I haven’t seen Wonder Woman and I probably won’t. I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same as the other Marvel/DC comic book hero films.

As everyone keeps pointing out though, what is different about Wonder Woman is that the lead superhero is woman! Or an Amazon, if that’s the same as being a woman.

In the original comic book, WW was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and given life by Aphrodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods. And somehow Zeus is her father.

I know. It’s confusing.

Anyway, at least she’s played by a woman. And everyone says that makes her a role model for little girls and a feminist icon.

Who am I to disagree?

I find it interesting that people are gushing about the breakthrough of having a female superhero in the very year that a number of exceptional female-led dramas have been released.

 

Both William Oldroyd’s haunting Lady Macbeth and Sophia Coppola’s Cannes-winning The Beguiled are about 19th Century women forced to take control of their lives when men threaten to destroy them. Both films make much of the fact that the odds are stacked in favor of men and in order to survive (or indeed, thrive), women must resort to extraordinary measures.

In each case, the women’s sexuality draws them toward peril, and in both films they are forced to commit terrible crimes to escape that danger.

Let’s face it. It’s a man’s world.

Historically, men have had social, political, legal and physical power on their side. Notwithstanding the advances of the 20th Century, when a woman finds herself battling for her rights in a patriarchal world, her options are limited.

The Bible isn’t squeamish about this. In Scripture, women are portrayed as having to resort to subterfuge, deceit, their sexuality or even violence when men threaten to disadvantage them.

 

In Genesis 38, the desperate and childless widow Tamar is forced to impersonate a prostitute and have sex with her father-in-law in order to trick him into conceiving the child (or children, as it turns out) she needs for her future security.

In Judges 4, the wily and resourceful Jael broke every rule of hospitality by tricking the enemy general Sisera into seeking refuge in her tent (even making him a warm milk drink at bedtime) before driving a tent nail through his skull as he slept.

And the Book of Ruth tells the story of Naomi coaching the Moabitess Ruth in how to fool Boaz into thinking he had slept with her to guilt him into fulfilling his obligations to care for them both.

This isn’t to say the Bible teaches that women are deceitful. But it is incredibly frank about what women often need to do when all other options aren’t available to them.

But young women aren’t rushing out to see Lady Macbeth or The Beguiled, instead preferring a fantasy film about an Amazon goddess who can use super powers to battle evil. Why?

And these aren’t the only films released this year that focus on fascinating women. Rachel Weisz is superb in author Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Cynthia Nixon brings poet Emily Dickinson to life in A Quiet Passion.

Then there’s 20th Century Women, a touching (and at times hilarious) film about a trio of interesting women who are trying to raise a good man.

Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) is a single mother with a 15-year-old son, Jamie, with whom she believes she is losing touch. She’s worried. And desperate. Jamie’s deadbeat father only calls on birthdays and at Christmas.

In the end, she asks two women living in the rambling boarding house she’s restoring to help her raise him. He needs to know how to be a man, she tells them.

One of the women, Julie, asks, “Don’t you need a man to raise a man?”

To which Dorothea, unsure, replies, “No, I don’t think so.”

Julie (Elle Fanning) is only 17 so the best she has to offer is to teach Jamie how to “walk tough” and hold a cigarette. But the other female boarder, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), decides young Jamie needs to read second-wave feminist literature and listen to punk music (the film is set in 1979). And before you know it, Jamie is wise beyond his years about the evils of patriarchy, ageism and sexism, home birthing and the female orgasm.

And how to dance to Black Flag.

In the end, Jamie turns out alright. And Dorothea turns out to be quite the hero.

After all, it’s heroic to raise a good man in such a world as ours.

 

Sure, Wonder Woman has superhuman strength, amazing speed, the Lasso of Truth, and indestructible bracelets.

But Dorothea has mother-love. And tenacity, uncertainty, devotion and a fragile kind of hope.

All the films I’ve mentioned portray strong women faced by challenging circumstances, with limited options available to them. They depict women as articulate, resourceful, resolute, and effective. Not all of them make choices we’d agree with, but they all act in ways we can understand, given their situations.

Aren’t these the kinds of heroes we should be encouraging young female moviegoers to watch?

Because when we see more realistic female heroes on celluloid we get better at spotting them in real life.

 

 

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