Trish Heinrich

Mother, Author, Hero

Category: Geek Feminism

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman (Part Three)

And now for the Good in Wonder Woman.  We’re talking tears down my face, pumping my fist into the air and feeling like an Amazon GOOD!

The power of a movie like this.

 

When I came home from seeing this movie, I could barely speak. I could only cry. I felt so stupid at first. Who cries throughout an action film. Then afterward in their car. Then all the way home.  And then when she gets home too?

The Answer: Women who’ve waited for decades for a female superhero film like this, that’s who. And it’s not just that simple, actually. There have been female superhero films before. Supergirl, Catwoman, Electra, Barb Wire. But these films suffered from a lack of understanding of their source material and a lack of respect for the hero herself. With the exception of Supergirl, these films were created from and for the male gaze.

Wonder Woman was not.

For the first time, we have a superhero film that not only wasn’t created from or for the male gaze, but the people working on it knew and respected their source material. They appreciated the differences a female hero is supposed to bring to the story, and they made those differences heroic.

Wonder Woman is arguably, the best female superhero film yet .   And please, notice I specifically said SUPERHERO. I know that we’ve had female heroes for decades, Ripley, The Bride, Sarah Connor, Red Sonja, Thelma and Louise, just to name a few. I’m not denigrating their legacy. I’m drilling down into genre specifics here.

Wonder Woman benefits from the female heroes in films that have come before her.  All of them made me feel powerful and strong as a woman. But there’s something different when it comes to Superheroes.

The Power of Superheroes

Superheroes have lasted as long as they have because there’s something about that genre that speaks to  us like no other story does. As Jennifer K. Stuller says in her book Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors  “…superhero stories are American culture’s modern expression of myth. Modern myth serves a function similar to that of ancient myth, namely, telling stories helps us make sense of our lives.”

Mythology in ancient cultures were primarily religious stories about Gods and Goddesses and their interactions with us.  Perhaps, then, superhero stories are actually a kind of spiritual experience, touching a part of us that is rarely stirred by other kinds of stories.

If this is true, then taking a genre that has that kind of power and making it about one narrow group of people, makes everyone else feel cut off from the power of these stories.  “In.. Spider-Man 2, Aunt May tells…Peter Parker that she believes ‘there’s a hero in all of us.’ If this is true, what happens to our social consciousness if the presence of our mythic heroes is-and has always been-overwhelmingly male?…I often wonder where our Wonder Women are.” (Jennifer K. Stuller Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors.)

I do feel something when I see Peter Parker become Spider-Man or Steve Rogers become Captain America.  But it’s nothing to what I felt when I saw Wonder Woman charge into No Man’s Land and take all that gunfire, then lead a group of soldiers.

Women felt uplifted in a way we never had before because we watched this modern myth with a female hero at the helm. In that moment, we were no longer just women. We were Women. Powerful. Warriors. Princesses. Heroes.

The fact that so many people were touched by this film should serve to highlight how much we need representation in this genre. Not just for women, but for people of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community. It’s well past time for the superhero film industry to stop catering to the few and start making quality films that represent our vast, beautiful world.

The age old argument that such representation won’t make any money, has been blown out of the water by Wonder Woman. And if enthusiasm for Black Panther is any indication, that film will also destroy the lame argument studios have been using.  Not only is there an audience for more diverse superhero films, but there is a societal necessity for it. The more we see diversity in the foreground of these films, the more we normalize it until it no longer is shocking or surprising or anything except, well, normal.

And that would be a truly, wonderful, powerful, awesome thing.

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman (Part Two)

Part Two of my three part series on the Wonder Woman movie. Now we get to talk about:

The Beautiful

After seventy-six years, and a lot of wishing and hoping, we finally get Wonder Woman on the big screen. And what’s awesome is that we truly did get a Wonder Woman film because the people making this movie understood, at some deep levels, the hero whose story they were telling.

Like a lot of women, this movie was emotional for me. I cry just thinking of certain scenes.  The fight in No Man’s Land, or the charge of the Amazons on the beach. Not to mention the end. Why did a superhero film make me cry while watching it? And why am I not alone in that? It’s a good question, a hard one to answer because it’s different and yet the same for each of us.   I agree with many of the women who are already writing about this that there is an emotional release because at last, we see that these stories aren’t just for male heroes, they are for any and all of us.

The feminine is heroic.

To me, this is the power of this film.  Seeing my daughter pump her fist in the air and want to be just like General Antiope (Robin Wright). To see my son clap his hands with glee when Wonder Woman battles heroically.  I could use every adjective I know and still, I would not come close to how I feel when I think of this film.

God! I’ve waited so long to see a female hero like this. Strong, beautiful, compassionate, loving, kind. Wholly a woman and wholly a hero. The two coexist in Wonder Woman as naturally as breathing, and no one doubts that it should be that way.

We have seen so many sister heroes who have had to justify their strength and showcase their feminity in ways that weaken them as characters, heroes, and people. We have seen them reduced to sidekicks, to have to be one thing for all women. And even though Diana is one woman, we get to see her Amazonian sisters alongside her for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie. They are of all shapes and sizes, all skin hues. They are young. They are older. They are all completely female and completely heroic.

I didn’t realize it at first, but most of the Amazons are portrayed by athletes, the real-life superheroes of our world. And watching it a second time in one weekend I could see the strength, grace, courage, and grit that made them heroes in the real world.  They were, individually and as a whole, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen on film.

For Wonder Woman, Love is the most Powerful

Wonder Woman is arguably one of the most powerful heroes in all of DC, and she uses her powers with compassion and love. Really, that’s the theme of the movie: Power used with Love.  It’s profound, especially in our worldwide political climate. She sees the suffering of mankind, and is told again and again by the men around her “You can’t do anything, this isn’t our mission.” And, finally fed up with it, does what her heart and soul tell her to. In the process, she inspires an army of men and saves a village of innocent people.   She is clear-eyed and sure in her purpose, no matter the naivete that she carries with her. When faced with the shattering of deeply held beliefs and heartbreak she doesn’t respond with anger or vengeance, she chooses to love.

 

Was the film perfect? No, but it was damn close.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman

I have a lot to say about Wonder Woman, too much for just one blog post. So, I am going to write a series of three: One about the Good. One about the Bad. And one about the Beautiful.

Let’s start with:

The Bad

In the past two weeks there have been many criticisms about Wonder Woman. A lot of it has centered around the feminism and the lack of representation in the film. I’ve read some of the criticisms, not all.  I’d like to focus on two that really stopped and made me think.

*SPOILERS AHEAD!!!*

1-Dr. Poison gets off too easy

This is one has taken many forms. Some think that a psychopath should just be killed and mercy isn’t an option. Some have said it was anti-feminist and compared Dr. Poison’s treatment by Wonder Woman to Ludendorf’s. Some have said that it contributes to the societal judgment of those with scars.  But this criticism from Black Girl Nerds.  is the one I want to focus on. Out of all of them, it’s the one that’s stuck with me.

Before we begin, let me say that I in no way intend to call bullshit on the experiences of people of color in this country. Though I am a woman, I still have lived from a place of privilege because of my skin color. I need to take what people of color say seriously, to give it thought and examine why it makes me uncomfortable. That’s what I’m trying to do here. I would like very much to find a balance where I can disagree about the interpretation of a piece of art without taking anything away from the experiences of a person of color. I have no idea how to accomplish that because very often white women step in it, whether we mean to or not.

Personally, I see the scene in question as a key moment in the film. It shows us the core of who Wonder Woman has always been: A hero who operates out of mercy and compassion, not hate or judgment. What Ares was asking of her was to judge and execute. That is not who Wonder Woman is. Now, I’m not saying the writers at BGN know less than me about Wonder Woman or anything like that, and if that’s how this comes across, I am very, very sorry. I am only using the history of the character to explain why I believe this scene was a simple, yet profound, character moment for Wonder Woman. That’s all. But, I am also seeing it through the eyes of a white woman, and my experiences are very different from women of color

The argument in the BGN article was that this scene is white supremacist propaganda. The author of the article, TaLynn Kel, expresses it much better than I could:

“There is a problem with showing the active decision to spare a cruel killer. For that killer to be a white woman, the most underestimated agent of racism, is white supremacist propaganda….The reason this stands out so sharply for me is because of how often we, Black people and POCs, are encouraged to be lenient when white women’s transgressions are revealed. How we are conditioned to look at white women as above wrongdoing when we have clear examples of them actively participating in racist acts that can and have led to Black people’s, Black children’s deaths.”

Ouch, in a big way.

I can not argue with her social criticism, not one bit. We do get a pass as white women. And then we whine and argue when a person of color points it out. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with this.  But it doesn’t mean we should ignore it or make excuses about why we get to be this way.

I’ve done that, I will admit. I do get angry when someone tries to lump me in with the women who voted for the orange piece of trash in the White House because he represents everything I am against. But a better reaction would be to stop and ask how I contributed to a society that would allow him to get there in the first place.

Again, OUCH.

So, what to do?

There’s a lot of possible answers to that question. In this instance, it’s not dismissing what she says just because it made me uncomfortable . The fact that it made me feel this way was a sure sign that I needed to examine what she was saying.

Her article was a good reminder that I need to be aware that there are other lenses to see things through. I may not agree with everything someone says, but I can be open to hearing their side of it nonetheless. In the process, I just might learn a thing or two.

2-Feminist? Yes. Intersectional? No.

If you are a white woman like me, you saw the diversity on Themyscira and thought “Holy Cow, that’s awesome! Look at all those different women! Women of color, women of diverse sizes and beauty! Look at the older women kicking ass!”  But an article from Bustle made me rethink that a bit.  Yes, there was a diverse group of women on the Island. And yes, it was amazing to see all those female bodies doing so many amazing things during the training scenes and the beach battle. But, those women of color had few lines, and none were named. I did hear someone refer to one as “Nubia”, which I geeked out about, but Nubia didn’t have any lines. In the comics, Nubia was Wonder Woman’s sister. But here, she was just another face in the crowd.

There were many things that could’ve been done to remedy this without changing the core story. We could’ve seen Nubia talk with Diana as she considered leaving Themyscira. There could’ve been a scene with Antiope and her lover Menalippe, even just a few gestures, hand holding, a kiss.  Some women of color in the honor guard that Hippolyta has with her would’ve been good.

When Diana leaves the Island, anyone of color disappears off the face of the earth.  I had thought, like many, that this was just historically accurate. But I was wrong.  London would’ve had a significant population of color, and there were soldiers of color fighting on the front lines. There could’ve been more women in general present as well. We don’t see any nurses after Diana leaves London.  And though I loved her troupe of misfits, why couldn’t one of them be a woman?

We hear a lot about the need for women in positions of power in Hollywood, but I’d like to take it a little further.

I once heard a male showrunner and writer say that the problem isn’t that males are anti-female, it’s just that they write, unthinkingly, from what they know. I would like to think that the women behind Wonder Women just didn’t think about the lack of representation. That maybe they just didn’t see it. If that’s the case then there’s something that can be done about this going forward.  If there were more people of color and people from the LGBTQ community in positions of power, then we would see more diversity in film.  So really, the issue isn’t just that we need more women in Hollywood, we need more DIVERSITY.

Wonder Woman was in no way perfect, what film is? And these two things aren’t the only criticisms possible. They just happened to be the two that affected me the most. What was it about Wonder Woman that you thought could’ve been better? Different? Do you agree with these two criticisms as they apply to the film?  I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment or email me at trish@trishheinrich.com

 

The Power of the Female Hero

 Growing up, I had been exposed to a wide range of male heroes, but very few female heroes. Now, don’t get me wrong, these male heroes were awesome. Han Solo, Superman, Spock, Optimus Prime, these were the staple hero influences of my childhood and they are still awesome. But the female hero was in short supply. I had Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane but that was about it. And so, even though I wanted to own heroism,  the unspoken message was clear:  Heroism is really a boy thing.

I clearly remember asking, sometimes begging my parents for Star Wars action figures and that gorgeous She-Ra action figure (seriously, I still want that doll).  But, for Christmas and birthdays, I watched my brothers get all those toys while I received more female “appropriate” things.  I will admit that I did love those toys.  But somehow my Barbie’s always managed to find themselves in harrowing adventures where they were rescued by Ken.  And when I played with my brothers Leia action figures, she would start out doing something heroic, but usually, end up being saved by Han.

Do you see what could be wrong with this?

I wanted the female hero in my play as a kid, but my default was passive because that’s what I saw in the media I consumed. There was a severe lack of representation in my upbringing where the female hero was concerned.

Waking up

Fast forward to me in my mid-thirties. I’d been married for several years to a staunch feminist and was a mother to a precocious 18-month-old. On a whim, I decide to attend the first year of Geek Girl Con in Seattle. One of the first panels I went to was called “The History of the World According to Wonder Woman.”  There I am, sitting in a large screening room at the EMP in Seattle.  All around me are men and women; but primarily women, of all different ages, ethnic backgrounds, fandoms and walks of life. And I have no idea that my soul is about to be opened up.

The panel description talked about the guests and a rough cut of a documentary we’d be seeing called “Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines”. I’ll admit, one of the main reasons I was there was to hear Jane Espenson talk; by this time I had become a HUGE Buffy fan.

The documentary was the first thing, and so I settled back to watch not really knowing what to expect.

Within minutes, I was crying.

I couldn’t tell you why then, but now I think I know. All my life I’d craved the female hero, but was either denied her power or didn’t know where to find her. When I was able to find her, I was doled out bits and pieces of the female hero and told that I should be happy that I at least have that much. What I saw that day was a wide world full of female heroes, both imaginary and real. And perhaps that’s what was so amazing about the documentary. It didn’t just distill the fictional female hero, there were real life female heroes in there too. Suddenly, being a hero was no longer relegated to the pages of a book or a movie screen, I could be one in real life!

I never realized, until that moment, that I’d been starving for the empowerment that the female hero could give me.

This matters, and here’s why

What does this empowerment look like?Well, I think it’s different for each woman, depending on her experiences. If she’s trans, lesbian, a woman of color, disabled, etc. it may look different than what a white, cis, straight woman like me experienced. For me, it validated my worth and my voice as a woman. It helped me grab a hold of the truth that as a woman I can be just as heroic and strong and amazing as any of my male counterparts.

As I watched other women in the documentary and on the panel afterward, talk about female heroes, and their own heroes journey, it filled me with an indescribable pride and power. I was touched on a soul level, deep and profound.

Because of this experience, I know deep in my bones that representation matters in a huge way.  This isn’t just a cute catch phrase. It really does.

Even in the desert of female heroes that I grew up with, I still saw more women that I could relate to than a girl who grew up as trans, or lesbian, or disabled, or of a different skin color than me. The empowerment that I experienced that afternoon isn’t just for white, cis, straight women. It shouldn’t be hoarded or guarded. It should be given to anyone who wants it. We look to stories to inspire us.  Stories help us believe the impossible. They enable us to dream and feel stronger than the limitations of our circumstances.  To not see yourself in the female hero narrative sends a message that the heroic is not for you. Whether spoken outright or in the subtext that comes with lack of representation, it’s there and it’s insidious.

Share the power

As an artist, I believe that it is within my power to help change this. I want to share what I was given that day because I know what it has meant to me. There’s a great example of sharing power that I always come back to.  It’s, unsurprisingly, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the last episode of the show, Buffy is in a room full of potential Slayers.  She looks at each of them and says “I say my power, should be our power.”  I tear up every time I watch this scene, because this sharing is what those ladies at Geek Girl Con did for me six years ago. It’s what each of us must do for those around us. This empowerment isn’t just mine, it’s ours. I hope to share it in my writing. I will not always get it right, but that’s ok because I’m learning. And no matter how challenging it may be, I will never stop striving to give to someone else what was given to me that day:

The Empowerment of the Female Hero.

Who are some of your female heroes? Are they fictional or nonfiction? Or maybe both?  I’d love to hear about the role the female hero has played in your life. Feel free to leave comment below, join the conversation on Facebook, or sign up for my once a month email newsletter. I look forward to chatting with you!

And, if you’d like a deeper dive into the female hero, check out the documentary I saw that day, “Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines”  directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. You could also read “Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors” by Jennifer K. Stuller, one of the founders of Geek Girl Con.

 

 

 

 

 

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