This originally appeared at Young Clergy Women International
by Emily Wachner
After seeing Wonder Woman, I nearly got a tattoo. I imagined a WW, the size of a postage stamp, on my left shoulder. But I had an infant to feed, a babysitter to pay, and no time for the tattoo parlor. I left that theater, though, a changed woman – tattoo or not. If you read no further: go see Wonder Woman. Here’s why.
I never realized I needed a hero. Or, rather, this kind of hero. I have Elizabeth Warren, my grandma the WWII nurse, and Jo March. I’ve never felt that my vision for myself was restricted by all of the Batmen and Supermen out there. (Michael Keaton was my first Batman, which may explain my heretofore complete lack of interest in superheroes.)
More to the point, as a Christian, I never realized I needed a hero, because I have Jesus. In dozens of children’s sermons, I have lifted Jesus up as the superhero-par-excellence, emphasizing miracle stories and Jesus’ secret weapon (spoiler alert: it’s LOVE, guys). I have encouraged boys and girls alike to direct their admiration to the hero of the Gospels.
And yet, my thirty-four-year-old self wept in awe in a dark theater in Manhattan as I watched Wonder Woman, and saw myself in her.
I saw myself in the little girl, Diana (Wonder Girl?), watching the Amazonian women train for battle. These women were FIERCE, their thighs the size of fire hydrants. These women were LOUD – no meek sexy-cries for these ladies. They sounded like athletes. They WERE athletes. And, they were dressed appropriately! I almost walked out of a theater a couple of years ago when I saw the newest Jurassic Park, where some director made poor Bryce Dallas Howard – ostensibly a research scientist – run in high heels from ferocious mutant dinosaurs for two hours. No. Just no.
Wonder Woman wears appropriate footwear. We watch as she grows up on the island of Themyscira, training with her mother and aunts. We also learn the backstory of the Amazons: that they were placed on the island by Zeus to prepare for a future time of war brought about by Ares, when the Amazons would be called upon to destroy Ares and restore peace to the world.
War, in the form of handsome pilot Steve Trevor, crash-lands near the island. Diana hauls Steve out of the ocean, in a scene that nicely reverses some childhood imagery from The Little Mermaid. Unfortunately, he is followed by the Germans, whom the Amazons engage in fierce battle on the beach. Wonder Woman makes a deal with Steve: she will get him off the island, if he will take her to the Western Front, where she believes Ares is. Once she defeats Ares, Wonder Woman explains (to a doubtful Steve), humankind will be rid of the Great War, and peace will be restored to the world.
Wonder Woman’s clear understanding of herself, and her mission (she is going to save all of humanity); her courage in the face of danger; her willingness to make sacrifices to do great things; and her unfailing optimism: I see myself in these things, on my best days.
The rest of the movie follows Wonder Woman to the front, as she picks up a pack of sidekicks, à la Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. In one of the greatest scenes of the movie, Diana leaps onto the battlefield, using her indestructible bracelets to fend off bullets. Sidekicks and soldiers follow her – “She’s taking the heat, boys!” they yell. They breach enemy lines and liberate a village. Peace is restored; dancing ensues. That night, Wonder Woman takes Pilot Steve to bed, and – wait for it – there are no negative consequences (no pregnancy; Steve doesn’t ghost her or cheat on her). She is not punished for her beauty, or for her sexuality. She is still a hero.
In the final scenes, when Diana finally confronts Ares, things get theological: Amazonian anthropology states that humans are inherently good, but have become infected by war. Diana fights Ares in order to liberate all humans, even the Germans, from this war-sickness. She absorbs Ares’ power, is lifted up, and glows (in a scene reminiscent of the Transfiguration and, ultimately, crucifixion), turning his power back on him. I see myself, and all women, in Wonder Woman as she absorbs this pain for the sake of the world.
I’ve never questioned the man-ness of Jesus. I’ve rarely needed God to be anything but God the Father, though I am totally okay with a feminine God. But in that moment, watching Wonder Woman saving the world, I wept as I wondered what life would have been like if I had had this hero when I was a little girl. What would I have been like, if I had watched a woman take the bullets and survive; or even if Jesus had been born a woman? Would my imagination have expanded? Would my relationship with God be different?
And so I wept a bit for myself as I might have been, had I had Wonder Woman as a girl. Tina Turner once sang, “Where have all the good men gone / and where have all the gods? … I need a hero! He’s gotta be strong / and he’s gotta be fast / and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight!” We do all need heroes, but they don’t have to be “he’s.” I’ll take my hero in a form that feels like me – with breasts, and cool accessories, and an unshakeable sense of righteousness. I’m still thinking about getting that tattoo.
Emily Wachner is Director of Integrative Studies and Lecturer in Practical Theology at The General Theological Seminary in New York. She recently gave birth to her first child, Tallis, and considers writing this review to be a superhero-worthy accomplishment.