(Above: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman)
All thanks to the spectacular women who made and starred in this film.
It’s an amazing moment when a film passes the Bechdel test in the first few minutes of run-time. It reminds me that I am about to a view a movie that remembers women make up half of the population and should be represented as such. But when it happens in the superhero universe, a male-centric environment, it is even more fantastic.
Wonder Woman, the biggest block-buster of 2017 showcases actress Gal Gadot as the iconic Diana, Princess of Themyscira. Gadot, brings to light the impressive qualities that make up Wonder Woman, intelligence, strength, perseverance, independence, empathy, and of course beauty.
Make no mistake about it Gadot is gorgeous, distractingly beautiful even. Despite the troubling naysayers (or rather idiots) who have devoted time to online posts about Gadot’s “less than impressive cleavage,” Gadot is nothing but breathtaking, the type of human you just want to stare at. And Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman knows this. She is very much aware of the sex appeal that Gadot and Wonder Woman embody, the male attention and the male gaze that could easily erupt when the sexual appeal of a main character becomes overly sexualized – especially within the context of womanhood. There’s a reason why Jenkins didn’t get binding tape and try to reenact a Kiera Knightly Pirates of the Caribbean moment and also why the sexuality of Wonder Woman never dips into a “costumey” costume.
In Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman the costume serves a point, and that point is not to illicit sexual feelings but to showcase the strength and fluidity that Wonder Woman needs to fight. Similarly, every decision Jenkins makes tells us that our protagonist is in charge of her sexuality, and she is in charge of how the viewers see it too.
The most stunning example of this is Diana Prince’s and Steve Trevor’s first kiss and night together.
Although there are those critics and viewers alike who have spoken with distain about the need for a romantic plot at all, I stand with Jenkins. Wonder Woman should be able to live in a world in which she is able to save the world and get the guy (even if that be for only a short time.) Like any superhero film with a male as its lead, Diana is allowed the right to have sexual feelings for a ridiculously attractive secondary character.
Where Wonder Woman strays is in the organic development of the relationship between Diana and Steve, the compatibility addressed between two people who feel like outsiders, who hold firmly to justice and are equally brave. Attraction to each other is a small piece of the puzzle which seems almost inevitable with two insanely good-looking people.
What is so important is Wonder Woman takes account of her own sexuality early in the film. She needs no “saving” from any man, even for the “pleasures of the flesh.” She does not need a sexual rescuing, a male to make her climax. In a comical boat scene Diana and Steve speak about reproduction and Diana’s knowledge of men and physical gratification from men. Diana claims “I’ve read all 12 volumes of Clio’s treatises on bodily pleasure…you would not enjoy them…they came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” Plain and simple, leaving aside the unclear sexual relations of the other Amazons (all women on the island) Diana can reach an orgasm by herself, making the bedroom scene later in the film even more layered and complex.
After a tumultuous battle brought to an end by Diana, both Diana and Steve find themselves dancing underneath the falling snow. Diana looks up at it, calls it “magical” and has what can only be described as an utterly romantic moment with Steve. But with no kiss, Diana makes a decision. After the night comes to a close, Steve walks her up to her room and stops at the door ready to close it, leaving her alone. When he glances once more at Diana he hesitates. Diana stares at him seductively, almost with a “come hither” look. It is this gesture that serves as a catalyst for Steve to make his way to her where ultimately both of them embrace in a sensual kiss that cuts away gracefully but suddenly to the outside of their building, snow still falling down.
As a woman, you get the idea that from the time Diana asked Steve what a “normal” world looks like, amidst hearing the piano and watching others “sway”, she decides that she wants Steve both sexually and romantically and as a beautiful and fierce woman with someone who has possibly expressed as much interest in her as she has with him she is inclined to get what she wants.
It’s a strong and realistic testament to the power women have with sex that is repeatedly stripped away from them in films, especially superhero films in which the woman is often portrayed as the prize the man earns for saving the world. This presents itself in scene after scene where a woman is almost violently and passionately taken after a heated conversation that usually revolves around a man claiming how much he needs her in a moment but then also how he must leave her because he does not want to endanger her, thus exhibiting that power balance in which the man has the upper hand.
Diana in her kiss with Steve, and her un-coerced decision to allow him to stay with her in her room is both a mixture of vulnerability and power that most sex scenes fail to adequately portray with women. We know that Diana does not have the past experiences of sexually being with a man, so it’s a pivotal point in her personal narrative when she chooses him as the person she wants to have sex with, particularly given that the context we do know about Diana is that she is in charge of her own sexuality through presumed masturbation. Diana is a virgin, but not a stereotypical virginal character, and if the sex scene did continue for more than the few seconds we were given Diana would be knowledgeable and assertive about what to tell Steve in regards to pleasing her if he was not performing the way she wanted (although in my fictional world I am sure Steve is perfect in bed.)
However it’s important to discuss some of the reasons why the scene did not extend past that initial kiss. On one hand I believe Jenkins did everything in her power to stop the destructive male gaze. With groups of men upset about the political correctness of a woman superhero (never mind that the heroine has been around since the ‘40s) to men threatening to sue movie theaters for having women only screenings (while co-ed ones were available at the same time) the fragile ego of males has notably showcased itself. The ignorant persona of this man is a man who would love to objectify Gadot’s body, displaying that male gaze as something which does or does not satisfy what he wants to see on screen. An active sex scene also allows Wonder Woman to be demoralized by preconceived notions of promiscuity and purity in females, E.g. a woman who “puts out” is not as valuable any more and in some way weaker. Jenkins prevented clips uploaded to YouTube of the sex scene not because it arouses others and is a plot distraction but because it sexually commodifies Gadot as “the hot fuckable superhero.”
So the viewer does not get the whole sex scene; like a private moment we are not supposed to be watching we get ushered away. The director paints in broad strokes and it works, the romance of the previous scenes continue through.
In most sex scenes the scene does extend past the act itself. In the PG-13 version of the rendezvous the woman lazily has a sheet covering, just perfectly, her breasts the following morning. In the R version the woman is sprawled across the bed, chest exposed, as the man either kisses her or gets up to begin whatever pressing job he has to attend to. He however is rarely seen in any vulnerable state that the act of sex he just partook in demands.
In Wonder Woman this never happens. But believe me I waited for it. In the following scenes I waited for the knowing look that I am accustomed to watching in films, that moment where Steve looks at Diana and she smiles shyly thinking about what they did the night before. That time when they hold hands, initiated of course by the male, when they speak about how being intimate together changed or is about to change whatever they have.
It’s quite possible within the world of Wonder Woman that both Diana and Steve felt more emotionally bonded within their relationship, but since it’s something we can only assume the precedent is that the act of sex forming or not forming that bond does not matter. Instead in the final moments of the film Diana is again resilient, strong, brilliant and equal in every way if not superior to Steve as a sexually satisfied woman.
Her relationship, and her sexuality do not become a focus of the film even as the relationship reaches its most charged moment and as such Jenkins sets out to accomplish what she wanted, creating a character full of emotions, strengths, and flaws that recognizes love is a great and intricate revolutionary power in humans.
If Wonder Woman represents what an incredible woman hero should be in multiple aspects of the ordinary and extraordinary then she sets a perfect example of what powerful female sexuality is – making you not weaker but stronger, allowing you to find and explore another part of your being. It is Diana who unapologetically speaks about sex, and its bizarre way it is treated in the modern world, and it is her who saves the world, not the day, and it is her who gets the man on her own terms.