“It is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer.” –G.K. Chesterton
Wonder Woman opened last month with the highest box office opening weekend ever for a female director, beating out the openings of the first Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man movies according to The Hollywood Reporter. It did so despite the fact that “the movie skewed female (52 percent), while most superhero films rely on 60 percent or more of the audience being male.” Though Wonder Woman attracted a lot of women, it wasn’t the usual chick flick. It’s interesting that this movie is the one that put women on the map for their ability to tell a story that competes so well in a male-dominated industry.
Back in the day at Mars Hill Seattle, Pastor James Harleman led Film and Theology, a ministry that looked at well written movies to investigate their creative themes in light of the first Author and Creator. He now runs a website called Cinemagogue, which he defines as “the recognition that the creative impulse for storytelling and cinematic expression is a reflection of our Creator’s passion, as well as a progressive wrestling with life’s ultimate meta-narrative.” As a deacon at Mars Hill, I led a Film and Theology night on The Matrix Reloaded, looking at the impact of chaos theory on its story and imagery, an intersection of math and theology I still find fascinating. I am now working on a manuscript on the story of Mars Hill Seattle and the lessons, for good and bad, we can learn through its years in existence. As I rehash old memories long tucked away, I can’t get away from Mars Hill’s vision of cultural engagement like the Apostle Paul’s in Acts 17. For all the harm done by the ministry of Mars Hill Seattle, that initial vision of cultural engagement was good and right, and I have been blessed to reexamine it.
I am burdened for the culture revealed by both Wonder Woman and the Women’s March. Both give insight into our cultural moment and should prompt us to engage concerns and longings of a large group of women revealed by both. In this post, I will focus on the apologetic insights and tools in this year’s modern retelling of Wonder Woman.
Rumor has it that Joss Whedon, whose storytelling I often love (Firefly, anyone?!), wrote a sexist screenplay for Wonder Woman back in 2006 that never saw the light of day. In contrast, many consider 2017’s Wonder Woman a feminist dream come true. And there is great insight to be gained by understanding why Wonder Woman fits modern feminist sensibilities. Here are some general themes I noticed. There are spoilers below. You are forewarned.
- This superhero woman is kick-ass.
Pardon that language, but I’ve always resonated with women who value strength, physically and emotionally. I call them “kick-ass babes,” and I have a number of godly Christian friends in my life who fit that descriptor. They don’t have to be physically strong, but strength and perseverance characterize them in some way. It isn’t that Wonder Woman “kicked ass” in terms of beating up others. She did beat up others, but it wasn’t a gratuitous focus of the movie. Instead, she generally is “kick ass” herself, in pop culture slang meaning she is powerful, strong, and persevering. She and the Amazonian women in early scenes reminded me very much of Beyonce’s Superbowl halftime show. That was an in-your-face, strong-woman, all-woman performance, and I bet anything that the director of Wonder Woman loved it. Beyonce, like Wonder Woman, was surrounded by other strong, talented women, including an all-woman band that rocked the stands. Feminists in Hollywood and elsewhere value strong women.
- But this superhero woman is also compassionate.
This is a noteworthy fact in this Wonder Woman screenplay that distinguishes her from the majority of other comic superheroes, male and female. Interestingly, Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow exhibits no compassion at all. Most women I know find Black Widow in recent Avenger movies simply a sexist, female foil to an all male superhero team as written by misogynist men who don’t realize how out of touch they are with a female audience.
In contrast, Wonder Woman is feminine in ways Black Widow is not, beyond a stereotypical sexy feminine physique. She is deeply troubled by suffering, stepping into it to stop it without thought. She runs to a crying infant, a small but significant scene in this version of Wonder Woman. This superhero woman is drawn to children.
The interplay of points 1 and 2 point well to our longing, even in secular society, for womanhood as God created it to be in perfection. This strong but feminine warrior woman mentality is so BIBLICAL at its root. She wants to help! Others have written about Wonder Woman as ezer, so I won’t rehash all of that. But it’s worth reading through the Bible’s language around God’s example as ezer which is quite often in the context of battle and distress.
Deuteronomy 33: 29. Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and ezer and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.
- Finally, superhero woman is both god and god killer.
This is where we get helpful cultural insight into the idols of our heart. Wonder Woman in the end is an unbeatable goddess, designed to be the killer of the god of war, Ares. Instead of being a strong woman in the image of the one true God that the Bible presents, Diana of the Amazons IS the god. She was made by Zeus, but not as a mere mortal. Of course, Wonder Woman is just a story, and there are limits to the parallels we can draw. But I am willing to ask if this points to a feminist desire to be one’s own god? Maybe. Maybe not.
It does remind me of the great coping mechanism for the gulf between the strong, compassionate womanhood that many clearly value and the realities of our fallen lives—female autonomy. Men become superfluous. The men needed Diana, but she didn’t really need them. The Amazonians didn’t need men. They didn’t need them in battle. They didn’t need them in bed. And though Diana said men were necessary for procreation but not pleasure, in today’s world we don’t even need them for that. A jar of semen in a sterile clinic will suffice.
This autonomous coping mechanism fails humanity in reality. It fails women, and it fails men. Though there is great conflict between the biological sexes after the Fall of Man, the hope of Jesus includes our reconciliation to God’s vision for both manhood and womanhood. In the gospel, men like Paul or Peter rely on the strong help of Phoebe and Priscilla. But Phoebe and Priscilla stay engaged with Paul and Peter, Aquila and Apollos, as well. Why?
While I try again and again in the household of faith to remind men that they need women, let me also remind women that we really do need men. While women need to be strong, we need also to value the strength of the men in our lives. Though men need our compassion, we can learn from their concerns as well. Though fallen man might only want a woman’s body, the answer is not to require only man’s sperm in a sterile jar for procreation.
Though men need women’s help in most every context, women too need men’s, particularly in leadership in the home and church.
And in that statement comes a fork in the road for many women. In our fallen world, male leadership is often not good for women. In Is the Bible Good for Women? I spent an entire chapter on a Biblical manhood that is good for women. I have been fortunate to experience positive Christian masculinity by way of my father and my Presbyterian pastors in Seattle and South Carolina. But I know many women have not. I encourage you to first know how the Bible portrays a man after God’s own heart, which is often a bit different than manly man caricatures among some Christians. Then, second, look for those kind of men around you. We need such men, as they need us. The interplay of Christian relationship between the sexes, brothers and sisters, sons and mothers, and fathers and daughters, are good and right and necessary for the full flourishing of humanity in the kingdom of God.
Eden was better than Amazon. And Eden is where we are heading again in Christ.
If you have a friend who cried when Wonder Woman took all the fire during the scene in No Man’s Land, ask her why. Don’t dismiss her. Don’t mock her. Don’t sneer. If she’s not a believer, be ready to point her to the one true God who created her in His image. He is the One who gives purpose to her created longings. He is the One who reconciles the sexes, so that Amazon isn’t utopia, but Eden is. Like The Matrix years ago, Wonder Woman is an apologetic tool, friend, a springboard for understanding the deep longings in our culture in many women’s hearts instilled by our Creator.