I have now seen Wonder Woman twice in 48 hours, once with my good friend (another physician mom), and once with my son. I’ve read all the great reviews, including this one on how Wonder Woman’s true power lies in service, or this one about the need for Female Representation. My favorite is this piece because I so relate to the experience of being a young girl believing that if I only worked hard enough and was strong enough I could do anything I dreamed only to find out finally as an attending physician how differently I would be treated by my peers just because I am a woman. I also read this unfortunate piece by a woman, who I believe, tragically missed the real points of the movie. None of those, however, are what make Diana and this version of Wonder Woman truly Wondrous.
Fair warning, there may be some spoiler alerts in this if you haven’t seen the movie yet. Admittedly, Diana’s physical attributes (clearly superior skills in all things battle, being bullet proof and having superpowers) are necessary to get her in with the Good Ol’ Boys. But they are completely fictional and fantastical. What is not fictional, but indeed quite real, is a) the requirement for her to be physically superior for men to allow her to play in what they deem their realm but more importantly b) her uniquely feminine and womanly idealism, compassion, love, and ability to turn her greatest pain and suffering into her greatest strengths.
The real and accurate portrayal of feminine attributes that are common in fiercely capable women which Diana exemplifies are far more wondrous than her fictional physical abilities. She is brilliant. She balances emotions and compassion for others while simultaneously using her brain to solve problems and triage issues. She is selfless but not so much that she is easily swayed from what she knows is just because of fear of offending another. From the get-go, she asks her Amazon Queen mother, “But who would I be if I stayed?” when warned that if she leaves the Amazon Island to help mankind she may never return. She recognizes she was given gifts and she’s going to put those gifts to use for all mankind. She exudes passion for honor, love of life and justice in a way none of the men around her seem to, and yet she simultaneously manages to boost the confidence of the truly good men who allow her to play the game. When she tastes ice cream for the first time at the train station, she sincerely tells the ice cream man, “You should be so proud.” When she and her cohort of men are deciding to move on to another mission and the ballad singing Scotsman once shooter but now hindered by his PTSD suggests the group would be better off without him, Diana says, again with genuine care and interest, “but who will sing for us?” His male friends likely would have just agreed that he should stay behind. It took the woman to see value in something other than pure brute force and prowess at killing. She inspires the entire team.
Still, while she so earnestly brings those up around her by finding their strengths and shedding light on their necessity, she also does not tolerate the narcissistic nonsense of the men running the show. When she discovers the British General doesn’t really give a darn about the lives of the men he is sending to be killed, she essentially mothers the men. Aghast, she tells the entire room that they should be ashamed for presuming their lives are more important than the soldiers who fight on the ground. This, I have observed, is a trait far more common in women than men. Passionate women tend to care more about doing the right thing for all human life than preserving their own image, and will speak up for what is right (if allowed the audience) even to detriment to themselves. That’s not to say there are not great men out there who speak up for truth and justice, and in the movie Diana’s companion seems to be, indeed, a great man. In real life, many women are silenced, or lose their jobs, or are painted as manipulative and aggressive, or are not promoted or hired when they speak up (and I am not referring to speaking up about reproductive rights here……I’m referring to everything else we are told to shut up about, including how to lead and manage the most life-affecting organizations and entities). Still this trait that Diana espouses, of caring and speaking up for what is truly good, is far more wondrous than her fictional immortality, because it’s genuine woman.
Even more fascinating to me was how Diana dealt with her own personal emotional pain. As she is being squeeze trapped to the ground by a metal roll controlled by the god of war Ares, she watches as the man she’s fallen in love with sacrifices himself to save thousands of lives. This is the point in the typical male-centric super hero movie when the emotional pain/grief the man experiences leads to the destructive spiral. Rather, in her heartbroken state, Diana finds her greatest strength. She realizes what love is and can be when she looses her love, and suddenly breaks free of the dire hold Ares has on her. She accepts the pain, experiences it, processes it, and then turns it into power. She is able to fight more fiercely, and as she does so, Ares tries desperately to convince her that mankind is not deserving of her and temps her to forsake mankind. It reminded me of how often male religious or leader figures frequently think they are actually God and seem to feel they should decide who in this world is deserving of basic human life rights and necessities. Of course, Diana is a woman. She doesn’t fall for it. She knows she is superior in many ways, but recognizes that love is far more important for peace and mankind to thrive than to egomaniacly decide that for their many flaws mankind or any one person is not deserving of help (or her forgiveness). And she chooses love.
Just before Steve Trevor goes off to sacrifice himself to prevent certain death to thousands, Steve finds her to tell her goodbye. He says, “I can save today, you can save the world.” On the surface it seems like he’s referring to the fact that only Diana can kill Ares the god of war (and thus save the world) while Steve is capable of eliminating the possibility of the plane succeeding in dropping its gas bombs. I suspect the message is deeper than that. It speaks to Diana’s utterly feminine approach to the world problems. She consistently and despite her grief is able to overcome, to love despite her suffering, to give of herself for others, to essentially say “screw the PC norms and the system I had no part in creating nor have any ability to change, I’m going to do what I know is right for more than just me and my own.” Imagine if all those leading the Healthcare industry in America placed people before profits. I can’t count the number of times I have been told by male physicians that I “just care too much” as they try to convince me to acquiesce to the harmful norms of the system. They think they are helping by trying to convince me I need to care less about doing the right thing for each individual patient in order to survive in medicine. No woman physician has ever suggested this to me. However, it’s still predominantly men that hold leadership positions in the healthcare industry (both Academic and Public Sector) who make decisions or allow the problems to continue. No, the quote was not just about the physical fight. It spoke to the nature of men and women today and throughout history. There are many good men in the world, and they will save the day. However, it is the love, fierce compassion, ability to turn emotional and physical pain into triumph, and persistence that more women tend to embrace that will ultimately save the world. Diana’s superpowers are purely fictional. What’s wondrous is her accurate portrayal of a fierce, loving, strong, independent and brilliant woman. At the end of the day the good men will save, and only if more men would set their egos aside and let us, it will be the women that can and will save the world. And this message, my friends, is the true wonder of Wonder Woman 2017.