The biggest source of comic relief in the movie “Wonder Woman” is the juxtaposition of Diana’s ultra-competence in battle with her utter lack of competence in all things “womanly” (ok, not all things). Having been raised outside of the male gaze, she hasn’t learned to defer to males in terms of governance, she hasn’t learned that her body is an object to be lusted after, and she doesn’t care whether the guy in the bar ever answers the question of whether to be afraid or aroused at the sight of her. Yes, she does follow Steve Trevor around like his little lost puppy, but the reason she is lost is because life with males as distant figures is so very different from life as we know it (making her “Born Yesterday” appearance itself a form of feminist commentary).
From the start of the movie, men and women are cast as two different species. There are Men, who are mortal and fallible, and there are Women, who are Amazons. Sure, there are mortals who are female, but we are (for the most part) encouraged to forget them as one scene wonders — the woman whose plea inspires the much previewed press into No Man’s Land, for example. Even pervasive characters like the plucky secretary Etta Candy and Dr. Poison have one essential moment before fading into the shadows of a male-dominant world.
The Amazon Women, though, aren’t doing too much better by being tucked away on a hidden island spending all of their time training to defeat their own dominant male (thus creating a grown woman who knows how to swing a battle axe but can still say with a straight face that she was created by being formed out of clay and breathed to life by a god). She looks hopelessly naïve when she says that (guess Amazon Mama didn’t have the “birds and the bees” talk with little Diana), and there are similar comic setups for her simple view of war and her expectations for male behavior. Wonder Woman is presented mainly as someone who doesn’t know things we take for granted. The list of things Diana doesn’t know is pretty long: Diana doesn’t know ice cream, Diana doesn’t know corsets, Diana doesn’t know babies, Diana doesn’t know social boundaries — but especially, Diana doesn’t know her own origin story and her full power. It befuddles me that Amazon Mama felt that ignorance was Diana’s best defense and that she could really send Diana out into the world to meet her fate with her blinders still intact. I know Amazon Mama meant well, but it was infuriating to see her push Diana back into ignorance over and over again.
Being ignorant didn’t keep Diana safe — it just meant that she met her fate on someone else’s terms and not her own. It’s interesting that Diana couldn’t defeat her enemy until she became The Diana Who Knows. The movie is also bookended with this version of Diana — the one who can slip easily through the world in her pencil skirt, who has found a way to navigate the world of Men, who holds secret stories in her heart that men only wish they knew. The movie is the journey from The Diana Who Doesn’t Know to The Diana Who Knows, and we are left wondering at the end if this is a good thing (though we presume it is). But even this more savvy secret Amazon can’t help but look back wistfully at The Diana Who Doesn’t Know. We don’t know what compromises The Diana Who Knows has had to make over the years (though one can make some assumptions based on the fact that her shield is on display in a museum case and her pencil skirt hasn’t been ripped in two by a good roundhouse kick), but we end the movie with the hope that even though Diana Knows Men, she’ll always have a piece of the Diana Who Doesn’t Know Boundaries. That is what resonated with me — feeling the shared weight of being Women Who Know how the dominant male world works and having the shared memory of a Woman Who Doesn’t Know the boundaries and expectations, doesn’t care about that, and kicks a lot of deserving tush as a consequence.
Does this journey make me feel empowered? Sort of. Probably a better description would be cautiously optimistic. I’ve only just met The Diana Who Knows. I don’t really know how she fits into this world. I only know she put her lot with the fate of Men, she has compromised on her dress, and she’s nostalgic about her adventure with the first man she ever met. I hope she continues to call Men out on the ridiculous things we seem to just accept as a society. I hope she keeps her ideals. But at the end of the movie, I really don’t know for sure what will happen for Wonder Woman, and as I read commentary that goes back and forth on whether or not this movie is truly feminist commentary and truly a breakthrough movie, I am similarly at sea about the “Wonder Woman” franchise. Is this a new era for blockbuster movies? Could be. Maybe. I’m cautiously optimistic. I want to see more. I want to know what happens next for the Movie Director Who Knows, the Writer Who Knows, the Actress Who Knows, and the Audience Who Knows. Where will we go from here?
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