Spoilers for Wonder Woman. Come back and read this after you’ve seen it. And definitely, go see it.
Though I tried to avoid spoilers for Wonder Woman before I had a chance to see it yesterday, there was one that could not be avoided in queer circles: that Diana, Princess of Themyscira, stated unequivocally that men weren’t necessary for sexual pleasure. It was a line that got big laughs from the women in the audience and nervous chuckles from the men; Steve Rose, a critic for The Guardian expressed confusion over the moment.
We spend thirty or so minutes on Diana’s mystical island home, watching muscular woman with razor-sharp cheekbones hurling weapons at each other. The scenes are shot with what could only be described as the queer female gaze: the leather armor, practical hairstyles, big ass swords and toned thighs that could pop a watermelon are not there to turn men on. At the screening I attended with my daughter, a man behind me whispered loudly to his companion, “Did they have to make them so dykey?”
Yes, good sir. Yes, they did.
But, as some critics were quick to point out, Gal Gadot’s Diana still gets down with Chris Pine. A man! So much for feminism, right?
Slate’s Christina Cauterucci writes in her review, “I Wish Wonder Woman Were As Feminist As It Thinks It Is”:
“The love story in Wonder Woman also seems positioned as a ‘no homo’ response to the heroine’s inherently queer backstory: Diana was raised on a hidden island that contains only women, some of them fairly jacked and butch-of-center. […] Diana is so clueless about men, human activity, and the basic concepts of manipulation and evil—think mute air-breathing Ariel in The Little Mermaid, if she could incapacitate an entire village of German sharpshooters—that her capacity for consent is somewhat blurry. She can’t even understand why Trevor thinks it would be improper for them to sleep in the same bed when they’ve just met. Diana’s naïveté and innocence are crucial to the film’s moral thrust, but they cast her sexual relationship in a shiftier light.”
Cauterucci isn’t the only critic who’s made this observation, but I respectfully disagree. While it would have been refreshing to see a Wonder Woman without a romantic subplot, its inclusion doesn’t erase or devalue Diana’s queerness. It simply means that she’s, wait for it…not attracted to one gender. We already knew that Wonder Woman was canonically bisexual (maybe she’s pansexual; the scope of her attraction is never defined, probably because it’s a movie about war and explosions and not all the steamy, acrobatic Amazon sex going on in Themyscira. Fingers crossed for the sequel).
Neither do I agree that Wonder Woman has a consent issue; Diana’s confusion over the importance of marriage and sleeping arrangements doesn’t rise from some Brooke-Sheilds-in-The-Blue-Lagoon sexual innocence, but seeming impatience at how ridiculous the social rules are in the world beyond Themyscira. By all accounts, Diana has had more sexual education than Steve; the Amazons apparently have a twelve-volume encyclopedia on the subject that she has studied extensively. Not only can Diana consent, but I imagine she must have had to give Steve some on-the-job training. The crucial naïveté Cauterucci describes extends to senseless violence against innocents, not Diana’s own sexuality. The only person who assumes otherwise is Steve, and Diana corrects that assumption matter-of-factly before it can take root in the narrative.
I won’t argue that Wonder Woman is a masterpiece of feminism that lifts up and represents every woman in the world. No movie, TV show, or book can possibly do that, as our stories and experiences are vast and varied. There were many missteps the movie made, from the minuscule parts given to black women and the absence of any other women of color from speaking roles, to the fact that, aside from Gadot and Lucy Davis’s dowdy but spunky Etta, once we leave Themyscira the movie turns into a total dude show. Even Dr. Poison, set up in the script to be the Big Bad, got shoved aside for Remus Lupin. I understand the feminist critics who say they didn’t dig the love story. But to argue that a canonically bisexual heroine is less queer because she has sex with a man off-screen, and to include this as a reason that the movie isn’t “as feminist as it thinks it is,” inadvertently suggests that biphobia and panphobia are somehow progressive.
I don’t excuse all the choices made by the filmmakers or celebrate Wonder Woman as a feminist master stroke in itself, but there’s no denying that its success has opened doors in Hollywood that were previously barred not only for female creators but female audiences, especially queer female audiences. Of course, it was still a movie in which a queer person’s love interest dies, though it was refreshing to see a straight, cis man fridged for a woman’s emotional motivation this time. I thoroughly look forward to the sequel, and maybe an ass-kicking girlfriend for Diana…who doesn’t die.