I saw Wonder Woman on opening night in New York. We went with a large group of friends, our seats scattered through the sold-out theater. The excitement in the room was palpable, with women, men, and children eager to see the most famous female superhero of all time finally brought to the big screen.
I felt almost a collective moment of breath-holding in the midst of all this excitement. We knew the reviews were positive and the word of mouth was strong, but we were still anxious. We didn’t just want the movie to be good. We needed it to be good.
Our prayers were answered within the first few minutes of the movie. Seeing little Diana in all of her fierce, determined glory in the paradise of Themiscyra surrounded by powerful women was the first of many incredible scenes that stuck with me long after the film ended. Watching her come into her own as a hero in No Man’s Land, her powerful bonds with her aunt and mother, her sweet friendship and romance with Steve Trevor, and her love of ice cream was a delight, an affirmation, and an inspiration. And Gal Gadot gave an even better performance than Stewie Griffin as Darth Vader.
Imagine my surprise (and by “surprise,” I mean “not actual surprise at all, because this is the world we live in”) when CNN published an opinion piece with the actual headline “Wonder Woman: Feminist Icon or Bodacious Fantasy Figure?”
But this pseudo-news site isn’t the only location where people have questioned Wonder Woman’s feminist credentials because of her costume. I’ve seen comments from other men and a few women who want to deduct feminist points from the film because Diana wears a costume where we can see a fair amount of her body.
The discussion of objectification indicates to me that we are so used to being inundated with images of female body being objectified that we’re trained to see ANY display of the female body AS objectification.
This is the same argument we see from people appalled and shocked by public breastfeeding, after all. They find something obscene about a breast being exposed while a baby’s having their lunch.
Wonder Woman’s outfit shows skin. All the Amazon warrior outfits show skin. They also give the women a lot of mobility while fighting. The first few more modest outfits Etta Candy gives Diana to assimilate into society do NOT give her mobility – she rips the skirt when doing a kick.
It’s notable that Diana doesn’t think twice about walking around in her Amazon warrior garb because objectification of female bodies doesn’t exist in her culture. Steve Trevor has to tell her to cover up because he knows others will objectify her. And in fact, every man she comes across does wants to reduce her to a pretty face no matter HOW modestly she is dressed – before she quickly puts them in their place by displaying her physical, mental, or linguistic prowess.
The women show skin, but the camera doesn’t linger on their bodies except to show their power and skill in fighting – no gratuitous T and A shots. The closest we get to an objectifying a body in a sexual way is when Steve Trevor takes a bath.
If we see Diana fighting enemies, saving innocents, and becoming Wonder Woman in the thrilling No Man’s Land scene and the first thing we think is the fact that she’s showing a fair amount of skin, that says more about us and our ingrained sexism than it does about the film.