I wonder what woman!
Fictional characters, especially those that use above average strength to rescue the world have always been a very crucial part of a child’s character formation. Boys have grown up with the desire to be batman and save their Gotham from the shackles of crime and evil. They have grown up drawing inspiration from the likes of Christian Bale, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans and Robert Downy Jr.
Wonder Woman is the first movie in a decade dedicated to a female superhero among both DC and Marvel universe. Fictional characters with superpowers fighting evil play an important role to inculcate values of altruistic responsibility. They are also crucial in building confidence, increasing inner strength and self-worth. It is essential that girls do not always idolise male forms of superhero. They need a female form so that they can aspire to become one.
This female form therefore becomes an icon for young girls across the world struggling to find an idol un-alien to them. She becomes a beacon of hope for the women that are told they need men and they alone can never achieve what a man can.
A blockbuster commercial movie on wonder woman gives these young girls a universal face they can aspire to. That face has now become Gal Gaddot. Casting Gal Gaddot for the role of Wonder Woman sparked significant debate about the compatibility of Zionism and feminism, imperial feminism, the attributes of an ideal face for feminism and the importance of icons.
Wonder Woman offers a great deal to discuss within the domain of feminism, but choosing an ardent Zionist to be the first to play a crucial female pop culture icon ended up taking center stage. Those against the casting of Gal Gaddot mark their dissatisfaction to contemporary feminist movements in the U.S that strongly argue the incompatibility of Zionism and feminism.
Feminist movements in the U.S have made a strong attempt at co-opting anti-Zionism. Movements have accused Israel of genocide and called it an apartheid state. Activist, Linda Sarsour said “You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none”.
Whether or not Zionism is really incompatible with feminism is a debate with several layers and perspectives.
To start the debate and for clarity sake I can call myself an anti-Zionist. For me the Zionist movement led itself towards a well stipulated war against the Palestinian Arabs and actively indulged in ethnic cleansing.
The rights and wrongs of the Israel Palestine conflict is a discussion of a political debacle that has clearly seen no end. Where the Wonder woman debate begins is regardless of what the context or history is; can two philosophies in different spaces of life be so incompatible that your support for one completely discredits your support for another.
On extremes, if you believe in cannibalism, chances are you aren’t really a humanist. If you believe in patriarchy then it should be reasonable enough to say you are not a feminist. But, these of course are philosophies polar opposite from each other. Looking at less correlated ideologies, it might be somewhat viable to say that hypothetically Neo Nazis can be liberals, utilitarians be communists, and terror groups be feminists.
Generally, oppressive regimes and movements contradict one of the basic tenants of feminism that is against oppression. The question is do we see Israel as an occupying oppressive force?
While I personally think imbibing oppression in a certain framework automatically disqualifies you from standing up against any other form of oppression, thanks to the basic concept of hypocrisy. There is, however, limited logic to say otherwise.
Gaddot’s mandatory service in the Israeli defence force under which she fought the war against Lebanon and her public testimony of support to IDF as they executed mass slaughter at the Gaza strip testify her stance on Zionism and her commitment towards the same.
To deem Gaddot unfit to be a feminist icon for her patriotism that imbibes tyranny seems like a logical thing to do given the extent of violence that Israel conducts against women. Violence perpetrated by the Israeli occupation includes the imprisonment and murder of family, destruction of homes, harassment at checkpoints and much more. We have seen systematic destruction of Olive trees by Israeli settlers as a strategic tool to push back Palestinians from their land. This has resulted in a massive loss of agricultural work and income due to the confiscation of land for Palestinian women.
The deliberate separation of Palestinians from one another and from their land, their schools, their workplaces etc. is very similar to the kind of separation that regimes like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany have carried out in the past. Amnesty International provided documented evidence of violence against women in the Israel Palestine conflict. Israel’s deliberate prevention of passage through checkpoints for women in labour, girls prevented from attending school, mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli detention centers.
Historians such as Illan Pappe and Noam Chomsky shed light upon the history of the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Palestine at the hands of early Zionists along with the extensive otherisation of Arabs. History accounts for the systematic hunting of Arabs in Palestinian settlements and the eradication of entire villages.
Coming back to Wonder Woman, a public figure that not only declared support for Zionism as an ideology but praised activities of an oppressive army on a public platform is definitely an odd choice to represent a female embodiment of the battle against evil and oppression.
As the universality of feminism diminishes with growing allegations of white and imperialist feminism, a white woman from a country created by colonizers facing accusations of colonizing another country as the leading face of pop culture feminism is alarmingly dangerous.
It out rightly and inconsiderately outcasts Palestinian, Jordanian and Lebanese women who faced uncouth discrimination at the hands of Israeli occupation.
A recent post from the San Diego Comic Con went viral where a young girl burst into tears meeting her idol, wonder woman in the form of Gal Gaddot. While Gaddot’s interaction with the young girl was very heart warming and inspiring, what seems a little difficult to imagine is a young Arab girl in a hijab sharing the same moment with the wonder woman.
What this does is it significantly empowers a majority of white young girls who can relate to the fair, lean and tall wonder woman. It gives them inspiration to believe and aspire to become a woman of substance and strength. It instils faith in them to believe they can too be protectors and not always the victims that need to be rescued.
Not every girl can relate to this image. In fact, there are some who cannot afford to look up to what would have been an idol because she represents a surge of oppression and subjugation they have been victims of.
Wonder Woman is the icon we deserve, but Gal Gaddot is not the one we need.