The United Nations has ended a campaign featuring Wonder Woman as an ambassador for women and girls, two months after the announcement was met with protests and a petition complaining that the fictional superhero was an inappropriate choice to represent female empowerment…. “A large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots” is not an appropriate spokeswoman for gender equity at the United Nations, the petition said.
—The New York Times, December 13, 2016
Perhaps the greatest service that the director Patty Jenkins does her protagonist in Wonder Woman, the Warner Brothers blockbuster released this June, is to give her a new set of clothes. The female superhero has been charged with various ideological impurities over the years—jingoism, a too-cozy relationship with America’s military-industrial complex, an excessively heteronormative lifestyle—but by far the most frequent complaints have been about her man-pleasing, bondage-inflected get-up. Those go-go boots! Those bracelets of submission! That quivering embonpoint! It’s hard to be taken seriously as a feminist icon when the only thing you’ve got to wear to work is a star-spangled corset.
The costume worn by Wonder Woman’s star, the Israeli actress and former beauty queen Gal Gadot, is altogether more stern. The kinky boots have been replaced by a pair of gladiatorial thigh-highs; the body suit, constructed out of some cunning alloy of spandex and bronze, is, if not quite armor, at least armor-themed. The outfit isn’t much less revealing, and only marginally more practical, than the old one. (It’s still strapless and her legs must still get rather chilly when she’s stalking villains in cold climates.) But it does at least communicate some martial ferocity and menace. Thus attired, Wonder Woman might plausibly intimidate even her haters at the UN.
Sadly, whatever fresh potency she has acquired from the wardrobe department is offset by the film’s anxious insistence on demonstrating the femininity that lies beneath her breastplate. (Both Jenkins and Gadot have acknowledged that their great goal was to avoid making Wonder Woman look like “a ballbuster.”) Au fond, we are repeatedly assured, Wonder Woman is a very simple, soft, “relatable” lady. She adores babies and ice cream and snowflakes. She is sweetly oblivious to her own beauty and its devastating effects on those around her. She has absolutely no problem with men. She loves men! In fact, once she’s left her Amazon family behind, she barely bothers talking to another woman for the rest of the movie. Gadot has real presence and charm as an actress—one longs to see her in something worthier of her talent. But the imperative to eradicate any hint of bossiness or anger from her character weighs heavily on the film, threatening to turn it into one long, dispiriting exercise…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.