a transformative moviegoing experience that salved a lifetime of longing for heroines. From a literal battle of the sexes on the shores of Themyscira, to the gratuitous objectification of Chris Pine (the only actor with a nude scene in Wonder Woman), to the jabs at man’s worthlessness in women achieving sexual pleasure, the film doesn’t pretend to mask that men are secondary characters. Accordingly, male viewers are outsiders, too. But in an age where the lives and rights of women are being politicized, challenged and attacked, is having a female-only safe space really that bad?
Wonder Woman is feminist to the core, from its factual, surface elements, like the hiring of a female director and its plot, to its underlying metaphorical forces, like its quips and evocative show of womanhood. The first time I saw Wonder Woman, I went with three women and one man. Each time the movie jabbed at oppression, the three of us snickered. We held and grabbed one another, giggles of togetherness rippled throughout the theater, like we had finally breached the walls of a lifelong inside joke. The man with us loved it too, but he knew he was the fourth wheel. The room was saturated with this: Men enjoyed the experience, but I could see exclusion radiating off their skin like heat waves. Of course, they weren’t unwelcome—they were very much so invited—but they couldn’t relate in the same way that we could, and that’s okay.
Because of this expulsion, the film has drawn outrage from many male-dominated corners of the internet. Horror struck when the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, advertised a “female only” screening of Wonder Woman. Naturally, everyone’s favorite "Not All Men" crowd was up in arms. The Drafthouse’s Facebook event prompted responses like, “Have you ever hosted a men’s only showing of any film?” Or, “Could you imagine the anger and outrage from the liberal staff at Alamo if Trump held an all male screening at the White House or even if another theater did an all male screening?” The anger at the idea of a female-only safe space even escalated to a New York attorney filing a complaint with Austin’s Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office.
This sort of vitriolic behavior toward women isn’t new or uncommon; whenever women attempt to occupy a usually male-dominated space, men tend to lash out in indignation. Just this week, Kim Weaver, a congressional candidate in Iowa, dropped out of the race after receiving death threats. President Trump’s new budget proposal purports to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving funds through Medicaid or any other government program. The new AHCA bill threatens to render rape, sexual assault, heavy periods, menstrual irregularities and C-sections pre-existing conditions, as well as slashing maternity coverage. The bill was written by 13 men, zero women. So, American men, if you’re looking for a safe space of your own, you’re standing in it.
But women seek other things too, besides being afforded the ability to live: for one, being portrayed fairly and equally in the media. The demand for female-driven cinema is high, which Wonder Woman proved in its opening weekend, earning $103 million domestically and $224 million globally. The film beat both Thor movies, Iron Man, the first two Captain America movies and Guardians of the Galaxy, and while superhero movies usually have male leads and 60 percent male audiences, Wonder Woman skewed 52 percent female. These numbers were unsurprising; women have been deprived of a viewing experience like this for so long, we were desperate. This was nothing short of an explosion of pent up female energy and demand for badass heroines.
Media backlash to the film has been almost exclusively sexist. Despite its overwhelmingly positive critical reception (93 perecent on Rotten Tomatoes) and audience reception (also 93% on Rotten Tomatoes), the film drew an air of skepticism and denigration in the press. One headline from The Hollywood Reporter read, “Warner Bros. is gambling $150M with a filmmaker whose only prior big-screen credit was an $8M indie.” Patty Jenkins is not the first minor director to be tapped for a major studio superhero film—in fact, it’s actually quite common, that's how indie directors are rewarded these days, by being given a superhero film to direct: Marc Webb went from directing his first film 500 Days of Summer on a $7.5 million budget to The Amazing Spider-Man on a $230 million budget. Josh Trank went from a $12 million budget on Chronicle, his directorial debut, to a $150 million budget in 2015’s The Fantastic Four. Jon Watts, director of the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, had previously only directed the $800,000 Cop Car. The budget for Spider-Man: Homecoming has yet to be reported, but is likely in the same arena as the other major films. Meanwhile, Patty Jenkins is an Emmy-nominated, DGA Award-winning director whose directorial debut Monster was an Oscar winner. The only gamble, in the eyes of The Hollywood Reporter, was Jenkins’s gender.
A New York Times headline even asked incredulously, “Can Gal Gadot Make Wonder Woman a Hero for Our Time?” The article postures as an investigation into the feminist principles behind the film, but has an entire paragraph dedicated to Gal Gadot’s breast size and fans’ reception to such, as if Gadot’s breasts hold any fucking gravitas to the importance of this film.
So before you scream “witch,” put your pitchforks down; feeling like an anathema in a movie theater is all but humdrum for women. We see the glimmer of hope in your eye when you look at Batman and think, Given the right tools and cash flow, I could be Batman. We see you cackle and high-five when Seth Rogen makes a dick joke. We see your muscles bulge and your fists tighten when Bruce Willis kills a bad guy. All of that makes us feel like outsiders. Not only was the all-female Texas screening meant to be a much-needed safe space, but it was also a celebration of a momentous juncture in media equality for women. Wonder Woman is a kind of feminist porn, and what better way to view it than surrounded by women?
The “porn” is the product of Jenkins’s female eye. The scene where Diana makes her first super-heroic rescue is breathtaking. She effortlessly yanks a drowning, unconscious Steve Trevor (played by Pine) out of the water, gripping him in one arm, cutting through the turquoise waves with the other. It wasn’t showy, but rather simple and classy, mirroring the ease in which the powerful Diana was able to save his life. It was a gender-swapped version of the rescue scene we’ve seen over and over. The scene drew light claps and “woo’s” from the female audience members, who seemed a little shy to react, but unable to let the scene go “un-wooed.”
In the battle on the shoreline of Themysicra, Jenkins secures powerful shot after powerful shot of Gadot, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and the other strong, tall, diverse Amazonian women. When Antiope (Wright), leapt into the air and shot three arrows into three German men, the audience erupted in joyful screams. Jenkins’s captures the beauty and strength of each woman in a way that prioritizes power over sensuality—but the power of sensuality itself is not lost. The respect Jenkins showed to each actress in every slo-mo slide, slice, and swing shines brightly in the action scenes.
And Wonder Woman’s first battle in full costume was near-orgasmic, as she rebukes Steve's demand that they not storm across an impossible battleground. He tells Diana/Wonder Woman, “This isn’t what we came here to do” to which she responds, “No. But it’s what I am going to do.” Her outright rejection of male authority is liberating to watch. Later she reminds Steve, “What I do is not up to you.” Diana’s behavior is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a superhero movie—and rare, really, in any film I can recall.
From the soldiers’ shock and awe at Diana’s strength, to her defeat of Aries, to the subtle sparing of the female super-villain, Jenkins left no feminist stone unturned. And hearing "she" instead of "he" for nearly two and a half hours was pure ecstasy—the fact that I clocked it at all should speak volumes.
So, men, maybe you’re feeling threatened or excluded. Maybe you’re worried that superhero films will be female-driven now, or that all movies will be directed by women, with female leads, marketed toward women. Well, you’re absolutely correct in feeling that way, because we’re coming for your jobs and we’re never looking back. My empathy muscle wants me to say, "I'm sorry," or "we want you to share this with us," but I'm not, and we really don't. When you watch Wonder Woman and you feel like an outsider, or your feel a pang of missing out, or you get a sudden urge to yell “What about me?!”—hold on to that feeling. Cherish it. Recognize it. Because every woman, girl and non-cisgender male on Earth has lived a lifetime with that experience. That feeling is the slightest glimpse into what oppressive sexism feels like. Now you know what it’s like to be a secondary character in our culture.