Wonder Woman v. Charmed: A Discussion on Gender Equality
I just saw Wonder Woman a couple of days ago, and, like everyone else, decided to write a blog post about it. But this isn’t really a post about the movie – rather, it’s a post about my reaction to the reactions to the movie, specifically the idea that “both girls and boys need to see women on-screen just as powerful, if not more powerful, than men” (Film Inquiry) (emphasis added).
Now, I know not everyone feels this way, and lest anyone charge me with abandoning my sex, let me say that I thought the movie was great. It was a fun superhero movie and had really awesome action scenes (except for the Superman v. Batman throwback at the end where the climactic fight turns into a giant fire that encompasses the entire screen in a totally unrealistic way). Watching the Amazons fight was just incredible. The cinematography and choreography made them look like the most bad-*** fighters of all time (which they were, according to mythology). Every time they fought, I wanted to immediately run to a gym and sign up to be an Amazon (is someone tracking female gym membership sales after that movie?). I loved Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, Chris Pine, and Connie Nielsen. All so good. But the reactions to the show seem to be symptomatic of a larger issue in gender equality – the play for power over equality. Before you burn me at the stake, let me explain.
Is this Equality?
I’ve been observing the feminist movement for a long time, and I’ve started to worry that it is taking us down the wrong path towards Utopic equality. I fear that there is a King of the Hill mentality when it comes to gender equality. Rather than making room for everyone, each side fights for its “turn” at the top of the mountain, citing past exclusion as reason for new discrimination (not all white men are racist or sexist, yet some feel that they’re continually treated that way) and creating a seesaw effect of movement “moments”. And I have to ask: Is this equality?
The idea that Wonder Woman doesn’t need a man for pleasure, coupled with the hype around the all-female screenings and the general trend towards statements that women are better than men, seems to put forth the idea that men are unnecessary obstacles standing in the way of true female accomplishment. It’s an idea of independence, not interdependence. Yes, women (and men) can and should do a lot of things on their own, but is the goal of these efforts true equality, or are we merely replacing a male-dominated world with a female-dominated one?
Equality isn't Sameness
Going along with this idea of inter-gender equality, I also worry about equality within genders, or intra-gender equality. Equality isn’t sameness, yet for all our talk of tolerance, I don’t know that we’ve truly mastered that concept yet.
To illustrate this point, I’ve been really bothered by this Nissan commercial which has played on repeat during the NBA finals. It’s been difficult for me to figure out why this commercial bothers me, especially because I think the girl riding the black trike is super cool. After watching it a thousand times (thanks Nissan marketing), I think the reason it bothers me is because of the way it portrays the girl on the pink trike, who looks at the girl on the black trike with awe, as if she wishes she could be her. Maybe she does, but since when did it become bad to be the girl on the pink trike? Why couldn’t the girl on the pink trike have nodded back, or given her a peace sign while watching through pink gem-studded Barbie sunglasses, thereby portraying them as equals? Is the black-trike girl our new role model, or can both be?
Charmed: an example of intra- and inter-gender equality
Before you decide I’m out of my mind and stop reading, let me put forth an example of a show I think does a great job at portraying both intra- and inter-gender equality. I’ve recently started watching Charmed, that Buffy sister-show from the late 90’s and early 00’s about three sisters with supernatural powers who are destined to protect the world from evil (or at least San Francisco – why is it that all demons tend to reside in California?).
I have been continually impressed with how female-oriented the show is. In fact, I don’t know that I can recall another TV show, and very few movies, that are as female dominated as Charmed, including Wonder Woman and Buffy. Although men come and go throughout the series, those three sisters remain the core of the show, and the men, although important, are very clearly tangential to the role of the women. Not only are they kick-butt heroes with special powers and martial arts expertise, but they’re also educated business owners and successful working women (every one of them has a college degree) who are also just inherently feminine. They talk about their periods, clothes, shopping, boys, etc. They want to be wives and mothers, in addition to literally saving the world. Sometimes when they fight they throw weak punches or run away squealing in fear (it’s kind of a miracle they aren’t all dead from being thrown around, actually). But that doesn’t stop them from saving the world time and time again. Their female traits are part of what make them strong, even if it means fighting in a skirt, heels, and a halter top.
I love Charmed because I think it does such a good job of portraying true equality, both inter-gender equality as well as intra-gender equality. Even though the men are tangential, they are not second-class citizens to the women. They bring their own talents and wisdom to the group, and they are true equals within their respective relationships. And as for the sisters themselves, each one is equally important to the Power of Three, in spite of, and because of, her differences. The beauty of their sisterhood is that their individual differences are what make them collectively whole.
The Wonder Woman movie actually did a pretty good job with this too. They definitely made Diana very feminine in her mannerisms (she coos over a baby, etc.), and they emphasize the wisdom of women in abhorring war and the evils of human destruction. They showed that Diana could be a great fighter and not lose those qualities that also made her a woman, and I loved Patty Jenkins for doing that so well. They also did a good job of making Chris Pine and Gal Gadot equal in their relationship, or as equal as a demigoddess and a mortal can be. And this delicate balance is one of the reasons Wonder Woman has received such high praise, and rightly so.
A series of moments but no real change
Now, I’m not saying that women have to be stuck in the 50’s to be women, or that there aren’t serious problems that still exist with gender discrimination today. I fully support women making their own decisions to go back to school, to choose to work outside the home, or to do whatever it is they want to do (see this post where I encourage all women to get more education). I’ve sung along with the Eurythmics “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” and fully support women in STEM, politics, and business leadership roles. I’m also not trying to put a damper on the excitement over Wonder Woman. I absolutely appreciate just how big it is to have a female superhero movie directed by a female director, and I love the moments, like Wonder Woman’s (re)debut, that bring a minority group into the spotlight and give them a greater presence in society. I’m simply trying to point out a potentially fatal flaw in the current equality system before it is too late.
Equality and love for our fellow man should unquestionably be our goal. We should love all men and women for who they are as humans, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or ideology, and to appreciate them for their talents as well as their differences. We should absolutely keep fighting for the oppressed, and standing up to make ourselves heard, but we also need to not lose sight of the end goal of true equality – equality that lets everyone peacefully co-exist, rather than forcing one group to step aside and make way for another. Otherwise, each group will keep fighting for its place at the top of the hill and all we’ll have left is a series of moments but no real change.
Honestly, I think the solution lies in retraining ourselves on how to handle diversity, including diversity of thought and opinion (see the 2016 presidential election if you don’t know what I mean). Doing so would require a great deal of humility, patience, and willingness to learn about those we do not understand – true tolerance. If we could learn do that – to find equality through differences, to allow the pink trike and the black trike and the boy on the mountain bike to equally co-exist – then we really will have accomplished equality in the world. And I think that’s something Wonder Woman would be proud of.