What do crazed sports fans and passionate fans of superheros have in common? For starters, both groups are thought to be traditionally male-dominated. Both groups also are endlessly devoted to the objects of their fandom and are heavily armed with strong, unwavering opinions. These opinions, however, are often toxic and create discourse on a much larger scale.
For example, take this summer’s big blockbuster, Wonder Woman. The film’s release in June was preceded by endless controversy. Male superfans of the DC Universe were quick to criticize the casting of Israeli actress Gal Gadot as the leading role. These fans griped that, at the time, Gadot was not curvy enough to play Wonder Woman, a character that had been portrayed in comic books and other prior iterations as well-endowed. Really?
Body-shaming actresses is not novel to Hollywood, but it is ridiculous. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gal thought just that of these body-shamers, saying, “Listen, if you want to be for real, then the Amazons, they had only one boob. Exactly one boob. So what are you talking about here? Me having small boobs and small ass? That will make all the difference.”
Throughout a 75 year history, Wonder Woman has always been regarded as a feminist character that embodies female strength and ability. Canonically speaking, she engages in rigorous combat and is capable of tremendous feats of strength. This important factor was not lost on Gal Gadot as she prepared for the role. In an interview with Glamour, Gadot said she began training for Wonder Woman six months prior to filming. The actress trained for six hours a day, doing a multitude of different activities that would allow her to bulk up for the role. Two hours of gym work, two hours of fight choreography, and two hours of horseback riding a day caused the actress to gain 17 pounds of muscle. Gadot said that she knew you cannot fake that kind of strength — a clear indicator that she understands what Wonder Woman is all about.
The character is canonically strong, not canonically well-endowed. So, to have men comment on the actress’s breasts instead of her strong physique is a slap in the face not only for women, but for those who wish to stay true to the character.
However, the criticism of the film and Gal Gadot did not stop there. Famed director James Cameron criticized Wonder Woman’s message of feminism, months after the film was first released in theaters. In an interview with The Guardian, Cameron stated, “ All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor [of Cameron’s Terminator 2] was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”
Almost immediately, Wonder Woman fans took to Twitter to respond in outrage to Cameron’s remarks. In addition to this outcry, Wonder Woman’s director, Patty Jenkins, tweeted a response to Cameron’s tone-deaf statement.
The tweet read, in full:
“James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman. Strong women are great. His praise of my film Monster, and our portrayal of a strong yet damaged woman was so appreciated. But if women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, as we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far have we. I believe women can and should be EVERYTHING just like male lead characters should be. There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman. And the massive female audience who made the film a hit it is, can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress.”
Sorry, James. It is clear that Patty has the right idea. As a man, it is not up to you to decide whether or not a film is groundbreaking and progressive for women. The women who go to see female-driven films such as Wonder Woman are highly capable of deciding whether or not her strength and ability to love reflect their ideas of what makes a progressive icon.
For example, Gabby Cochran, a 20-year-old Raleigh native, saw the film in August. Of the film, Cochran said, “I felt empowered after seeing Wonder Woman. I didn’t feel like they were trying too hard to make her strength and femininity overly obvious. It was cool to see a woman realistically play a role that men usually do.”
There is no single ideal face of female strength. A woman does not need to necessarily overcome being battered and broken in order to represent strength. A woman does not need to necessarily forgo the conventional standards of inner and outer beauty in order to “look and act the part” of a strong female. The truth is, strong women come in all shapes and sizes, and Wonder Woman is a beacon of love and feminism that everyone would do well to learn from.