It has come to my attention in recent weeks that some people are pointing to the latest incarnation of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman as a role model not only for females in general, but for Christian females in particular. Her selflessness and compassion are admirable Christian virtues, it is said. Her bravery in the face of evil is emblematic of true womanly strength. Her willingness to save humanity, even though it is completely undeserving, is much in line with the actions of Jesus Christ. Some have gone so far as to claim that the filmmakers clearly meant to make a Christological statement.
I read all of this and rolled my eyes internally, for it seemed a whole lot of hoopla over a comic book film that is only considered great in comparison to the long string of uninspired and vapid sequels put out by Hollywood in recent years, all of which seem to rake in exorbitant sums at the box office despite getting terrible reviews. I do not speak from ignorance. My husband is the kind of man who will line up for any film that takes place in the Marvel or DC universe, and though I manage to skip most of these outings, my love for him requires me to attend at least a couple times a year. My goal is to choose whichever film seems either most original or least objectionable, and this summer that movie was Wonder Woman.
Unlike some of my female compatriots, I did not drive to the cinema anticipating greatness. The character of Wonder Woman has always been, in my estimation, a mixed blessing. It is a bit hard to square the notion that she is a feminist icon with the fact that her costume is hardly different from many S&M getups, whip and all. One might also object to the fact that being a strong female is equated with physical violence, or that Wonder Woman has been subjected in some manifestations to being yet another one of Batman’s boy toys, or that her obvious hotness seems intended to attract male viewers rather than female ones. All I was expecting from this movie is that it would be mildly entertaining, and it managed to clear that low bar. It was nowhere near as bad as some of the superhero films I’ve been forced to endure, but neither would I rank it among the very best. (I believe that The Dark Knight is the gold standard, even if it suffers from a disappointing final act.)
After seeing this movie, my Twitter feed continued to light up with all sorts of laudatory statements about how fabulous it is. Some were speaking merely in terms of its entertainment quality, but there was also the inevitable slew of articles from those who constantly seek out Christ in pop culture. A few of these writers made some decent points, and I don’t begrudge them delving into the shallow end of the pool once in a while. However, there were just as many essays that verged on the utterly ridiculous. Part of me wanted to craft a response, but I said to myself, “No, Amy. If you write about Wonder Woman, you’ll just be perpetuating the very trend that you hate. You’ll be giving in to the temptation of click bait.” Yes, I knew that writing about Wonder Woman would probably attract far more readers than my carefully thought out examinations of various Scripture passages. That, in my mind, was further proof of the shallowness of evangelical culture and how female writers will never be afforded the same level of respect as men. Well, I was not about to succumb to temptation. I left Wonder Woman alone.
Then a wonderful Christian author, a female most averse to controversies of any kind, alerted me to some concerns that have been voiced. It seems that there are other people equally troubled by the fact that Wonder Woman is now considered the standard for biblical womanhood. This female I will not name, who is awesome with awesome sauce on top, had no time to respond to the problem, and in any case it is truly beneath her. Such a task is better suited to a nobody like myself. Therefore, I agreed to write about Wonder Woman, and in doing so I ensured that at least on this occasion, my husband would read my blog. Unfortunately, I will not manage to follow this author’s suggestion that I limit the number of words in my articles. Apologies in advance.
The Complicated History of Wonder Woman
The comic book character Wonder Woman (real name Diana) is largely the brain child of the late psychologist William Moulton Marston. Many aspects of his life were clouded in shadow until recent years, when Jill Lepore’s book The Secret History of Wonder Woman uncovered many details about what inspired him and how he developed his most famous character. It turns out that Marston was heavily influenced by the early feminist movement, and not always in a good way. He lived in a kind of ménage à trois with two different women, one of whom was the niece of Margaret Sanger. Who was Margaret Sanger? She was a leading advocate for birth control in the early 20th century, famously arrested along with her sister in 1916 for the illegal distribution of contraception. She helped found the International Committee on Planned Parenthood, the predecessor to the organization so hated by pro-lifers today. (It should be noted that Planned Parenthood did not perform abortions until after Sanger died.)
Dr. Marston was very much a believer in the concept of female empowerment, even if his personal behavior raises some questions as to what he actually thought that meant. He also had an interest in truth and morality, and is often credited with creating the lie detector test. Marston wanted there to be a comic book heroine who would embody these ideals, as Angelica Bastién explains.
When Marston created Wonder Woman, he was very clear about his intentions. ‘Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world,’ he said. As Jill Lepore mentions in her book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Marston argued that ‘the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.’
Marston would often make comments to the effect that women were not only equal to men, but actually superior to them in certain ways. He believed that a world full of nothing but females may well be a world without war. Jill Lepore describes the origin of such ideas.
Wonder Woman’s origin story comes straight out of feminist utopian fiction. In the nineteenth century, suffragists, following the work of anthropologists, believed that something like the Amazons of Greek myth had once existed, a matriarchy that predated the rise of patriarchy. ‘The period of woman’s supremacy lasted through many centuries,’ Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in 1891. In the nineteen-tens, this idea became a staple of feminist thought. The word ‘feminism,’ hardly ever used in the United States before 1910, was everywhere by 1913. The suffrage movement had been founded on a set of ideas about women’s supposed moral superiority.
As much as I might admire these women for their effort to earn the vote, I cannot help but be reminded of a quote from the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women. “I find it poor logic to say that women should vote because they are good. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are men, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.” That is the double standard placed upon women by this silly notion that we are inherently more pure or righteous. As Christians, we know that the value of any human being is that they are made in the image of God, whether male or female. Neither males nor females are morally superior, and if women are only valued if they act like angels, then they are not going to be valued at all. Female empowerment efforts that depend upon this false principle of moral superiority are not built on a firm foundation.
In any case, Marston set out to create a virtuous and strong female character, but his efforts were not without controversy. This is where we start to see the hypocrisy in his view of women and the way that people view his famous creation, as described in this essay by Dani Di Placido.
Elements of Marston’s character trickled down into his famous creation, notably in her peculiar choice of weapon, the Lasso of Truth…Marston was an enthusiastic fan of bondage, and female domination. The Lasso binds Wonder Woman’s opponent, forcing them to reveal their innermost secrets. It’s not hard to see the connection between the weapon and Marston’s role in creating the lie detector. And, you know, bondage. In fact, themes of domination and restraint ran heavily through the superheroine’s original adventures; Wonder Woman’s enemies often found themselves tied up, as did Wonder Woman herself. Her fellow Amazonians engaged in wrestling and bondage play. Wonder Woman’s greatest weakness was to be tied up by a man. If this were to happen, she would lose her superpowers and become helpless. For some reason. This bizarre Kryptonite was actually an attempt to subvert the stereotype of the damsel in distress, as Wonder Woman would always free herself from her bonds and prevail. It was also an opportunity for Marston to advertise his fetish, in the hope of removing the stigma from his sexual habits.
It is when you begin to take into account this complicated history that you start to doubt that Wonder Woman is really the right champion for either feminism or biblical womanhood. In “Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots”, The Atlantic’s Katha Pollitt says of Marston, “His 1928 tome, Emotions of Normal People, defended ‘abnormal’ sexuality – homosexuality, fetishism, sadomasochism, and so on – as not only normal but fixed in the nervous system.” Indeed, while Wonder Woman has certainly served a number of positive purposes in history, there is no denying that the character has also been hijacked to support a less biblical agenda. Consider these comments by Greg Rucka, the writer of a recent series of Wonder Woman stories.
Now, are we saying Diana has been in love and had relationships with other women? As Nicola and I approach it, the answer is obviously yes. And it needs to be yes for a number of reasons. But perhaps foremost among them is, if no, then she leaves paradise only because of a potential romantic relationship with Steve [Trevor]. And that diminishes her character. It would hurt the character and take away her heroism. When we talk about agency of characters in 2016, Diana deciding to leave her home forever — which is what she believes she’s doing — if she does that because she’s fallen for a guy, I believe that diminishes her heroism. She doesn’t leave because of Steve. She leaves because she wants to see the world and somebody must go and do this thing. And she has resolved it must be her to make this sacrifice.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Wonder Woman is now officially bisexual in the comics. I suppose it didn’t take much of a leap, given that she comes from an island populated only by women. Interestingly, while Rucka may be hoping to advance the LGBTQ agenda in comic form, he makes what I believe is a correct assessment of one of the story’s flaws: despite being such a powerful female, Wonder Woman throws herself into the arms of the first man she ever meets. Yes, she leaves home to save the world, but as Rucka notes, “If she does that because she’s fallen for a guy, I believe that diminishes her heroism.” Well, maybe not her heroism, but at least her reputation as an independent female who doesn’t need a man. But all of these comments are directed at the comic books. Is the Princess Diana in the new movie Wonder Woman any better?
What People Have Been Writing
Wonder Woman’s complicated history in decades worth of comic books may cause some Christians to doubt whether she is really a proper role model for females. Yet the Christian writers who have sung her praises in recent weeks likely did so without being aware of some of what I have just mentioned. They were reacting merely to what they saw in the film. Therefore, we should consider whether the Wonder Woman of Wonder Woman is all that she’s cracked up to be. Just look at some of the titles of these articles.
- “The Gospel According to Wonder Woman?” by Tripp Hudgins for Religion News Service
- “‘Wonder Woman’: A Peculiar and Unexpected Heroine” by Gina Dalfonzo for The Gospel Coalition
- “‘They Do Not Deserve You’; Wonder Woman and Soteriology” by Derek Rishmawy
- “The New ‘Wonder Woman’ Is Really a Story About Jesus” by M. Hudson for The Federalist
- “Why We Need Wonder Woman” by Alicia Cohn for Christianity Today
- “‘Wonder Woman’ Might Be the Most Accurate On-Screen Depiction of Biblical Womanhood, And Here’s Why” by Marilette Sanchez
When I saw these glowing statements of adoration and then read the attached articles, I almost wondered if they had seen the same movie that I did. Diana’s desire to save humanity from war is certainly admirable, but it also represents the plot of nearly every movie in this genre. The thing that separates Wonder Woman, according to more than one of these writers, is that she realizes that humanity does not deserve to be saved but still makes the decision to save them.
Hudgins tell us that “Diana knows a greater truth. Man may not deserve redemption, but they are redeemable. That belief—that man is redeemable, and at least some will not refuse that divine gift—is the greater truth that motivates Diana’s efforts.” Alicia Cohn had a more Calvinist take on the same aspect of the film. “Although Diana sees that corruption, she still believes that humanity deserves a chance to be saved. It’s an interesting concept that will resound with those of us who believe in the total depravity of man apart from God.” So is Wonder Woman Calvinist or Arminian? I’m so confused!
Near the end of the film, when Wonder Woman has come to realize that depravity in man and is trying to decide whether or not to save them when they obviously don’t deserve it, her love interest Steve says to her, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.” That statement is straight out of liberal Christianity. Indeed, there is nothing particularly Christian about it all. It is the theology of the Beatles: “All you need is love!” Derek Rishmawy is a writer I respect, and his take on Wonder Woman is a bit more nuanced. He also found Steve’s final speech to be lacking.
Now, here the statement ‘it’s about what you believe’ is a little limp. Pressing deeper, reflecting on Steve’s character, his valiant sacrifice, and the other men she has become friends with, she recognizes there is more to humanity than the evil within. There is love and goodness as well. The image of Zeus, if you will. And so she decides that is worth fighting for, even if humanity doesn’t deserve her.
I said I like Derek Rishmawy, but I think he’s reaching a bit here. The image of Zeus? Here we’re hitting up against one of the problems with Wonder Woman and any other film in the Marvel or DC universe: the Christian God does not exist in these worlds. They are ruled by a plethora of gods, demigods, and superhumans. There is absolutely no such thing as the “image of Zeus” in Wonder Woman’s universe, not only because humans are one of many types of sentient beings, but also because Zeus is one of an infinite number of gods. There’s no knowing who is truly sovereign or where absolute truth lies. Rishmawy concludes that while Wonder Woman is obviously not a Christian movie, “there was a lot of theological good sense that makes me curious how it will be received by our friends and neighbors”. Well, I have no desire to throw him under the bus, but dude: it’s just a superhero film!
Hudgins argues that we need to take Wonder Woman seriously on a theological level.
Making meaning when we are moved by art is not simply laudable, it’s a necessary expression of our humanity. It is why we make art in the first place. It expresses the complexity of human existence. It evokes the complexity of human response. A turn to the religious considerations is only right.
I agree with him to a point. Certainly, I was moved to philosophical musings after seeing Twelve Years a Slave and Schindler’s List. I believe that film is indeed an art form, and while many films have no more quality than those modern paintings with a single black line on a white canvas, there are at least a few each year that reach for something higher. Nevertheless, I would not go so far as to place Wonder Woman in this category, or any other film that consists mostly of karate chops, computerized explosions, and perfectly sculpted bosoms. Hudgins, on the other hand, just can’t help himself. “I hope to see ‘The Gospel According to Wonder Woman’ on the shelves before Christmas,” he says. What exactly would that “gospel” entail? Read on…
This is gospel that I see. On the screen we have a skillfully wrought story about a powerful woman, a divine force in the world, and all of the other women who helped fashion her. But off-screen we behold the gospel, the story of God-Made-Flesh in the talents, skills and passions of the women who made the film. If there is a ‘Gospel According to Wonder Woman,’ it is found in the lives of the creators, the moviemakers and the women in the audiences who are driving the financial success of the film. Their humanity as well as those they work with is on full, glorious, truthful display. This is what we should celebrate.
The gospel according to Hudgins is that women are making movies, and we should celebrate that. I am not sure what else to conclude. We see Christ, he argues, in “the talents, skills and passions of the women who made the film”. Now, I’m as happy as the next person that a film with a female star and a female director did well at the box office. But seriously – this is the gospel? No, really…this? This is the gospel of Jesus Christ? This?! Methinks Ares has been whispering lies into this man’s ears.
Cohn’s piece in Christianity Today is light years better. She notes that “in Wonder Woman’s world, where she was ‘created’ by the Greek god Zeus, it is the demigods and heroes who fight on behalf of corrupt mankind. As theology, it’s alarming. Diana – who briefly flirts with the idea of aligning herself with Ares, the god of war – never comes to the realization that she has no divine right to set herself up as the righteous judge of humanity.” Cohn concludes, “As an aspirational figure, Wonder Woman falls short by far. But as a model of moral courage, she’s more interesting.” I’m quite willing to grant her that last point. Cohn also hits on something else that is very important when we start to think about Wonder Woman as a model for all women.
I could relate to Diana’s drive and ambition as a child, but the adult Diana is icy and stately—one of those women that seems too perfect to be friends with. In other words, she has a lot of guy friends, most of them super-powered. Although the movie nods toward female friendship with a character named Etta (Lucy Davis), Diana otherwise towers above—both physically and metaphorically—the other women in the story. She sets her own moral code and doesn’t need anyone—not Trevor, not even the women who raised her in the mythical world of Themyscira. She loves, apparently, but without any of the mess we mortals endure in our relationships. She even has impeccable taste in non-Amazonian clothes.
Diana/Wonder Woman is indeed otherworldly. She seems very far removed from what the average woman experiences, to the point that it is hard to connect with her except through some ambiguous notion of “girl power”. Even when we come across seemingly perfect women in our daily lives, mere mortals though they may be, our temptation as females is often not to be drawn to them, but to resent them. Why? Because they seem to have it all together and make a mockery of our efforts to get through the day. This is a wrongheaded response because no woman is actually perfect, and no one deserves to be disdained for another person’s failures unless they are holding it over that person’s head. Even so, I did not feel the type of emotional connection with Wonder Woman that I might have felt watching the story of a real woman with real flaws and real victories.
Cohn pointed out that Diana’s constant adherence to the classic American ideals of following your heart, trusting yourself, and being independent is not necessarily laudable. The character does indeed set herself up as the judge for humanity, when she is actually one out of hundreds or even thousands of divine and semi-divine creatures. For her part, Sanchez had a very different reaction to this aspect of Diana’s character and how she refuses to take “no” for an answer.
Here, her mission becomes her own and she is no longer bound by others’ limitations or expectations. She can be exactly who she was created to be. I am so guilty of letting others dictate who I will be, instead of listening to the one opinion that matters: God’s. To make matters worse, all the voices competing for my attention contradict each other.
Now, I can understand where this writer is coming from, because every woman knows what it is to labor under ridiculous demands and expectations. If anyone, either male or female, is telling us to violate the commands of God, we must certainly refuse. We should strive to live according to the will of God rather than that of man. However, it is not a very far leap from this principle to the “trust your instinct” mentality. After all, Wonder Woman was not really acting according to the will of God, unless you count the somewhat nebulous sense of destiny that surrounds her birth and development: the one that caused Rishmawy to say, “Diana saves men, because Diana was created to be a savior.”
Sanchez also writes about the biblical description of woman as an ezer, often translated as “helper” or “help meet”. She sees this concept at play in the movie.
I shocked myself when I started to bawl like a baby during a key battle scene in Wonder Woman…After years of studying the word ‘ezer’, I couldn’t help but get emotional at the sight of a woman actually embodying it on screen. Note that it wasn’t that Wonder Woman had some heartfelt speech before the battle; it was literally the act of her fighting that turned on the waterworks.
I hope I’m not guilty of taking this woman out of context, but she seems to say that it is the fact that Wonder Woman confronts her opponents physically that makes her a good example of the word ezer. I am well aware of how people have tended to hijack this biblical term to push their own agenda throughout history. Traditionally, a woman being a helper meant that she was less than a man. Now, it is seen as a mark of equality or godliness. But is beating people up or killing them really the best manifestation of this concept? Does female empowerment simply mean the ability to fight just like men? The ability to fight better than men?
I am sorry to say that this line of thinking reminds me very much of some of Mark Driscoll’s comments in days of yore, when he used to praise King David as a model of manhood because he was macho and killed other men. It was not a good metric for determining manhood, and it is an equally bad metric to use for women.
It was Sanchez who referred to Wonder Woman in the title of her article as possibly “the most accurate on-screen depiction of Biblical womanhood”. That’s a mighty big claim. Does it hold water?
Is This Really Biblical Womanhood?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t see any highly developed concepts of “manhood” and “womanhood” in Scripture. I see plenty of commands to men and women. I certainly see notions of what men and women should be like. However, I think that what I will again characterize as the highly developed constructions of biblical manhood and womanhood advocated by so many tend to focus too much on the differences between the genders rather than the fact that we are all meant to be like Christ.
Does that mean that there are no differences? Hardly. Gender is a biological reality, despite what some in the wider world might claim. The Bible does have some commands specifically aimed at one gender or the other, all of which must be respected and followed. However, many of the ideas put forward by conservative Christians about gender are in fact an overreaction to the secular culture. Because the world says there are no differences between men and women at all, we create too many.
Though I may question some aspects of this nebulous “womanhood” that is so dear to so many, I think I can say with confidence that the Wonder Woman portrayed on screen is not in line with any concept of femininity that is remotely scriptural. Is she a righteous pagan? Perhaps, but then again, is that really a thing?
Princess Diana reveres multiple gods and goddesses, so right off the bat we should be suspicious. Raised in an entirely female enclave, Diana is certainly independent and strong, but as soon as a lone male lands on their shores, she forms an emotional connection with him. I’m not just talking about something platonic. She walks in on him naked and takes in more than a few eyefuls. In this scene, she makes a comment that the audience is certainly led to believe refers to Steve Trevor’s private parts. It is then humorously revealed to be about something else. If the roles were reversed and a male superhero had walked in on and continued to stare at a naked woman, I’m sure people would be upset.
Diana agrees to follow Steve into the wider world to help stop World War I. Her motivations for this seem to be fairly pure, though it is hard to imagine that some affection for Steve isn’t playing a role. As they travel together by boat, Diana invites Steve to sleep next to her. He objects, saying that in his world it is not appropriate for men and women who are unmarried to sleep together, though he clearly hints that he has done so. Diana reveals that she has no concept of marriage, but she certainly knows a lot about physical pleasure. She once again tells Steve to lie next to her and then details how the Amazon women read all about the joys of the flesh and don’t need men to help them in this regard. This is a clear reference to either lesbianism or masturbation.
Steve is literally the first man that Diana has ever met. It takes her about two or three days to climb into bed with him. Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Gina Dalfonzo said, “There’s a suggestion of a bedroom scene, but nothing is shown except a kiss while both characters are fully dressed.” That’s technically true, but I don’t think the implication will be lost on anyone. Diana apparently has no concept of sexual fidelity. Her ideas about physical pleasure have no connection with marriage, as demonstrated by the fact that she had never even heard of it. (This seems a bit odd, given that some of the Greek gods were married.)
Now, you might be thinking, “Don’t a lot of movies have poor sexual ethics? Why are you picking on this one?” Three reasons: First, I have seen many superhero movies with males in the leading role, and while there were certainly plenty of hints of sexual activity, or even more than hints, this particular film seemed to me to be the most sexualized of any of them. Wonder Woman is often praised not only for her fighting abilities, but her hotness. She is an overtly sexual being. I believe that the movie was taken in this direction because the lead character was a woman and they wanted to appeal to the men in the audience. That is frankly pretty sexist.
Second, I criticize the sexual content because this is a movie clearly aimed at young girls. When my husband and I arrived for our show time, we saw a whole group of girls who were maybe 7-9 years old leaving, each of them wearing a Wonder Woman cape. This character is being presented to them as a model for behavior. What sort of behavior is she modeling?
Third, I am critical because so many Christian authors who might normally write against such moral laxity have been quick to embrace Wonder Woman as a Christ-like figure. By no means do I wish to demonize anyone who has ever made a mistake in their personal life. I am not so naïve as to think that anyone is fully immune from sexual temptation. Purity is more than just managing to keep your pants zipped until your wedding day. Even so, I do not think we can claim Wonder Woman is pure or godly even if she is graded on a kinder scale.
There is one sense in which I find myself identifying with Wonder Woman, for our treatment of her is no different from how we tend to treat women in general. We want her to be a symbol, an icon, a standard of perfection. To some, she is a shining beacon of female empowerment: the connection between the aspirations of first wave feminism, the frustrations of second wave feminism, and the continuing struggle of women today. Yet in the years following World War II, Wonder Woman served as a symbol of female submission and subordination as much as anything. More recently, she has been seized as an icon by the LGBTQ movement. With the arrival of this new movie, I have seen Wonder Woman heralded as the anecdote to everything that is wrong with the film industry, a shining example of biblical womanhood, and a stand-in for Jesus Christ Himself.
It’s no wonder that this poor woman should be forced to carry all these aspirations on her shoulders when women everywhere are expected to do it all and have it all. This is true in secular circles, where the ideal woman has a successful career in a high-paying field, nurtures her children with entirely organic meals while shuffling them between Mandarin lessons and soccer practice, volunteers for all sorts of philanthropic and political causes, gets in an hour-long workout every day, and manages to look extremely fashionable the whole time.
In evangelical Christian circles, the ideal is somewhat different. Careers can be viewed as either a selfish abandonment of motherly duties or a usurpation of the standard male role. Instead, women are expected to give birth to children, oversee some or all of their education, take them to any number of church and non-church activities, attend Women’s Bible study, volunteer at every church function, excel at all sorts of domestic activities, rise at 4 am to have their quiet time with God before the family wakes up, and most importantly of all, do everything in their power to increase their husband’s manhood and respect his biblically ordained authority. Much like the secular ideal, this is so impossible for the average woman to reach that she is bound to develop feelings of inadequacy, desperation, anger, resentment, etc.
Is Wonder Woman really any better? From her perfect body to her perfect hair to her supposedly flawless moral principles to her exceptional fighting abilities to her uncanny cleverness, she is by no means a normal woman. She is literally superhuman. She faces none of the constraints placed upon most females, and thus she is able to achieve what no woman can achieve. Is this the kind of person I want to be my standard of biblical womanhood? I think I would rather attempt to live up to the model of the Proverbs 31 woman. I can’t meet that standard either, but at least it is theoretically possible on a physical level.
Ever since The Passion of the Christ was such a hit with the conservative Christian demographic, Hollywood has made renewed efforts to appeal to this community. While there is no question that the better part of the film industry operates according to a moral code that is in no way compatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ, and this group has at many times set itself up in opposition to traditional morality, Hollywood is at the end of the day all about making money. Christian money is just as good as any other type of money, which is why the same people who cringed at the perceived anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ marveled at how rich it made its director, Mel Gibson. New efforts were made to market movies to Christian audiences, and I can’t help but wonder if Hollywood has figured out that giving a wink and a nod to Christian principles will result in a bevy of Christian writers praising what is not so much a great work of art as a great companion to popcorn and soda.
Hudgins gushed after seeing Wonder Woman that “there’s no mistaking the Christology here. To make sure you’re getting the message, the cinematographer practically hits you over the head with it in shots such as Diana descending slowly to the ground in the attitude of the cross.” I heard people make the same argument about Gandalf’s death in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and one of the ending scenes of Remember the Titans. To my knowledge, none of these movies were made by Christians. The filmmakers were not suggesting that humanity is desperately sinful and needs the atonement of the Incarnate Son of God. They are hoping that you will notice their little camera trick and tell all your friends to see the movie.
Why must we look to a comic book film for a positive model of Christian womanhood? Why is this story resonating with so many Christian ladies? Could it be that we are so starved for strong female role models within our own subculture that we have to go seeking them in the broader culture? Could it be that our leaders are so inept at addressing what it really means to be female from a biblical perspective and so uncertain as to what they should do with the women in their midst that leadership on this issue is being ceded to the secular sphere?
The race to embrace Wonder Woman suggests to me that there is a real hunger for discussions about femininity that are not limited to the kind of things being put out by groups like, say, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, but are still in line with scriptural commands. That Wonder Woman is such an obviously non-Christian character but is nevertheless earning comparisons with Jesus Christ may be symptomatic of the fact that without a true picture of how Christian femininity can be displayed in all of its facets, we are bound to swing toward one perversion or the other.
History is full of stories of godly women who made great sacrifices, lived pure lives, loved tremendously, achieved the seemingly impossible, and left a legacy for future generations. These are the real models of biblical womanhood to whom we should be looking. Our concept of what it means to be a godly woman must be big enough to include women in all walks of life, of all personality types, and with all different kinds of talents and spiritual gifts. I do not think it should be big enough to include Wonder Woman. Sadly, the fact is that Wonder Woman does not empower us, but makes us believe that only by being the best looking, hardest hitting woman in town can we truly be a heroine. The real superstar is not Wonder Woman. It is the woman who prays, the woman trying to feed a 2-year-old, the woman showing kindness to strangers, the woman battling hard against illness, the woman who works as for the Lord, and most of all, the woman who strives to be like Christ.
At one point in the film, Wonder Woman objects to having to wear a corset and petticoat, demanding to know how a woman can fight in such a thing. The plain looking woman standing beside her cheerily says, “We fight with our principles!” This is meant to provoke laughter in the audience. Obviously real women go off and fight in wars, we are meant to believe. I am not saying that women cannot fight in wars, but I can’t help thinking that Wonder Woman would be a better model for girls if she did a little less fighting and had a few more principles. Most women will never be such impressive physical specimens, but they do indeed use their minds for great good. When will we see such women on the big screen? One can only hope that day will come soon, and that this deification of the bustier-ed one will end.
This article incorporates screenshots from the film Wonder Woman and an official poster image. These are deemed to be legal uses of copyrighted material according to fair use principles, as this article is a commentary upon the film in question.
If you like stories about real women doing really incredible things, you might enjoy my forthcoming series of novels based on the life of Empress Maud of England. Click on the link to “The Chronicle of Maud” at the top of this page.
Full disclosure: I have been known to employ Wonder Woman GIFs on Twitter for humorous purposes and most particularly to put my male compatriots in their proper place. This is not meant to be an endorsement of everything she stands for, and it is certainly not meant to suggest that I can fight like Wonder Woman.