The tide of feminist cultural criticism is utterly predictable at this point, and utterly exhausting. Most often the formula goes like this: (a) a new pop culture product—let’s say it’s a movie—is proposed, featuring a Badass Kickass Strong Female Lead; (b) the movie is released to head-over-heels critical acclaim, hailed as a “badass feminist triumph,” and subject to about sixty thousand raving feminist reviews; (c) a few contrary voices begin to speak up about how the movie is Actually Problematic, indicative of White Cisgender Heteronormative Patrio-Tyranny or whatever; and (d) the second wave of reviews turns from fist-pumping delight to hostile intersectional feminist hatred.
Wonder Woman, the latest entry in the Kickass Kick-Butt Powerful Badass Woman series, is no exception. I more or less lost interest in superhero movies around the eighth or ninth reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, but the genre is still insanely successful, and Wonder Woman is no exception to that, either, having shattered a few box-office records, including the coveted “biggest-grossing female-led comic book superhero movie” title. Well, good for them, and I’m sure the ninth sequel of the twentieth reboot series will do even better. But the film’s been out for a few weeks, and so the lauds are turning sour. As a result, we now are required to learn “why Wonder Woman isn’t the feminist fantasy we’ve been told it is.” Why is that? Well, according to ace critic Theresa Harold “the actual script falls short of smashing any stereotypes – let alone the patriarchy:”
[I]f being semi-naked is the most practical mode in which to save the world, where is Batman’s mankini?
Well, the obvious answer—for those of us who don’t charge into movies full-tilt armed with feminist expectations—is that it’s more fun to watch Gal Gadot run around semi-naked than it is to watch Batman do the same thing. As with retail, you can be sure that the titans of the film industry are well-aware of what sells tickets, and you can bet the rent money that if the moviegoing public wanted Bruce Wayne zipping around Gotham in a skimpy little Speedo, the titans would oblige them. But the former doesn’t want that, so the latter doesn’t give it to them, because—I mean, look, this is a crazy idea, but let’s just see if it sticks—women are more attractive in corsets than men are in “mankinis.”
Feminist gripes generally seem to fall along these lines, even if the feminists themselves aren’t really aware of it: the problem isn’t with “scripts” or “stereotypes” or “the patriarchy,” it’s with the great unwashed masses of people who enjoy seeing pretty women clobber the Gardekorps in fetching one-piece superhero suits. There is nothing wrong with this, at least in a cosmic sense (there is a great deal wrong with our boringly derivative movie industry these days, but that’s another question). Feminism’s great failure over the past twenty years or so has been its terminal inability to accept harmless and enjoyable things for what they are, leading to an endless parade of hot takes about superhero outfit equity.
Oh, but wait, there’s more: “Don’t even get me started,” Harold writes, “on the impracticalities of leaving her long hair down during action scenes. Most women I know can’t even do a spin class without putting their hair in a ponytail.” Got that? This movie is about a bulletproof warrior-princess from a secret invisible island in the South Pacific, and the crack feminist criticism rests on her unrealistic hairstyle.
A real feminist, of course, wouldn’t be so caught up in nitpicking about an actress’s looks. But there you have it.