Saturday, June 17, 2017

What's Wrong with "Wonder Woman"

There can be no doubt that in the very earliest ages of human history the magical force and wonder of the female was no less a marvel than the universe itself; and this gave to woman a prodigious power, which it has been one of the chief concerns of the masculine part of the population to break, control, and employ to its own ends. —Joseph Campbell, 1964

I really wanted to like the new Wonder Woman movie, but I couldn't even sit through half of the 2 1/2 hour epic, driven away by drippy dialogue and lame characterizations.

The film is directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), but the screenplay is by Allan Heinberg, with a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs (three nonwomen). It shows. Men seldom look earlier than the Greek times, and this is in fact when "history" began. But "herstory" started long before that.

Wonder Woman first appeared in comic form in January 1942. She was said to be sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon Queen Hippolyta, and given life by the Aphrodite, goddess of love. Later comics, and the movie, instead have the male god Zeus giving life to Diana/Wonder Woman and indeed, all of humankind.

This has significance because in the first written story of mankind, The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2500 BCE), it is the goddess Belet-ili (also called Aruru) who sculpts men from clay. The men then team up to chop down the cedar forest and denigrate the goddess Ishtar (who opens my book, Tokin' Women). Flash forward to the Greek play The Eumenides, wherein a man is found not guilty of matricide on the grounds that people are not related to their mothers, who merely carry men’s seed. The goddess Athena, who testifies in the play that she sprung whole from the head of Zeus and was not borne by a mother, seals the move from the old god/goddess pantheon to the new, patriarchal one.

Myth matters. As Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, "If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor."

As revealed in Jill Lepore's book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the character was created by the American psychologist and writer William Marston, who was inspired by early feminists, especially his psychologist wife Sadie Holloway and the birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Sadie, who attended Mount Hollyoke at a time when women were called Amazons for going to college, once wrote DC comics suggesting instead of "Vulcan's hammer," Wonder Woman should exclaim, "Suffering Sappho!"

In the movie, Wonder Woman sets out to destroy Ares, the god of war, and thereby end WWI. Ending war was a goal of Sanger's as well. She argued in Woman and the New Race that overpopulation is the cause of all human misery, including poverty and war. Birth control, she said, is "the real cure for war" and "love is the greatest force of the universe." Lepore writes, "Women should rule the world, Sanger and Marston and Holloway thought, because love is stronger than force."

After making an appearance as cover girl on the first edition of Ms. Magazine, Wonder Woman was objected to last year when she was named an ambassador to the United Nations. The announcement, which was attended by TV's Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot of the big screen, came weeks after seven real-life women were rejected as UN Secretary General. Some men objected to a women-only screening of the film, to which New Yorker fact checker Talia Lavin tweeted about the all-male panel that's working to remove birth control options for women in the US healthcare plan.

In the movie, there's a witchy female character who concocts deadly poisons for the modern Ares, who's seen inhaling poppers in much the same way as Hitler took methamphetamine. I'm guessing, after many special effects and pyrotechnics, Wonder Woman kicks his butt (but leaves something open for a sequel).

I will say I had a little more spring in my step as I left the theatre, walking tall like a woman. It was nice that Connie Nielsen got to be a gladiator (Hippolyta) this time, and to see Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) playing a strong character (Diana's warrior woman aunt Antiope) who isn't underhanded like Claire Underwood. I liked some of the lines like, "How do women fight in these clothes?" and "This is what passes for armor in your country?" when Diana is considering corsets and frills. But on the warrior costumes, why the codpieces?

I see on her Twitter feed that Nielsen is founder of Human Needs Project, and Road To Freedom Scholarships. Those are the kinds of battles where we need our warrior women.


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