Gal Gadot's Tweet
Comic Books,  Deep Dives,  Geektastic,  Movies & TV

On the Importance of Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot’s tweet for the start of filming 21 Nov. 2015.

Princess Diana of Themyscira. Diana Prince. Wonder Woman. First appearing in All Star Comics #8 during December of 1941, the Amazon princess turns seventy-five this year.

Originally written by William Moulton Marston (a.k.a. Charles Moulton), an American psychologist and writer with a rather interesting personal life, who was hired as an educational consultant for National Periodicals and All-American Publications–two of the companies that merged with Detective Comics to form what we now know as DC Comicsis the longest running comic series with a woman as it’s main character. And yes, you read that right, Marston was an educational consultant. He believed that the educational possibilities with comics were unmet in the first part of the last century and he wanted to create a character that would teach young women that they could be both strong and feminine.

In a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, Marston wrote: “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.”  In other words, she was created to be a modern, thinking woman who was the equal of any man, good or bad, that she would meet. And, in this geek’s humble opinion, Marston did a bang up job of it. Not only is she the best fighter in the DC universe–I can argue that in great depth if you really want me to–but she has also been consistently complex, modern, and relevant throughout her many incarnations, not something that can be claimed by many things that have been published every month for seventy-five years (with the exception of four months back in the mid-1980s).

In the early 1940s, comics were dominated by men like Superman, Captain America, Green Lantern, and Batman. While I love those characters for various reasons, I will forever be grateful that Marston, his wife (Elizabeth), and their partner in polyamory (Olive Byrne) created Wonder Woman. William, Elizabeth, and Olive lived together in a partnership that saw all three of them influencing the development of the Amazon princess, who they initially named “Suprema.” After renaming her “Wonder Woman,” they saw her debut in several different books and, eventually, in her own when Wonder Woman #1 came out in June of 1942.  William devoted the last six years of his life to writing Wonder Woman and died of cancer in 1947. Olive and Elizabeth, who lived together until Olive passed in 1985, also got to see their creation in multiple animated versions, a tv movie, a straight-to-DVD movie, a television series, and in many different toy forms. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died in 1993, at the age of one hundred, so none of the original creators will see the first-ever feature film, which comes out next year.  However, those of us who have been impacted by the woman they created, will get to see her on the silver screen on 2 June 2017.

Dr. Marston, who contributed significantly to the creation of the first polygraph, was convinced that women were more honest than men and could work more efficiently than their male counterparts in certain situations. (Lasso of Truth and Golden Girdle of Gaea, anybody?)  At one point he went so far as to claim that Wonder Woman was propaganda for a new type of woman. I would argue that she did, in fact, become the basis for a modern version of the Female Warrior archetype.  As an Amazon, she is based on one of the original versions (the Amazons of Greek mythology) and then modernized for a World War II society where women were leaving the home to work and gender roles were changing.  She is the form that much-beloved characters like Buffy, Xena, Lara CroftSarah Connor, Katniss Everdeen, and Tris are based on: the liberated female warrior.

In 2006, Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was famously asked, “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” He replied, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”  George Stroumboulopoulos asked G.R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones) something similar on his show when he said, “There’s one thing that’s interesting about your books. I noticed that you write women really well and really different. Where does that come from?” Martin’s simple answer: “You know…I’ve always considered women to be people.” It’s seventy-five years after the creation of Wonder Woman and some people–men primarily, but not solely–still seem genuinely shocked that a strong female character can have agency, a heart, a brain, and an ability to kick butt. As someone who grew up reading Wonder Woman every month, it’s surprising to me that anyone could think they can’t exist. The fact that these questions are being asked still points to why I believe the treatment of Wonder Woman in the upcoming movie is important.

I’m not going to lie, I got choked up when I saw the trailer for the first time. Yes, readers-mine, I am that much of a geek. I did a happy dance. I talked to my mother, who is not into superheroes at all, and she was thrilled for me. I talked to my father, who has always been into superheroes and has inspired all of his children to love them to one degree or another, and he was happy that it appears executives are finally treating Diana and female fans with the respect they deserve. You can watch the trailer below.

In a society where female soccer players have to sue for equal payment to men even though they are three-time world champions, play more games, have a better record, fill more seats, and bring in more revenue, it is important to note that women are still not equal in the eyes of many people. Issues within geek culture, like 2014’s #GamerGate (an online movement and scandal where things took illegal and frightening turns when certain gamers sent death threats, published nude photos and personal information–like phone numbers, emails, and physical addresses–and talked about how it would be “good PR” for certain women in the gaming industry to kill themselves on various forms of social media) are worrisome incidents that I hope will never be repeated. In a world where #WheresRey trended and a Twitter account dedicated to finding Black Widow merchandise–with one of my favorite snarky taglines ever: “Dedicated to finding Black Widow in Marvel merchandise. It’s like Where’s Waldo, but with more misogyny.”– had to be created due to female main characters not being marketed in the same way as their male counterparts, I was beginning to wonder if studio and merchandising execs were ever going to wake up and treat female fans seriously. With the arrival of Wonder Woman in cinemas next year, it appears that we may have finally hit that much needed tipping point where the outrage by both men and women over the aforementioned scandals will be addressed by a movie that treats it’s main character with all the respect she deserves.
If you want some statistics on the way things have changed in geekdom, check this out: at Comic-Con International in San Diego the statistics show that 49% of attendees were female, 49% were male, and 2% were non-binary. Don’t believe me? Scan through this article from The Washington Post. Yes, readers-mine, I may have been the minority back in the 1980s, but that is no longer the case. The biggest geek culture convention in the world has an even split. While there are divides in genre (like comics being 55%-60% male and anime/manga being 60%-65% female), Rob Salkowitz, the man who worked with Eventbrite to develop and analyze the data, says, “Men and women exhibited interest in the same sorts of things, similar spending patterns and similar attendance levels. If anything, women are slightly more intense in their fandom by certain measures.”
If you look at the history of women in comics, you’ll see that they have been portrayed and sold to since the beginning of the medium. The concept that girls don’t read comics and aren’t interested in superheroes is a much later invention that really only came into being during the 1970s and 1980s because of a change in marketing. So, that means that today’s geek stereotype, think Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, only came into existence recently. It also means that the latest numbers on geek parity are really a return to what was originally intended back in the 1930s and 1940s, not something that is a new concept.
In light of controversies like the ones mentioned above and the new statistics on geekdom, it is necessary that Wonder Woman, as a character, is treated with the same respect as her male equivalent in 2017’s feature film. Her story needs to be told in a way that shows who she is, what she stands for, and why she is important. It is a movie that will give filmmakers the opportunity to show that a woman can, and has, stood with the men for the last seventy-five years. It is a chance to show that being loving, kind, and feminine do not negate a woman’s ability to have agency or to be strong, strategic, and physical.
As a lifelong fan of Wonder Woman, I hope they treat Diana how she deserves. If they do, I think we will see a seismic shift in how women are treated on screen and in regards to merchandising. If the movie is half as epic as her scenes in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice or the trailer, I know that we will see people of all genders and many age groups (Patty Jenkins films are generally not for younger viewers) enjoying it more than once. If they get this right, they will be introducing whole new generations to a character that has impacted what it means to be a “strong woman” for seventy-five years.  Personally, I can’t wait until 2 June 2017.
Lynda Carter’s costume (1970s) vs. Gal Gadot’s costume (2016)

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