Wonder Woman: The Heroine We Need

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.

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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.
  1. 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!

  2. Autumn Grayson says:

    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.

    • notleia says:

      Except Quest for Camelot is a terrible movie.

      • Autumn Grayson says:

        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.

    • I agree, girls can certainly identify with boy main characters too! I know I did, growing up, and often do now. And I believe anyone can connect with a character, regardless of race, gender, etc. – personality is a huge factor, as well as motivations and other factors. That’s a sign of a well-written character. 🙂 And I haven’t seen Quest for Camelot, so I can’t speak to that, but I do agree there are other strong female characters out there – they can just be hard to find. And Diana isn’t strong only because she fights, but because of her character as well. If she was just a kick-butt fighting woman with no other sides to her personality, I don’t think I’d feel about her the way I did. 🙂

      • Autumn Grayson says:

        Yeah, I just wish more people would see all that. Unfortunately the lessons a lot of people pass down to their children are that they need to have characters of their own race or gender to identify with and that every show that lacks that is automatically oppressing them.

        • notleia says:

          Being someone who actually hangs out in progressive spaces, it’s more about how media reflects who is worth paying attention to. And if it’s all centering around dem white dudes, that means womens’ (especially older women’s) and POC’s (and differently-abled people’s) stories and personalities are implied to not be worth paying attention to, except maaaaybe if they impact the white dudes somehow, like if they died to give them the sads.
          That also ties into larger conversations about feminism and emotional labor (the subject of emotional labor is pretty interesting, IMO) that don’t have to do specifically with media but feed into and feed from media.

          • Autumn Grayson says:

            I understand that that’s how a lot of people feel and it is worth talking about, so I’m not trying to say that everyone complaining about the lack of girl chars, etc, is a problem. As I mentioned before, there needs to be more character variety for the sake of realism, etc. And when people learn how to write stories well and realistically, the character variety tends to come naturally in many cases.

            But there are a lot of people out there who view the world mostly through a lens of sexism, homophobia and racism and see it even in places where it doesn’t exist. Yes, we need more character variety, but it isn’t good for people to assume that when an author primarily writes straight white characters that the author is ignoring minorities or saying their stories aren’t worthwhile. Especially when there is an extremely narrow, if not impossible, view of what it takes to properly ‘represent’ a minority.

            Recently I was looking at a story on the Tapas comic app(you might enjoy this app, if you haven’t looked into it already 🙂 ) It was a gender bender story about a girl who dresses up as a boy to help her family and one of the boys at an all boys school she sneaks into. Reading the reviews, many people liked it and even seemed to view it as protrans. But there were several other people who thought the story was ‘transphobic as hell’ because apparently, happy stories that include characters that do things associated with trans people is automatically transphobic. Looking at the author’s bio now, it says ‘Is often faced by the question of their gender’. So here we have a potentially transgender author who wrote a lighthearted story that they probably felt normalized transgender behaviors, but they are still being treated like a toxic transphobic person.

            So I think it’s great that people want there to be more varied characters, but some of them take it way too far by assuming authors without varied characters are automatically prejudiced or writing toxic stories. Or, they’ll nitpick every minority character so much that straight white people don’t feel like they can or should write minority characters. Or, if they do, they might not end up writing minority characters that are as deep or realistic as they would have otherwise(one unfortunate thing I’ve seen is the belief that straight white people shouldn’t write about oppression because they don’t ‘deserve’ to or because it isn’t their story to tell).

            Personally, I have a lot of character variety in my stories in terms of race, and I do have a lot of strong female characters, but it’s out of a desire to write realistic stories, not because I’m trying to meet some representation quota, and I think the characters are better for it. I even write a lot of asexual/aromantic characters, which are extremely under represented in modern media. But I’ve been very hesitant about writing other LGBTetc variants, because I know I’m going to get a lot of hell for it. But then at the same time I know I’m probably going to get a lot of hell for NOT writing them eventually, so it can be rather disheartening to know I’m probably going to be deemed ‘homophobic’ either way.

            • notleia says:

              Granted, I hang out in progressive spaces with reasonable people, and there are unreasonable progressives like there are unreasonable people everywhere.
              But I’ve found that even people who nitpick often have good reasons for not liking something. I can’t remember which show it was, but this show was supposedly super pro-gay and all, but my friend (who is LGBT) thought it was queerbaiting rather than supportive. All “see, see, it’s ~~*gay*~~ so buy our merch pls.”

              • Autumn Grayson says:

                I tend to hang out more in comment sections on places like youtube and deviantart, and read random blogs I like, so I guess I end up seeing the good, the bad and the ugly on all sides a lot.

                I think there is a lot for people to complain about, and I think it’s fine for people to feel uncomfortable with something or dislike it, but unfortunately a lot of people translate that into personal attacks against authors or assumptions that an author must be sexist or phobic just because they did something a subset of minorities dislike. I think one reason for this is that some people get so upset at what they see as an injustice that they decide they are on the right side/their opinions are all correct, and aren’t really willing to hear the other side out or consider changing their mind. Or a few people on the opposite side have traumatized them so much that they assume everyone on the opposite side is out to get them

                In your friend’s case, I think it’s perfectly fine for them to evaluate the show and have negative feelings about it. And I think assessing a show and naming things we like and dislike is part of good literary criticism. But some people take it too far into toxic attacks and assumptions about the author’s character, or act like the author is obligated to write what some liberals see as the ideal story.

      • notleia says:

        I’d say it’s also important for people to learn to identify with people who don’t look like them, but I’d say it’s little white boys who lack the opportunity for that.

  3. Travis Perry says:

    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.

    • Oh, I completely agree, Travis. War is brutal and terrible, and not something I’d want my children (girls OR boys!) to aspire to unless it was purely out of the desire to protect innocents and defend their nation.

      But I *would* want my girls to see examples of women learning to defend themselves, working to become stronger, faster, and better, and to “gird themselves with strength” as the Proverbs 31 woman does. On that level, I appreciated the training scenes – not even as training for war, specifically, but just physical training and practice in general. (That is more how I meant the word “training” in the review itself, as well.) I want both my sons and daughters to aspire to strengthen themselves – even more on a spiritual and metaphorical level than on a physical level.

What do you think?