Turns out that I was not, in fact, prepared to watch a solid, female-led superhero movie as a woman.
When I was growing up, I didn’t give much (if any) thought to sexism.
This was my privilege, as a child of the 1980s. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the women who came before, all of the battles appeared to already be fought. Look: there was nothing, as a child, that my brother could do that I couldn’t. Look: my parents were both dual computer science/math majors in college. (Look: both of my parents had gone to college.) Look: I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and none of the answers felt like they were off-limits to me. Look: I played with both Legos and Barbies, and so did my brother. Look: I was not raised to feel like I had to be a baby-maker when I grew up.
What was this “sexism”, I wondered, from my idyllic life? What were people complaining about? Surely that was a thing of the past.
When I was growing up, I didn’t notice the lack of female representation in popular media.
Was it just the books and movies that I consumed as a child? I still haven’t figured it entirely out. I hear other women my age complaining about it bitterly, the deep lack of admirable women and girls in the media of our youth. They aren’t wrong, but this is only something that I notice in hindsight. At the time, I was too busy inventing my own girl characters, and putting them in my head-canons without stopping to think about why.
As a woman, and a nerd, I’m acclimated to movies where my gender is reduced. Though I notice it now, though it bothers me now, I still can’t let it bother me too much, if I have any hope of enjoying the kind of movies that I enjoy. I give rave reviews to blockbusters that have one female character, and her primary role is to inspire the male heroes. I deconstruct them later, I discuss their problems later, but I put all of that aside while I am watching it. I get swept up in the powerful storylines, the epic music, the explosive fight scenes. I leave the theater feeling pumped.
You have to. You don’t even think about it.
Enter Rey from Star Wars. Enter the female Ghostbusters. Enter Supergirl on the CW.
And I thought, okay, so I am finally getting some representation, and it’s (mostly) awesome. I’m used to this, by now, this is a good trend. My life is still privileged enough that everyday sexism doesn’t really do more than brush the edges. I was fully prepared to love a summer blockbuster about a female superhero, directed by a woman.
I did not know that I needed it.
And then I saw Wonder Woman.
And then I was sitting in the theater, and a young Diana was running through the sunny haven of Paradise Island, watching the grown-up Amazonians. And then I realized that this whole movie was made for me, that this larger-than-life hero was made for me, that I was not going to be asked to take a backseat in my enjoyment, and that’s when I started crying.
I cried my way through every important scene, and grinned through the rest. And when the movie was over and I stepped from the darkened theater into the bright light of day, I did not have the same giddy euphoria that superheroes usually give me. I was not pounding my fist in the air and skipping across the parking lot. I got into my car, and I fought not to cry some more.
I’m still crying, when I think about it too much.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave the name of my books to a man I know at work. The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, he read. He knew my newest was about superheroes. “So it’s about a woman?” “Yes.”
All of my books are about women. I’ve never considered anything else.
This is why.
I’m still too raw from the movie to fully process what I’ve watched. I do know that I love it beyond words, though I also know that I cannot, in good conscience, rave about it without also leveling one major criticism. Can we set aside the joy for just one moment, to discuss the horrible implications of having someone with a physical disfigurement represent all that is bad and unworthy about humanity? It’s a problematic theme throughout the whole movie, and it comes to a head in the climax with a truly unforgivable moment. I am not going to spoil it, but I will say this: Patty Jenkins, you made a better movie than this. Such a message has no place inside of an otherwise exceptional blockbuster. Especially for the story of a character like Wonder Woman, who is supposed to be about love and a better way of living.
I’m lucky, that I am able-bodied and have the privilege of setting that aside to enjoy the rest of the movie. Because I can only imagine a disabled woman, crying at the sight of young Diana on Paradise Island, only to be slapped in the face a handful of scenes later.
You can do better. We can do better.
Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, would want us to do better.