WARNING: This article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Wonder Woman.
There’s no denying it: the arrival of Wonder Woman has dealt a massive blow to Hollywood sexism, after years of male superheroes dominating the spotlight in any and all blockbuster franchises. Judging by Wonder Woman‘s opening weekend sales, the idea that ‘women don’t sell’ in superhero shared universes may be permanently vanquished (for DC’s universe, at least). But given how well Diana takes on sexism in the movie itself, it only seems fair that the real-world result should be as big a victory for the feminist ideals of equality, punching the patriarchy squarely in the nose (in front of and behind the camera).
Yet director Patty Jenkins deserves credit for more than just making a woman the star, or having Wonder Woman refuse to bow to her ‘male oppressors.’ Wonder Woman has always been a crusader for all genders and peoples of the world, and her movie version is no different.
Diana knows that every human being is deserving of the same respect, meaning men and women all come out better in Wonder Woman: 15 Movie Moments That Crush Sexism.
15. The Amazons Crush The Bechdel Test
By now most pop culture enthusiasts are familiar with the Bechdel test, questioning whether or not a work includes a scene of two female characters having a discussion about something other than a man (named for Alison Bechdel). Since the first act of the film focuses primarily on Diana’s youth and adolescence on the island of Themyscira, free from males, Bechdel testers can take their pick. The young Diana’s desire to know her people focuses largely on Zeus, and you could make the argument that much of the discussion surrounding Diana’s future and training is leveraged against her destiny to kill Ares.
But when Queen Hippolyta and Antiope discuss the Amazons’ duty, the conversation between Diana’s two mother figures is most certainly about her, and not the absent God of War looming somewhere on the planet. For Hippolyta, her mother, all motivation is based in keeping Diana safe, even selfishly turning her back on the Amazons’ duty for her own blood. For Antiope, she wishes to train Diana not because it is required to kill Ares, but because it is Diana’s destiny, and in service to the realization of her potential.
And the first time viewers realize they’re watching two accomplished actresses over the age of 50 discussing their daughter’s future in a superhero blockbuster… well, it becomes clear how rare such a scene really is.
14. Antiope Lives For Battle
Once Diana grows to adulthood, becoming highly skilled in all forms of combat, the Amazons are given a true test of their skills in the form of German invaders (in hot pursuit of Steve Trevor). The soldiers make short work of the Amazons on the beach, but when General Antiope and her cavalry hit the sands… well, the years spent sparring without a battle or enemy to truly engage start to show. If the impression given by the first Wonder Woman trailers was that the Amazons’ connection to classical Greek society would make them honorable, proud, and sophisticated tacticians… Antiope shows another side.
Queen Hippolyta may strike her blows with an eye for defending her kin, but it’s perfectly clear that Antiope is thrilled for the opportunity to take lives of these invaders. Spinning to take down multiple enemies with a smile on her face throws the stereotype of women fighting only to ‘protect those they love’ out the window. She is a killer let loose after centuries of practice, thrilled with combat to an extent that would make some pacifists uncomfortable. She also takes a bullet for Diana, so she’s a well-rounded military woman when all is said and done.
13. Steve Trevor is Laid Bare (Literally)
Not all of director Patty Jenkins’s efforts to subvert the power dynamics or gender stereotypes are so subtle – take for instance Steve Trevor’s bath, cut short when Diana invades his privacy and never thinks to leave. To make things even better, Diana (in a friendly manner) objectifies Steve immediately, asking if hem in his nude form, is an example of the “average” man. But before the pendulum swings too far in the other direction, Steve’s stammering is cut off by Diana’s inquiring as to the nature of his wristwatch – showing she is simply curious about anything, and not deriving any pleasure or satisfaction out of the objectification. He’s being studied, not ogled.
The entire scene is one of the most overt inversions of the typical power dynamic between the lost damsel rescued by the brave prince, and kept in custody for her own protection. Diana is at an advantage over Steve in every sense, but she never suggests that will be used against him, nor does he seem to suspect so. It’s a meeting of equals, and the fact that one of them being nude played no part in their interaction is a sign of more to come.
12. Diana Discovers Her Strength
Diana’s story of defiance fits the formula of a ‘coming of age/rebellion’ tale early on, with Diana deciding that (like every classical hero) she has been called to adventure, and will defy her parent if need be. And while her unexplained blast of energy has pushed her slightly away from her sisters, the discovery of her heightened strength is exactly the superheroine scene we’ve been waiting for. Diana decides she is strong enough to make the leap to the citadel holding the Amazons’s prized relics, and her powers obey the command. And just as she falters, desperation sees her smash a hand through solid stone blocks.
The audience is likely to be right with Diana as she realizes her superstrength, and begins smashing her hands into the stone one after the other, realizing how she has taken mastery over her environment in a brand new way. The audience is with her, but Hollywood has not been. Try to picture another time when a woman or girl’s discovery of a superpower was treated as anything but a crisis, an affliction, and illness, or a curse that can’t be controlled… we’ll wait. The smile on Diana’s face as she realizes, embraces, and uses her strength is the norm for male superheroes, but they no longer have a monopoly.
11. A Heroic Love Story (of Mother & Daughter)
The farewell scene between Diana and her mother is among the most memorable, despite the exchange of words being less substantial than you might expect. Honestly, had Hippolyta simply rode to the shore, given her daughter her blessing, and Diana departed, Wonder Woman would have succeeded in giving a heroine the kind of ‘crossing the threshold’ moment female leads rarely get. But with Hippolyta passing on Antiope’s headpiece – the marker of the Amazons’ greatest warrior – Diana becomes a prototypical Hero, taking the totem of her people as she goes. She is not an outcast, not ‘running away from home’: she is her people’s champion, chosen by merit.
Seeing Queen Hippolyta given the honor of the Amazons’ greatest warrior, and likely the greatest on Earth is one thing, but having that mantle passed on from mother to daughter is doubling down on the adoption of typically male heroic storytelling. And as Hippolyta tells Diana that she has been her mother’s “greatest love,” and now in departing her “greatest sorrow,” Steve Trevor is nowhere to be found. The moment belongs only to them – Diana’s first step towards self-actualization is her own, with Steve Trevor existing next to her, but not entering into the chain of events or motivations whatsoever.
10. Steve is The Prude, Not Diana
Once Diana has accepted the call to adventure, let the words of her mentor compel her to it, and crossed the threshold with her mother’s love, Diana and Steve begin to find their own footing as partners. Steve’s first attempts to apply some sense of decorum go terribly awry, since they are based on the gender conventions of a society not her own. But just as important is the fact that, for Steve, the practices or established ‘norms’ are not pointed to as having meaning or value of their own. Instead, it is simply ‘how it’s done’ where he comes from. At the first questioning, Steve allows them to drop, showing that both he and Diana exist free from any meaningful tether to the (patriarchal) society they’re headed toward.
When the topic of men and women sharing more than a bed is raised, the laughter of the audience helps the gender and social norms to dissolve when placed under scrutiny. Diana points to the teachings of Cleo in the art of eroticism and pleasure, eliminating the typical ‘will they, won’t they’ sexual tension before it can even begin to form. Diana is acknowledging that she is a grown, sexually mature woman who developed free from any patriarchal system. Not only that, but she is more sexually skilled and aware than Steve. The idea that he has been rendered “unnecessary” is played for a laugh, but there’s greater substance worth catching.
As Diana turns over to sleep, Steve lays stunned, having any sexual advantage dismissed. But what he gets is better: if Diana values him, it’s because he is simply valuable to her as a person. And if romance forms from that value, it’s a far cry from the original story of Diana falling in love with the first man she sees because he has something to offer that she has been ‘missing.’
9. The Nature of Her Disguise
It’s unavoidable that every single ‘fish out of water’ story will require a makeover montage, as our hero observes the foibles of social behavior and fashion, but is nevertheless forced to play the part. What’s different in Wonder Woman is the tone and explanation for Diana needing to fit into English society of the time. Far from My Fair Lady or “Pygmalion” before it, Steve Trevor isn’t showing Diana how she ought to dress (through Etta Candy’s assistance). Instead, he makes it clear that her final outfit has fallen short of its intended goal: to conceal the fact that Diana does not fit in.
He isn’t dressing her up in English clothes to make her beautiful, but draw her into the spy game. In essence, conceal her true nature in appearance only, so as to operate in this society undetected. Where the classic Hollywood trope sees a man remove a pair of eyeglasses to show how beautiful the ugly duckling really is, Steve is putting glasses on in a fruitless hope of blending into the crowd (since their mission is going to take them into some tense locations).
There’s a tragic poetry to the scene, painting the patriarchy as one in which women function best when disguised… that revealing herself to be exceptional would close more doors to Diana than it would open.
8. Diana Assumes Men are Just as Qualified
The role that gender plays in Steve and Diana’s actual entry into the English leadership is far more complicated than one might expect. By the time they’ve reached this part of the story, Steve has acknowledged that both Diana and Etta have proven more effective than himself in a back alley ambush. On the surface, it’s established without a doubt that Steve is on Diana’s side, viewing the patriarchy and its views towards women as a minefield to be navigated. But if Diana takes the English aristocracy and military command to be sexist, she’s not showing it – or returning the sentiment.
When Diana reveals that she possesses knowledge of the languages needed to decipher Maru’s notebook, she states that surely someone else must share that knowledge. When the generals oppose her presence, she reacts with confused bewilderment since it defies reason. In other words, she doesn’t just expect better of them, she presumes better. Giving them the benefit of the doubt doesn’t pay off too well, as she soon learns about the old ways of military thinking that led to WWI becoming such a nightmare.
That being said, it’s worth noting how quickly the order to have Diana removed is rescinded, once Steve points out that her knowledge actually is useful. A sign that the patriarchy is simply assumed at this point, but those operating within it can still see reason and logic beyond gender?
7. Sameer Likes a Strong Woman
When Steve assembles his motley crew of mercenaries, it soon becomes clear that Sameer’s (Saïd Taghmaoui) gift is persuasion. And as someone in the field of distraction, he’s struck by just how beautiful Diana really is – even before he learns that she can speak as many languages, and more. Viewers get the sense that she is neither the first beautiful women he has encountered, nor tried to charm. But when Diana grabs a bar patron with a single hand and tosses him clear across the room, Sameer reveals that Diana has become even more attractive still.
There are sure to be some on the audience who roll their eyes at Sameer’s mention that Diana’s show of strength has both “terrified and aroused” him, but it’s as far from crass as the text can get. Sameer had already met and been enchanted by Diana for her appearance and grace. But when she showed herself to be stronger than any man present, he wasn’t scared, shocked, confused, or disturbed – she only became more attractive. Director Patty Jenkins has spoken about the criticism of Diana’s costume, and people’s trouble accepting a hero who is both strong and sexy. But Sameer is at least one character who gets that attraction can be appreciation, not objectification.
6. The Heroism in Standing Your Ground
It’s the scene just about everyone was waiting for, thanks to the understandable focus in the film’s marketing. Once the plight of a desperate mother in the trenches cries out for help, Diana is honor bound to do something. Director Patty Jenkins should also be commended for the decision to frame Steve Trevor and his allies as not cowardly, selfish, or ignorant: they (rightly) believe No Man’s Land can’t be crossed because it’s a death trap. Had the tired portrayal of ‘men who have lost sight of what matters’ been used, then Diana would simply reflect the moral fortitude of the audience in her refusal to stand by. Instead, she climbs a ladder to No Man’s Land in defiance of all sense and self-preservation.
If there were any doubt that Jenkins and her team were capturing the very heart of Wonder Woman, this scene erases all doubt. Where other heroes might show masculine displays of aggression, Diana’s agency and power is in her ability to resist. The image of a woman in No Man’s Land refusing to be driven back is a powerful one, but even more powerful is how quickly she acts when witnessing Steve and his men shooting the enemy up close. Leaping into the trench, Diana smashes not the soldiers, but their machine-gun. Not a hint of vengeance or anger can be found, since these men driven to violence don’t need to be killed to be stopped – they need only be disarmed.
5. Diana Leads The Charge
It can’t be overstated just how little concern Steve actually seems to have for Diana’s physical well-being or safety. That’s not a criticism, but evidence of how little he cares for gender conventions. He witnessed Diana’s skills and strength, and never again felt the need to ‘protect’ her. That’s a point exemplified when the team moves through No Man’s Land and into the occupied village of Veld. As Steve, Sameer, Charlie, and Chief take cover to get a lay of the land, Diana rushes between them to lead the charge. The confusion on their faces could have read as embarrassment at being emasculated by a fearless women, or confusion, or frustration.
Instead, the audience realizes along with them that Diana has changed the game, and they just as quickly rush to keep up. Perhaps the reason that Diana’s following action scenes send such a clear message is because they’re not actually ‘sending a message’ at all. Diana is the strongest, most skilled, most athletic, and most courageous of them all… so her dismantling the enemy as Steve and his men rush to keep pace and support her just makes sense. Steve and his men stand in awe, astounded at Diana’s skills and fearlessness, glad to simply be of use to the real hero of the day.
4. When Steve and Diana Kiss (And When They Don’t)
After such a clear demonstration of Diana’s superior combat prowess, she and Steve come together to enjoy the celebration that has followed Veld’s liberation. It’s here where Chris Pine’s claim that Wonder Woman is about equality, and that neither Steve nor Diana is ‘saving’ the other. As the other villager dance and drink, Steve and Diana share the fact that they are now two soldiers, without a home, and heading towards an uncertain future because of the battle they chose to fight. And when Diana asks about the life humans long for, he gives her the details… but says it’s not the life waiting for him.
Some may have predicted that featuring a ‘romance’ between a superhero and their love interest directed by a woman would amount to more than ‘two attractive people being attracted to eachother.’ But Patty Jenkins’s work to bring Steve and Diana together in their greatest moment of uncertainty sets a new standard for the genre. The two should be basking in their victory. But while they go through the motions with a slow dance, the physical contact doesn’t initiate intimacy. That begins with no words spoken, only looks, as the two retire to Diana’s room knowing that tomorrow might not come.
Thanks to their first encounter, the audience knows that Diana’s interest in Steve isn’t based on anything shallow, or physical. And with Steve far too much of a realist to dream of a happy ending, the two share the night, and continue their mission the next morning.
3. Steve Seduces Maru’s Ego
When your leading man has the looks and charm of Chris Pine, it’s hard to come up with a situation he couldn’t solve with charisma. But upon infiltrating Ludendorff’s gala to make contact with Maru a.k.a. Doctor Poison, Steve begins to talk his way into Maru’s confidence by appealing to her greatest weakness: her ego. You can’t call it subtle in today’s Hollywood landscape, but it’s an all-too-welcome change of pace to see Steve recognize that attraction, romance, or flattery will have little effect on a woman as brilliant and driven as Maru. But it’s her desire to be appreciated that he targets, and manipulates with expert precision.
He still romances her, in a sense, leading her to believe that he shares her philosophy, her appreciation for science, and passion for development of more sophisticated weapons. Maru seems seduced against her better judgement… until Diana appears, sending Steve into a panic as his plan dissolves in front of him. Maru, meanwhile, takes on look at Steve’s staring eyes and has her own hopes dashed. He had seemed to be a man of academic integrity, realizing that greatness is more than beauty – ultimately revealing himself to be less than her equal, and easily swayed by a pretty face.
2. Even Ares Sees Diana As An Equal
When Diana was just a child on Themyscira, the message was sent loud and clear that to Zeus, neither gender nor ethnicity was of great concern – and in the film’s final act, Diana learns that may be a trait unique to the Olympian Gods. Once Sir Patrick reveals himself to be Ares, the God of War in disguise, the tension builds long before any weapons are drawn. And as Ares reveals that Diana, and not the sword is the true ‘god killer,’ he declares that the two of them are brother and sister. Children of Zeus, equal in power – and the fact that she is young, a woman, or raised in isolation never enters his mind.
Perhaps it’s not as widespread a phenomenon as it seems, but when a magical, mythical, ancient god is forced to tangle with a young woman, there’s usually a good chance of the word “girl” being thrown around. Honestly, Ares would have more cause than usual to talk down to Diana, since she’s only finding out her true parentage as he informs her. But his attempts to persuade her show how powerful he believes her to be, and in the modern superhero genre, a Greek God addressing a woman as his respected equal and sister just because of her inherent potential is a powerful thing.
By this point in the story it hardly stands out, but with most (if not all) superhero boss battles featuring a villain condescending to the hero, the fact that Wonder Woman defies it with the God of War addressing his unaware sister seems too good to be true.
1. Diana Believes Whether Men Deserve It Or Not
The final expression of Steve and Diana’s equality – that she can save the world, but he can save the day – demonstrates the idea of heroism at the heart of Wonder Woman. When Diana stepped onto that battlefield, she didn’t know if she would survive. When she sprinted into the village, she didn’t know what stood around the corner. She believed it was her duty to destroy Ares so that man would no longer be corrupted, and would be free to be better than Ares believed them to be. When that plan fell through, Steve refused to stop as Diana once had, since he believed that men could be better.
Diana’s mother told her that men were treacherous, and Ares told her they weren’t worth saving. But in the end, Diana realizes that whether men deserve her protection or not doesn’t matter, since “it’s not whether they deserve to be saved… it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”
There’s no question that Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman succeeds because it’s a good movie, and a good movie starring a woman second. Because of that dedication to showing why Diana isn’t just on par with her fellow Justice League heroes, but standing well above them in some respects, she becomes a defender of all people. She believes in men, women, children – everyone equally.