SPOILER ALERT: For those of you who haven’t seen the new Wonder Woman movie yet, I am going to ruin it for you.
No, seriously, stop reading now. I mean it. I plan to give everything important away, utterly and completely. Okay, if you are still with me, you either don’t care, or you’ve already seen Wonder Woman. Let’s process all of the emotions it called up together.
When I read that grown women all over the nation cried at one particular scene in Wonder Woman, my curiosity took over, and I headed to the movie theater within days of reading that article. As a writer, I try to make people feel what I feel through words. I also know sometimes words fail us. The article couldn’t create for me the feelings women are experiencing when Wonder Woman goes into battle. I needed to see it for myself.
Even though I knew it was coming, even though the article warned me, the crying surprised me, especially the force of it. We aren’t talking about a single tear, trickling gracefully from the side of an eye. Oh, no. Wonder Woman in battle elicits sobbing, body shaking, primal crying. The kind of crying you do when you realize you have seen something you cannot unsee, something you’ve unconsciously been waiting for your whole life. You weep for the woman you just left behind, and you sob for the woman you now aspire to be.
Wonder Woman challenges us – every girl and woman – to be more than we ever thought possible.
She changes the world for us, forever altering our perspective of our role here on this earth. Saying “No” over and over again – emphatically and without room for argument, she backs up her refusals with awe-inspiring feats of strength. We cry in near soul-rending mourning because, while we can emulate her attitude and spirit, she is part goddess, and, alas, we are not. As the (physically) weaker sex, we lack her feats of strength to back up even our most powerful beliefs and adamant words. No matter how much conviction we may have for a cause, for humanity, we can never heft a tank over our heads and chuck it at Ares, the God of War.
Wonder Woman touches the deepest parts of our female psyche because she has what we lack – the physical strength to beat men in hand-to-hand combat and in war zones. In direct contrast to mere female mortals, Wonder Woman walks alone, unafraid and empowered, through a World War I No Man’s Land, so named because no man has been able to cross it for over a year of fighting. Ironically, only Wonder Woman, nearly naked and with a deceptive appearance of vulnerability, can cross No Man’s Land.
She deflects bullets with her metal bracelets and shield to end this particular stand-off and to save the starving and wounded people in the trenches. On this walk, her stance is totally defensive. She absorbs all of the fire to allow others safe passage. Ultimately, she stands up for everyone who needs her help in the moment when they need it.
She is both the woman we want to be and the woman we know we can never become. Wonder Woman breaks our collective hearts as we come to this realization.
Even given our tragic inability to wield Wonder Woman’s strength, she sets examples that we, as humans, can follow. As a role model, she guides us to the edge of what is possible, even as she ventures beyond it and leaves us all behind. After all, Wonder Woman is the God Killer herself, not the dinky sword erroneously given that title.
She can’t stay home.
Wonder Woman hails from the ideal island of Themyscira, which puts even the most tropical paradise to shame. While she grows up amongst the Amazons, an all-female community who train and prepare for battle together, support each other, and prove women can live fulfilling, tranquil lives without men, Wonder Woman’s restlessness for something more begins in childhood.
When she learns of the war to end all wars from a handsome pilot who crash lands near her home, she decides to leave the island to help him stop the fighting and bring peace back to the world. Escorting the pilot off the island, she encounters her mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, during her middle-of-the-night exit. Upon her mother’s expression of sorrow about her daughter leaving, Wonder Woman responds, “Who will I be if I stay?” In your life, if you see social injustice, you, too, can leave home and do something about it.
She won’t dress like they do.
Wonder Woman possesses an unabashedly positive body image. Upon her arrival in London, the handsome pilot she followed there, played by the swoon-worthy Chris Pine, constantly stops her from shedding her cloak to reveal her battle clothes, basically metal undergarments, both in the street and in the store where he takes her to buy culturally appropriate clothing. Discarding almost every restrictive outfit she tries on as unsuitable for battle, Wonder Woman finally settles on a fashion statement all her own, simultaneously feminine and masculine.
Ladies, we are more than just what we wear, and we need to stop asking if our butt looks fat in those jeans. Wonder Woman never would.
She won’t be talked out of her beliefs.
Naively, Wonder Woman believes, according to a myth her mother told her during her childhood, that if she finds and kills Ares, the God of War and corruptor of mankind, then this act will automatically stop the war and restore goodness to the hearts of men. While Chris Pine’s character, Steve Trevor, expresses his doubt about her theory, she persists in pursuing her purpose in accompanying him to stop the war, in her own way and on her own terms.
She insists on saving everyone, no man or woman left behind.
When Steve Trevor takes Wonder Woman to the front, she encounters a woman who informs her of the atrocities the Germans enact against the people of a nearby village. Wonder Woman also witnesses the injuries and starvation of those stuck in the trenches, including children. Steve tries to convince Wonder Woman to focus on the mission, but she refuses to leave anyone behind in this state. Instead, she removes her cape and steps out into No Man’s Land, determined to do what she can to save everyone she encounters.
She ignores pretty much anything anyone – man or woman – tells her to do and follows her heart instead.
Almost comically, Steve Trevor spends the entire movie attempting to hold Wonder Woman back – from participating in a back alley street fight, from speaking up in a parliamentary session (which comes to a dead halt when they realize a woman entered the room), from going into battle, and from accompanying him to a German ball to locate a large supply of weaponized gas. Every time he turns around, she is gone, off doing exactly what he tried to prevent her from doing. Wonder Woman truly acts like his equal, refusing to be less than she is just because he asks her to.
Women and little girls everywhere, I beg you, in the name of Wonder Woman, stop pretending to be less than you are to please men. Take back your power. Believe you are equal to men, and act like it.
She won’t believe the worst about people.
When she leaves the island of Themyscira, her mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, tells Wonder Woman the humans she intends to protect, “Don’t deserve you.” During her epic battle with Ares towards the end of the film, he attempts to convince Wonder Woman to join him in his quest to manipulate men, who destroyed the earth’s natural beauty, into killing each other off.
Brilliantly, Wonder Woman’s true foil in the movie is another woman, an evil chemist nicknamed “Doctor Poison” who obsessively works throughout the movie on developing a gas so deadly it disintegrates gas masks. As Wonder Woman listens to Ares’ speech railing against humanity, she stands poised with a tank held over her head in a threatening posture towards Doctor Poison.
Raised with love by the women of Themyscira and having been exposed to mortal love through her relationship with Steve Trevor, she knows humans hold the capacity for both good and evil inside of themselves, and she refuses to join Ares. When he throws all of his hate at her in the form of lightning, she takes his power away, playing with it, rolling it around her forearms, before pushing it back at him as his source of destruction. She knows it can never defeat love.
She is everyone’s mom.
Much of what makes Wonder Woman’s independence and fierceness in battle possible is her lack of children in tow. As moms, how can we follow Wonder Woman’s example when our first priority must necessarily be raising our children? To do so, we, as caregivers, hold the responsibility of keeping ourselves safe by minimizing risky behavior. We can’t just walk out onto a battlefield and draw fire, leaving our children behind.
In spite of her lack of personal offspring, Wonder Woman serves as arguably the most nurturing superhero. In many ways, she acts as the ultimate maternal figure for all of humanity, all of mankind. Refusing to leave even one innocent person in harm’s way on her watch, she carries the responsibility of protecting every person on earth.
She has the strength we all want.
While Wonder Woman’s physical strength is her most obvious asset, and the most unattainable one for the rest of us, she also displays emotional and psychological strength behind every opinion, statement, and act. We can all emulate Wonder Woman’s example in those realms, even when her more action-oriented superpowers remain forever beyond our grasp.