The Symbolism of Wonder Woman

The new Wonder Woman is a lesson in the ancient myth of femininity and a forward in the feminist revolution. Much to my consternation, ‘feminism’ doesn’t mean ‘equality among the sexes’ in modern language; it more often means ‘man-hater.’ When Diana turned up in this film not only sporting a good attitude toward Steve and other men but able to show classic ‘female’ behaviors without shame (“Oh, a baby!” she squeals at one point; she complains about restrictive corsets – “Is this your armor?” – and skirts; and she is openly emotionally impacted by the devastation of war, the sorrows and hardships of those around her)… it created a little bit of a stink, but of the best possible kind.

In my mind, true feminism means women are free to do and be whatever the hell they want, and that includes being a stay at home mom. They are allowed to have their highest ambition be to raise children  without being sneered at by women who want to climb the power ladder. If they want to wear pants, that’s fine. If they want to wear a skirt, that’s fine. If they want to commit to a full workload, or let their husband bring home the bacon, that’s fine. I don’t care, so long as they have the freedom to do and be whatever they want, without another woman pointing at them and sneering, “You’re not a real feminist.” The true definition of feminist is social, political, and employment equality between the sexes. That’s it. It’s not abortion rights. It’s not man-hating. It’s not an obligation to do this or you’re not a feminist.

I liked it that Diana shed tears on the battlefield. I liked it that she wore a dress. I liked it that she had emotions, and made mistakes, and thought babies are precious, and care about kids, and is a full-blown female. You know why? Because I shed tears over battlefields, real or imagined. I like to wear dresses. I have frequent bouts of emotion and I don’t think I should have to be ashamed of that. I have mood swings. I give a damn about people. I hate injustices. I cry over Nicholas Sparks movies. I think babies are precious. I’d like to think I’d risk my life to save a few kids, too. And I’m definitely a female.

In that sense, Diana is fully human. In all other senses, she’s symbolic – of multiple things. She embodies the spirit of womanhood; she carries all its ancient, mythological traits, from being desirable and strong-willed, to having a heart for the innocent, to being a ‘leader of men.’ The Bible emulates that ancient trend in civilization by pointing out that it is Eve who desires ‘the knowledge of good and evil,’ and induces Adam to eat it. She, literally, forges ahead… as Diana does, as she pushes others to make a commitment, to find their honor, to put aside ambition and take to a battlefield, to save the enslaved, to pursue higher ambitions. Girls have always had ambition. Have always wanted MORE. And to some extent, have had WAY more influence over men than you might think.

Ancient culture has a strange duality going on, in its concept of women; it all at once made them out to be wicked (Eve ‘sinned’) but also, at times, held them up as a beacon of purity; myths about goddesses, purity, eternal virgins, etc., inspired the knightly chivalry codes of the middle ages, in which knights upheld virtuous women as inspiration to drive on their own heroic deeds. They fought for a higher female cause, often in the Virgin Mary’s name. One suspects, because females are ‘creators of life’ in a sense – capable of bringing forth human fruit from their womb; they emulate Creation itself, and are thus ‘god-like’ in a way Men are not (Men emulate gods in other ways; strength, perseverance, wrath, and power).

Diana in this film is also the embodiment of humanity in witnessing a world war. Incredulous, she cannot conceive that humans are capable of such evil; she wants to blame it all on the God of War. She believes if she can defeat him, the war will end… but as he points out, humans ‘do these things themselves.’ All he had to do was whisper in their ear. Diana is a literal personification of our collective horror, our collective heroism; she is, in a sense, every soldier that went out on a battlefield, every person throughout time who has ever believed in a higher cause, who has ever fought for innocent lives, who has ever stood in the face of darkness and shouted, ‘It ends here!’ She is England. She is America. She is even the spirit of the German people who rose up against evil, who saw an injustice and refused to stand for it.

Finally, she is the embodiment of women throughout history; an icon of a greater destiny, through which the female audience can live vicariously – she is a heroine to every woman who has ever been abused, or made to feel weak, to every woman who wished they had power against their oppressors or those who would persecute them, an emblem that screams, “I AM WOMAN, YOU WILL NOT DEFEAT ME.” Women have suffered throughout the ages; been enslaved, sold, ignored, abused, raped, beaten, flogged, and had no control over their bodies, beliefs, reproductive rights, or lives.

And yet, like Wonder Woman, here we stand.

5 Replies to “The Symbolism of Wonder Woman”

  1. Thank you for this excellent analysis and modern-day application of a wonderful film! As you stated, Diana’s ability to be a imperfect, realistic, very human character, along with the film’s representation of a truer sense of feminism, is what made the film so great. However, if I may make one tiny factual correction, it’s that the film was set during World War I, not World War II.

  2. Charity, I agree with you about Wonder Woman/Diana. She has it all: beauty on inside and out, not afraid to show genuine, tender emotions, and caring about the human race, hopeful, courageous, honorable and a warrior.

  3. I agree, completely. I can’t call myself a feminist anymore because the term has been co-opted to mean ONE SPECIFIC type of feminism, and it’s one that I don’t necessarily agree with. Thank you for reminding all of us of the wider meaning of the term.

    Just one minor quibble – the film takes place during World War One, not World War Two.

  4. PREACH, SISTER.

    She's also a Christ symbol. My friend pointed it out to me, and I think it's true–Diana chooses, unselfishly, to save humanity, but she saves them by allowing them to be themselves, by respecting their free will–free will to make good or bad choices–and saying, “They have value even in their mistakes.” And I love that.

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