To credibly cover any film or television release from the Marvel or DC Universes (DCU) one must be fully conversant in origin stories. And a number of contemporary reviewers – amateur and professional – undeniably are. This is a golden time to be a comic book geek. Titillated by the opportunity to flex muscles retained since boyhood (their gun show pumped and primed by retention of obscure canon knowledge) and elated to be the one with the biggest guns. These geeks are inheriting the right to dominate coverage of the biggest movie franchise on earth. If that sounds like a patronising generalisation well…it is. And intentionally (though not entirely seriously) so.
An internet storm has arisen tonight, as they are wont to do at the weekend when we’re all tired, or tipsy, or bored (or all three), and itching for something mildly interesting to offend us. The topic of tonight’s ire was a Wonder Woman review published on the 1st of June by Vulture. It is now 48 hours later and, as is so often the way with these things, small sparks of resentment have been inflamed into flash fires by those enjoying their right of reply. The contention is that the language and tone of the review is objectifying and slightly sleazy. Combatants for each side of the argument have been hitting up comments sections and social media ever since.
Jezebel added an irreverent voice to the mix with a satirised version of their own and our cosy little media corner of the world wide web was set ablaze. Which is daft. It’s such a small thing for people to take against when there’s so much wrong in the world. It’s just one man’s opinion, right? Don’t look if it offends you. Don’t take it to heart. It’s only a film. This is just like the Women Only screenings furore all over again, isn’t it? Why do women let themselves get so wound up about such trivial things. Wonder Woman is littered with images of bondage, she was practically conceived to be objectified. If they knew what we do about the DCU maybe they’d understand…
American historian Jill Lepore did something extraordinary with her 2014 book The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Ostensibly a biography of Wonder Woman’s larger than life creator, William Moulton Marston, through Lepore’s meticulous archival research it evolved instead into a rather curious celebration of feminism. Marston was influenced by the early feminists he encountered in both his own life and by proxy through the fascinating women he loved. He wasn’t always fair to Wonder Woman, she did after all join The Justice Society of America as its secretary in 1942 while Batman was enjoying the privilege of full membership. Nevertheless, with women like Margaret Sanger and Emmeline Pankhurst at her core, Diana was destined to be an activist.
Marston was himself a feminist yet he was a proven liar and bondage obsessive too. So the sniggering boys get to have a tick in that column. But that’s where we’re drawing the line. That’s the last thing they get to take from us. We don’t need Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth to hear what is inside men’s heads because they tell us every day. Online and IRL. Whether we like it or not. We don’t need to read a sexist review, which discards information in favour of male gaze feedback, to hear what a man thinks of Gal Gadot’s attributes. We just need to sit near a man at the movies or glance at our Facebook newsfeed. A man is still entitled to his opinion, right?! Of course. But some men are too damn entitled and they’re taking the joy from one of the few joys we have.
We wanted – we want – all female screenings of Wonder Woman because we wish to mute the noise for a couple of hours and enjoy our film on our own terms. Wonder Woman may have been one of the supporting heroes you casually cast in your games, for her secretarial or fighting skills, for us she was the one hero we could truly be. We’ve trusted Patty Jenkins to tell our story our way and we are excited to see Diana on the big screen. With Patty’s eye ensuring that the camera’s focus will be on her heroics not how fabulous she looks in her “suffragette outfit”. We are delighted that she signed on to tell Diana’s next chapter and silenced pessimists with a record breaking opening weekend. Because this way we have hope.
It is all too easy to lose hope in a society which deems it acceptable to let an all male panel discuss women’s healthcare. Acceptable to appoint an abuser of women as Leader of the Free World. Acceptable to risk our daughters witnessing our heroes be reduced to a sum of their body parts. Acceptable to churn out films which deny the existence of the women we know and of the women we are. Jessica Chastain spoke out against this practice at Cannes last week and we have all, in our way, been trying to make our voices heard. But it is wearying and it wears you down. Wonder Woman is inspiring and she raises us up again. We want her back.