I want to talk about a small moment in Wonder Woman that has made me incredibly thoughtful. MILD SPOILERS ahead.
While the fighting on Themyscira basically made me cry because I needed them so badly, and No Man’s Land will be iconic, it was a much, much smaller moment that stuck with me in an unexpected way.
When Diana arrives in London and she’s taking in all the sights, there’s a great moment where she exclaims, “A baby!” and she is completely sidetracked. It was a cute, funny moment, and not until later did I realize just how profound.
Let me backtrack. Recently, we’ve steadily started seeing more female action heroes in film – Katniss from The Hunger Games, Tris from Divergent, Black Widow in the MCU, Rey and Jyn in Star Wars, and now coming up a female captain in Star Trek: Discovery. This is incredibly exciting and allows female characters to have flaws and variety without the pressure of standing for women everywhere.
But most of these female action characters prize masculine values – competitiveness, external recognition, and emotional distance. In order to rise above in a patriarchal society, they play the game and take on masculine traits. And while I love the fact that someone like Jyn tosses away feminine expectations completely and never even smiles, we got something completely different and empowering in Diana.
Diana sees a baby and it makes her stop in her tracks and glow with happiness and motherly impulse. She embodies traditionally feminine values – nurturing, compassion, sympathy, and love, and they are what make her strong.
For recent female heroes we’ve mostly seen them do well in a man’s world by doing it the man’s way. In Wonder Woman, we see a woman hero creating her own, deeply feminine story about how to be powerful.
This shifts the entire framework for superhero movies, action flicks, and lead characters. It changes our expectations for leads, creating a new, feminine mold (yes, we’ve had the femme fatale, but that was definitely created through the male gaze). We’ve slowly started seeing lead men that are allowed to have deeper emotions, like actually seeing Kirk cry when his father figure dies in Star Trek Beyond. Up until now, female characters have (like women in real life history) had to rise above that and be better, stronger, and faster than the boys in order to be at the same level.
If any other female character had a moment of being distracted by an adorable baby, it would be played to make her look naive, simple, or unfit for an action hero’s job. But it is done so well in Wonder Woman, and instead of coming across as a fatal flaw, it is simply a part of her character.
I saw myself in her in that moment, an everyday exchange that had happened in my life in the past week. I saw that Diana could be powerful and compassionate at the same time, something I’d never seen portrayed in that way before.
And, dare I say, had a man been directing, it never would have occurred to him to create a moment like that for a superhero.