Opinion - Political Rant Part 3: This One's for the Ladies
The instant the recent Wonder Woman film was deemed a success, I knew this would happen. I’m only a little surprised how quickly it happened…not even a full 24 hours after opening day.
Thanks to CNN, we have this editorial by Lewis Beale…wherein he essentially states that Wonder Woman shouldn’t be a role model because she’s unrealistic…a fantasy that can never be achieved.
Sigh…look dude, if you’re just here to say, like so many other commentators, that you’re not a fan of comic books or the superheroes that sprung forth from them, then just outright say it…don’t try to sugar coat it by claiming you’re looking out for feminism and all that. Oh, and another point of advice? The next time you write an editorial, how about you do a little research first? Who knows? It will certainly serve to inform your opinion but you also might just read something that changes it.
While Beale makes a good point that there are plenty of female figures that deserve their own movies (although I’m disappointed he overlooked Marie Curie), he fails to see that there is a power to fantasy, hence, well, the power fantasy that is the hallmark of superhero literature. Yeah, I called it literature. Why? Because if you refer to my last rant, it IS literature: Achilles, Odysseus, Beowulf, Gilgamesh and so forth. Ahhhh…did you spot that? Go back and look at those names again. Men. All of them are men. And where was Mr. Beale when Man of Steel opened? Or Doctor Strange? Or Thor? Or any of the other vast number of superhero films that have come out in this recent onslaught of the genre? I think I can smell what the Beale is cooking…and he’s looking to me like either a hypocrite or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to embrace feminism all the while seeking to limit it: apparently only men are allowed to have power fantasies.
Let’s explore that notion a bit by flipping genders, shall we? While there are historical figures that I look up to and admire, no single one of them informs my day to day life and decisions like the fictional Superman. And no, it’s not that he punches bad guys in the face. [Oh, if ONLY I could! – Ed.] It’s his adherence to Truth, Justice and the ideal of an American Way (usually defined by the reader, for me it always enshrined a good work ethic, mercy and charity for those in need and the resolution to fight for what is right should all other methods be exhausted) that I aspire to. Will I ever meet his high standards? Of course not! He’s a fictional character and I have to navigate real life…he can afford to see some things black, some things white and other things just a few shades of gray while I have to deal with no black, no white and endless shades of gray. Superman serves as my moral compass, my barometer: if I can’t see Superman agreeing with a course of action I’m taking, then that serves as a warning to me that I need to take a step back and think about what I’m doing.
But let’s get away from those pesky ‘ideals’, since Mr. Beale’s article seems to focus more on the physical and how Wonder Woman is seeking to objectify women. In keeping with our gender swap, let’s take a look at Superman, Batman or really any male superhero. [That’s kind of redundant, “male superhero”, isn’t it? Heroes are male, heroines are female. – Ed.] Look, I’m 5’10”, 200 lbs. with a little bit of a beer gut…I am NEVER going to have a physique like any of these guys and I know that this might come as a shock…but I am PERFECTLY fine with that. Would I like to be that cut? Absolutely. Would I like to have the square jaw and idealized features? Damn right I would! But at no point do I ever open a comic book a feel like I’m being body shamed because of something we touched upon in the last paragraph: these characters are IDEALS…and that includes THE PHYSICAL. They are the same embodiments of perfection that we see in both ancient and renaissance sculpture. Sure, it may come off as a bit of a boring analogy, particularly how often it is used, but these are our new Greek gods…not in the sense that we worship them (although on some levels, maybe we do…but that’s a different topic for a different time) but in the sense that these are the depiction of beings that are physically perfect, embody ideals and yet still have flaws that make telling their stories continually interesting. For Beale to suggest that women shouldn’t have heroes that are physically attractive or embrace their sensual/sexual identity is an awfully slippery slope. I think I understand where he’s coming from, as yes, between models, magazines, advertisements, and a constant media bombardment and pressure regarding what a woman should look like these days…there certainly is no shortage of objectification in our society these days. But, put simply, Beale is guilty of a fallacy. He’s looking for objectification and so he’s going to find it and he will not let anything, including the subject matter, get in his way. We’ll touch more on this in a bit, but sufficed to say, that’s not how Wonder Woman works (with some exceptions in the Silver Age).
Now let’s turn the gender dial back and look at Mr. Beale’s argument again. Are women not allowed to have a Wonder Woman? To aspire to her ideals of love and compassion yet with a warrior’s resolution to defend those same ideals? Are women not allowed to look at some idealized vision of a woman just because it might make them insecure? Come on dude…give women some credit! Absolutely women deserve to have this…just as I deserve my Superman! Woah…we did it again…women…having something men have had for a while now? Isn’t…isn’t that feminism? The equality of man and woman? So it’s kind of weird that Mr. Beale makes the argument that women should focus on more ‘realistic’ heroines while men can have any sort of fantasy they want…yet he claims to be championing feminism. Women are as entitled to fantasy as men are…and there is absolutely no reason to think that a little girl watching Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman for the first time won’t walk away from it feeling the same way I did as a little boy when coming away from watching Chris Reeve’s performance as Superman.
My next point here ties in to what I said in the beginning…about doing research…and also what I alluded to as we wrapped up our discussion on physical ideals. Mr. Beale correctly identifies William Moulton Marston as the creator of Wonder Woman…but totally botches the reason why he created her. His quote is as follows: “…in reality she’s just a bodacious fantasy created by a man named William Moulton Marston”. Congratulations, Mr. Beale, you too can use the Google. It’s a shame you didn’t actually click on that Wikipedia link though, otherwise you might not be the idiot that you currently sound like. Marston was a popular psychologist back in the 30s and 40s who, upon seeing the ballooning popularity of the nascent superhero-driven comic books, bemoaned the fact that while there was no shortage of men in tights there were absolutely ZERO woman crime fighters. He understood that these books would play a role in the minds of their young readers and, as such, the balance of having an equal woman character was necessary…if not vital…to the genre. From that, in addition to being surrounded by strong women in his life (his wife was a suffragette and his…ahem…”assistant” Olive Byrne was the daughter of Ethel Byrne…who opened the first birth-control clinic with her sister, Margaret Sanger, birth control activist, sex educator and nurse), sprang the idea for Wonder Woman. To remove Marston from these historic trappings, from his influences, just to paint him as “a man who created a bodacious fantasy” is to do both him and his creation a disgusting disservice. [And by the way Mr. Beale, I came upon all that information in less than 10 minutes on Wikipedia. So, you know, again, do your damn research. – Ed.] Marching into the offices of DC Comics, home of the most popular character at the time…Superman…with a character not only enveloped in his aforementioned female influences but also rooted in Greek mythology, in December, 1941, Wonder Woman would be unleashed on the world, a voice of equality in a market full of musclebound men. She’s been around for 75 years now…and if objectification or “bodacious fantasy” were all that there was to her, she’d have vanished as quickly as all the copy-cat heroines that arose around her back in the 40s.
But she hasn’t, Mr. Beale. She is part of DC’s trinity along with Superman and Batman, and characters like this only remain fresh in the minds of not just readers of comics, but people in general, unless there’s something there that both men and women, young and old, see something there to relate to. Like her male contemporaries, Wonder Woman has outgrown just being part of comic book culture or popular culture…and she did that a while ago…she’s now just part of culture. Her emblem, like those of Superman or Batman, has become universal…recognized in any country on the planet. That doesn’t happen if the character is just “a bodacious fantasy”. That happens when a character becomes more than just a character…when a character becomes an ideal. Wonder Woman isn’t a feminist icon because women love her tiara and earrings, she’s a feminist icon because she can stand toe to toe with anything in her way, she’s willing to fight for causes she sees as right without ever losing sight of the ideals of love and compassion that guide her and, most importantly, she is completely the equal and, at times, the superior to her aforementioned Justice League colleagues. And THAT’S why she was chosen by Gloria Steinem to grace the very first cover of Ms. Magazine…because that’s what women and feminists have been fighting for, not just equality in the workplace or equality in society, but equality in dreams and ideals and the heroines that embody them. You might be right, Mr. Beale, with regards to your thoughts about Lara Croft or Mila Jovovich’s Alice in the Resident Evil movies, but you are DEAD WRONG when it comes to Wonder Woman. Perhaps if you’d done your damn research, you’d have seen things differently.
So the next time you want to announce to the world you don’t like superhero movies, just say that. Don’t waste our time pretending to pick up the flag of feminism hoping that it’ll support your outmoded and quite frankly, kind of offensive ideas.
PS – Another thing you should take note on Mr. Beale? The fact that one of the actresses you singled out in your article, Jessica Chastain…yeah, turns out she’s supporting the film and not only that, but encouraging women to go and see it. Go figure, huh?