As a girl growing up in the ’60s, I read Wonder Woman comics regularly. When the TV series came out in the ’70s, I couldn’t abide it. I took one look at the actress playing Diana and shut that show down. Lynda Carter was way too girly. The Diana I knew was bold and strong and could repel bullets with her bracelets, climb buildings, and capture criminals with her magic lasso. Lynda Carter looked like she couldn’t pick up her own groceries and spent her mornings in a dark room applying face cream. Like Gertrude Stein once said, I couldn’t see any there there.
I didn’t think about Wonder Woman again until I was in my ’30s and had small children. Walking by their room one day I was transfixed by an image on the television of a woman running alongside a horse before jumping onto its back. What is this you’re watching? I asked, awestruck. It was Xena: Warrior Princess, and a fan girl was born. I was a huge Xena fan for the life of the series. Like Diana in my comic books when I was a child, Xena was a woman and athlete with a strong mind and will who fought the bad guys and stood up for what’s right. She was a woman I could admire and believe in. There aren’t many of those in the movies or comics. Trust.
Once the Xena series ended, I didn’t think of Wonder Woman again until the movie starring Gal Gadot came out in 2017. I liked it a lot.
There were hokey aspects, sure, particularly the Amazon world they tried and failed to credibly create. Why on earth would you hire a bunch of Lynda Carters to pretend to be people like Lucy Lawless, who played Xena, or Gal Gadot?
Why not hire real athletes?
If you’re going to have a scene, for example, of a bunch of women jumping on horses, why not hire real equestrians? They exist, after all. Or if you want to film women participating in athletic contests, how about hiring a soccer team? Or a basketball team? Or dancers? Or gymnasts? You want people who know how to use their bodies. Not models or extras who only know how to stand and walk.
I realize that Gal Gadot and Lucy Lawless are not professional athletes in their real lives. But they can play them because they reside in their bodies. They fully inhabit them. They aren’t the cardboard cutout kind of woman I’ve seen in so many movies — all surface beauty with nothing underneath. They aren’t childish, or posing, or oddly manufactured. They have visible souls.
I don’t know much about Gal Gadot’s personal life other than that she’s Israeli, which perhaps naturally imbues depth. But Lucy Lawless is an environmental warrior in hers. She climbed aboard ships with Greenpeace to protest oil drilling in New Zealand. That kind of passion and dedication shows.
Women know when they are sexy
There’s a cliche I’ve heard about leading women in many movies: she was beautiful, but didn’t know it. Here’s Taika Waititi of JoJo Rabbit fame making it ridiculously real:
Whenever you hear that line, it’s a sure giveaway the script was written by a man — an immature man who hasn’t had much interaction with women. Because believe me, women know when they are beautiful. And why shouldn’t they? And why wouldn’t you want them to know? Why would that kind of cluelessness be desirable or attractive?
You better f**king believe that Xena and Wonder Woman know they are attractive, because they are nobody’s fools. But what’s more important, their beauty is simply one in a long list of laudable attributes that have nothing to do with men.
So what’s with the love interest?
In the first Wonder Woman reboot, Chris Pine played a love interest which really wasn’t in line with my childhood memories of Diana in the Wonder Woman comics (more on that later), but I was willing to forgive the intrusion since he was charming and — crucially — killed off in the end.
The Diana I remembered never had a boyfriend. She was too busy fighting bad guys to worry about that stuff. But I do seem to remember a few photographs of a dead family on her desk at the Smithsonian, where she worked in the Antiquities Department. So Chris, I figured, was one of those.
Xena, likewise, had no love interest. Her sidekick was Gaby, a loyal friend. They traveled the world together, getting into adventures. Many in the LGBTQ+ community assumed they were lesbians. But the series didn’t say. And that’s how it should be, if you are a hero. Romantic love is a small, domestic concern. Heroes’ concerns are bigger than that.
But in Wonder Woman 1984, Chris Pine is back. And that’s a problem. First, they establish that Diana is lonely. She’s sad when she goes out to dine alone. In bed at night, she looks forlornly off into nothingness. As a lifelong Wonder Woman fan girl, my response to those scenes was, Come on!
Diana doesn’t have time to be lonely! She’s got criminals to fight, the world to save, and many interesting antiquities to catalog! What more could a girl want?
This longing for a man is, frankly, silly. It’s also unseemly. I remember how stunned and horrified I was when a distant relative told me that she’d been planning her wedding since she was a little girl. Was she serious? Could this be some kind of joke?
The feeling I got watching Diana act lovesick felt vaguely embarrassing and nauseous like that.
Diana is not some schoolgirl with a crush. She’s a goddess, for F’s sake! With superpowers! Pining over a love interest just isn’t her metier. Then, to add insult to injury, her love for the Chris Pine character (Steve?) turns out to be kryptonite. In movie math that never quite adds up, it saps her of her powers. But it’s not Diana who recognizes the need to give Chris/Steve up. It’s Chris who tells her, in his Father Knows Best patriarchal way, that they’re going to have to say goodbye if they want to save the world. She has to think about it.
It was lame.
I still forgive Gal
Still, I enjoyed the movie for many reasons. I liked Gal Gadot; Kristen Wiig as the villain Cheetah; the guy who played the white villain, his love for his son, and the fact that his son looked Asian; the anti-war, anti-materialism, and anti-selfishness messages; the fact that they called out catcalling as repulsive; and once again, Gal Gadot. She’s a beauty and a treasure and a joy to watch and listen to. And because she’s Israeli, she sounds a lot like my new daughter-in-law, which endears her to me.
Wonder Woman has led many lives
As to my experience with Wonder Women comics as a child, it turns out I lucked into the only time period in which Diana wasn’t entangled with men. According to Wikipedia, when she was first invented, she had the love affair with the WWII pilot which was depicted in the 2017 movie. That was called the “Golden Age” of the comic and lasted from 1941 until the 1950’s. (There was also some interesting bondage going on which was explored in the movie Professor Marston & the Wonder Women. Who knew her creator was kinky and polyamorous?) Then came the “Silver Age” during the 50s and 60s, which was when I was reading her. All the WWII references were purged, including the fighter pilot boyfriend, and she was elevated to a goddess given super powers at birth who came from an island of women where man never stepped foot. After that came a “Bronze Age” in which she ran a boutique (!) and became a human character modeled on Emma Peel of the Avengers. Other iterations followed, most of which included boyfriends.
I don’t know how I lucked out, but I’m grateful I got to know Diana when she was everything a little girl needed her to be: strong, smart, just, brave, and independent — a woman fully complete unto herself.
For more by this author, try:
The Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Test
How to tell if your behavior is appropriate: a tool for men
For fiction, try: