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The Queerness of Wonder Woman

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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.

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9 Comments

  1. Razwick
    Razwick

    I didn’t mind the love story because it made her less queer but because it was another sort of rushed and unnecessary romance in a movie. That said, it didn’t particularly bother me, and loving Steve served a purpose in the climax so I ultimately can’t complain about it too much.*

    One of my major beefs with the film is that we saw no physicality between the amazons aside from combat. Like it’s an island full of women and you’re gonna tell me that there aren’t even couples holding hands in the background?** It just honestly felt a little unrealistic, as someone who acknowledges the existence of LGBT people. That said, “major beef” in this context = minor quibble because overall I loved this movie.

    I hate when people criticise something for not being feminist enough because women are sometimes attracted to men. It could have done better, and I certainly wouldn’t have complained if Diana was ‘more gay’ but I’m bi and it’s pride month and I already feel Not Gay Enough ™ because I’m in an LTR with a man, I don’t need this ‘well she slept with a dude so it failed at being feminist’ crap >.<

    *Although honestly 'love interest dies so the MC learns something' is pretty bad regardless of which gender dies, but I get that they needed to get rid of Steve and they did it well I guess.

    **I might be forgetting something that was there in the markets or something when we were following little girl Diana but it all seemed a little too platonic to me.

    June 5, 2017
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    • Cat
      Cat

      The way I interpreted her reaction to Steve’s death seems to be different from most people. IMO it wasn’t really about “guy you love died”. In the context of the scene, she is being actively tempted to give up on the human race and accept they’re all evil and self destructive. And then, THEN Ares is proven wrong because that is when Steve gives his life to save thousands. It serves to give her faith in mankind and to fight back, to not accept the hopeless narrative Ares is trying to feed her.

      June 6, 2017
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      • shel
        shel

        That’s definitely more how I saw it as well… I mean, sure there will be feelings that this person she cared about died, but it was more that she saw all men weren’t just bad.

        I also saw her “why can’t you sleep with me” thing as not naivety, but confidence and having no fear or shame about sleeping next to a man. She knew she had nothing to fear from him and could kick his ass if needed.

        June 11, 2017
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  2. fluffy
    fluffy

    I feel like Rose got almost nothing right in that article, but I especially don’t understand the “weaponized Smurfette” thing. Context says this is bad, but wtf does it mean?

    Anyway, I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!!! Of course I can think of ways to improve it, and I can’t fucking wait to read fic about it. * eyes emoji *

    As someone with experience training and competing with other women while wearing very little clothing (swim team, Jr lifeguards) I agree that physical contact is happening in the casual spaces of their world, both platonic and romantic. I think we saw very little time when the amazons were being casual. Throwing in a glimpse of a communal hair braiding sesh, or helping each other get into armor, sounds great to me. 😉

    June 5, 2017
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    • A Smurfette is when there’s a bunch of men and ONE woman. Like Smurfette in the Smurfs.

      June 7, 2017
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  3. Jellyfish
    Jellyfish

    I really liked how Wonder Woman sidestepped the “Born Sexy Yesterday” trope by having Diana be well-educated about sex, at least theoretically (well, theoretically with dudes, anyway). In the scene in the boat, I didn’t interpret that as Diana being “innocent” so much as she’s actively flirting with Steve, but also trusts him and knows he’s going to follow her lead. I liked how Diana’s attraction to him is obvious, and he doesn’t “win” her; they make a mutual decision.
    The movie could have definitely been more diverse, but it was very cool that there was a First Nations character who wasn’t stereotypical and who didn’t die. Apparently Patty Jenkins was very open to the actor’s input, and he chose his own clothing and improvised some lines in Blackfoot. https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/06/04/representation-matters-chief-wonder-woman-awesome/

    June 6, 2017
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  4. Cara
    Cara

    There’s something gross, to me, about suggesting that a grown woman can’t consent because she comes from a different culture with different ideas about romance and sex. Even classifying an ignorance of American social norms as “naivete and innocence” is kind of… bleh.

    June 7, 2017
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  5. saint_buffy
    saint_buffy

    My objections were why Batfleck felt he needed an explanation as to Diana’s history. You returned her photo, be gracious not demanding.

    Also, when Gadit said Themyscira I heard The Myscira. I think it wad her accent but it kept pulling me out because I was confused.

    June 13, 2017
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    • Ilex
      Ilex

      I finally saw this movie, and I kept hearing “The Mascara.” So you’re not alone!

      I also kept wondering why all the Amazons had accents. Presumably they were speaking their native language with each other, so it shouldn’t have sounded foreign! I could only guess that because Gal Gadot has an accent when speaking English, they all needed to sound the same. But it was a bit disorienting for me.

      June 17, 2017
      |Reply

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