When I was a kid, boys fantasized about Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, half-naked and chained to Jabba the Hutt. While I might flinch at the fact that the slave scene was the peak of adolescent fantasy, I was always happy that my male peers were lusting after a woman who was tough, a warrior, a hero in her own right, someone who ultimately triumphed over her attacker.
It’s been disappointing in the years since, to not only have so few such women in film to idolize myself, but that the objects of male fantasy have so rarely been strong: too many female heroines, even in DC Comics and Marvel franchises, have assisted rather than truly partnered with or exceeded male peers. And for every strong woman, there have been so many Mary Janes and Lois Lanes waiting for heroes to save them, their strengths always inferior to those of their men.
And then there was Wonder Woman. How I admired Lynda Carter as a kid: her stunning beauty, her awesome metal accessories, her spin, that cheesy music that accompanied her. But most of all, I loved that Wonder Woman stood on her own, was stronger than men, and that her power never subtracted from her sensuality. In fact, her superhuman skills ADDED to her sexiness. She didn’t even seem like much of an athlete till the special effects kicked in. (That running style, my friends, for all their similar fashion sense, was not Flo Jo’s.) For the feminine, klutzy girl I was, that was an important message: you can be strong AND girly.
When I read Slate author Christina Cauterucci’s objections to the seductive clothing of new Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, my first reaction was to defend: What about the need for sales, how essential it was for this film to succeed to set the stage for other female leading-franchises? But I think director Patty Jenkins was doing more than bowing to necessity; she was building her own feminist messages: Hey, young men. Strong women are hot. And if they’re stronger than you, charging down the battlefield without you, that’s EVEN HOTTER. Hey, young women, your strengths will make you desirable. Fight to retain and build them.
My friend and I at the movie theater, both born in the 70s, began by enjoying the funny, entertaining, empowering film, and ended it by laughing about the groups of young men we spotted in the rows behind us when the lights went up. “A whole island of hot women?” my friend said. “No wonder they’re here.”
But that’s just it: Gadot’s and her fellow Amazons’ sexiness got male teens through the door.
It’s hard to imagine that our country would be quite where it is today, so backward with women’s rights, if more adolescent boys had fantasized about such powerful women. It’s hard to believe we’d be where we are had more women grown up believing that power and desirability don’t have to compete.
At least we have her our heroine now. Thank you, Patty Jenkins. Keep ’em coming.