Wonder Woman: The Heroine We Need

In DC’s hit film Wonder Woman, Diana of Themyscira isn’t like other strong heroines.
Bethany A. Jennings | Jun 13, 2017 | 15 comments |

Wonder Woman has been greatly anticipated as a groundbreaking feminist film. Some have shaken their heads at this. After all, haven’t we seen fierce, fighting women in hundreds of movies already? What makes Diana of Themyscira different?

I went into the film optimistic, eager to find out what it would say about womanhood, and curious whether I would agree with it.

Two or three scenes in, and I was undone.

Wonder WomanWatching Amazon warriors train together, with a shining-eyed young Diana looking on, I found myself blinking away tears and trembling with joy. I had nothing like this to watch as a little girl—nothing like this—nothing like this! I thought. My daughters will get to watch many movies like this!

The little girl inside me identified with small Diana, and thrilled to watch her grow up to be a strong woman just like the warriors she admired.

I continued in a state of tears and trembling throughout the movie. It so strongly moved me that I was a little uncertain what had happened, even a little uncomfortable with my own emotions! Why would I react so strongly? What made Diana different?

A lot of reflection—and a second viewing—and I began to understand.

We have seen fighting women in many movies. Eowyn, Katniss, Gamora, Zoe and River from Firefly, Black Widow, and so forth. But almost without exception, these women are emotionally closed off or damaged, wounded, forced into the fight, fearful, sneaky, “bad girls,” or otherwise women I don’t identify with or wish to identify with. Few embody more typical feminine character traits. They are always presented as the odd woman out for one reason or another, driven by grief or pain or a need to prove themselves: desperate, harsh, hurting.

Diana was none of those things.

Raised not as an outsider to femininity but by a culture of all women, she is noble, gentle, loving, and kind. Some of the sweetest moments in the film arose from her soft and nurturing nature, and her eye for the beauty in the world. She is someone I’d actually want to be, someone I could look up to rather than feeling like she was an exception to my gender. Like Captain America, she stands up for all that is good and right, and she does it based on her own ideals, not because someone else pressured her, damaged her, or convinced her. She’s not an “exception” to femininity—she is feminine, while also kicking serious butt.

Tough women abound in film, but tough women who are also good, hopeful, true, compassionate, and deeply confident? I’m not sure I have ever seen one—not until Diana.

The film was not without its missteps, plot holes, and awkward moments. While Steve Trevor was a strong complement to Diana as a secondary character, their motley crew seemed to fall prey to the trope of “must surround the strong woman with weak men to make sure she stands out.” (At the same time, however, I appreciated how some of their characters were portrayed and used within the storyline.) The main antagonist was also weak, his outward appearance unconvincing and not fitting for his true identity. And rather than being the dangerous villain promised in the trailers, the intriguing Doctor Poison played a small, somewhat insignificant role.

But Diana outshone any of the film’s flaws. True to God’s design for womankind, she stands equally alongside the strongest of fictional male heroes—not merely because she fights for a good cause, but because of her dignity, resolve, and courage.

In one of the most moving scenes in the film, she advances on an enemy army, pushing back against a firestorm of bullets as she makes her way through a territory known as No Man’s Land—a place no man could cross. But Diana is no man, the film whispers without a word. On the other side of that waste is someone who needs help. And Diana is a woman who stands up and does what needs to be done. Fearlessly. Indefatigably. When she sees harm and suffering, she acts. Her boldness compels the loyalty of others, and stokes their courage to stand with her against evil.

She is the hero we want to be, male or female. A hero who is dogged in her pursuit of justice, truth, and love.

Diana isn’t just a heroine for women—she is a heroine for all.

Bethany A. Jennings is a science-fiction and fantasy author, freelance editor, graphic designer, and the acquisitions editor at Uncommon Universes Press. She is endlessly passionate about the intersection of faith, art, and pop culture, and the power of speculative fiction to shape hearts and unveil hidden realities. Born in California, she now lives in New Hampshire with her husband, four children, zero pets, and a large collection of imaginary friends (a.k.a. fictional characters). In addition to her writing and editing, she runs #WIPjoy, a popular online event for authors. Her published short stories, Threadbare and Dragon Lyric, can be found on Amazon.

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Teddi Deppner

I love your willingness to share how powerfully this story moved you, Bethany. Great insights about why Diana stands out in the landscape of fighting heroines. I look forward to seeing it myself!

Autumn Grayson
Autumn Grayson

I think this new Wonder Woman movie was one of the better superhero shows I’ve seen in a long time, and I kind of like the whole character arc she went through during the film.

I think the point people bring up about girls getting to grow up with this movie and Wonder Woman as a role model is interesting. I don’t think she’s nearly the first good ‘strong woman’ character, one of the good ones I can think of off the top of my head is Kaylie from Warner Brother’s Quest For Camelot. Kaylie wasn’t a strong woman in the sense of being able to fight well, though she did have an interest in fighting. Instead, she was a brave, kind person who was willing to put herself at risk to help her family and country. I think that is a great role model for everyone, not just girls. Knowing how to fight is good, but it isn’t all that makes us ‘strong’, and we shouldn’t place value on someone or say they are strong simply because of fighting ability. So I think characters like Kaylie are good for portraying that.

When the topic of role models and representation comes up, I think people oversimplify it a lot. I think we need more/better girl characters in stories, but so that we can have more character variety, realism, etc, rather than mainly for representation. While it is good for kids to have role models of their own gender, they also need to learn to identify with and have role models of the opposite gender as well. Growing up, a lot of the characters I identified with were male, and in several cases of a different race than me. This was because I identified with personality traits and circumstances, rather than surface things like race and gender. Itachi from Naruto is a good example. Although he is male and probably Japanese, and lives in a time and place far different than mine, I could identify with the issues he faces as an older sibling that shoulders a lot of responsibility in his family, along with his willingness to do the right thing even if it means being hated. I think it’s great for people to have role models of their own race and gender in stories, but I wish people would also do more to encourage their children to identify with characters primarily based off internal factors like personality instead.


Except Quest for Camelot is a terrible movie.

Autumn Grayson
Autumn Grayson

I’d say a bit stereotypical more than terrible. It was pretty decent for a kid’s show, though. At least when we consider how much the average kid’s show talks down to kids or has horrible acting, animation, etc simply because people think kids don’t care. Quest For Camelot was one of the first things that made me love medieval fantasy, though. So even if it felt stereotypical in some regards it didn’t feel that way when I was little since it was one of the first things of its type I watched.

Travis Perry

I saw this movie differently but I agree I liked her, Wonder Woman. I agree, almost entirely with your assessment of her character as being good and strong. I see a bit of a flaw in her actually, in that she never felt any regret about killing German soldiers to get to her goal, but that is internally consistent within her character. Still, she is portrayed very well as a person.

However, one part of your review disturbed me, where you described seeing the Amazon warriors train with strong emotion because it was an example you never had. Bethany…war is a brutal mangler of the human body and it would be better if neither men nor women ever had to train for it. War is born from sin, from human evil and even fighting honorably became necessary because of sin. Even though righteous people fight, it would not be necessary to kill or maim except for evil. Training for war is not an inherent sign of strength, nor is refusing to train for war a necessary sign of weakness, as in the recent WW2 film about a medic who refused to carry a gun (the name alludes me ATM). Be sure the girls you know understand that.