In a recent interview with the Guardian, James Cameron – he of epics such as Avatar and of course, the Terminator, has taken aim at Diana Prince, and in doing so one could also say at Patty Jenkins. As the director of the recent Wonder Woman film, she could be considered the real woman behind the superhero mask. Not that Wonder Woman wears a mask. I always wonder at those that don’t, but that’s not my point. Or his.
You can read the full interview here, and for movie geeks everywhere might I recommend it, but in terms of Wonder Woman, let me sum it up for you with this quote:
“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”
The interviewer is clearly a fan, something I’m not sure I am, but I can hardly argue with his point that, ‘for all his machismo, Cameron almost invariably puts genuinely tough female characters at the heart of his movies’. From Riply in Aliens to Sarah and even skinny blue Neytiri he has created some of the most iconic action woman Hollywood has to offer.
Jenkins on the other hand, apparently can, hitting back with a twitter post that far exceeds the 140 character limit, might I add. I applaud her disregard for rules.
James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world, is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman.
Might I just say, for all whom it might interest, that I would not personally have gone with the genital defence, (especially if I’d let three men write my script). And before you all go thinking, mmm didn’t you used to pretend you weren’t political, Ms Skite?, that’s precisely why. Good characterisation to me should stand outside of politics. Good films should stand the test of authenticity which has nothing to do with the vagaries of current trends.
Cameron didn’t invent the flawed woman. Bad mothers, bad manners and even bad teeth aren’t absent, although you can argue they are rarely celebrated and just plain, rare. From Cruella de Ville to every role Bette Davis ever played, to Lady Macbeth the bad girls of fiction are as memorable as their male counterparts. By the time Terminator 2 came out in 1991, we’d already had bad-girl-but-we-love-em characters such as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (and everything else she ever played), Shirley Maclaine in Steel Magnolias, Rizzo in Grease and with the eighties emphasis on athleticism characters like Riply, actresses such as Brigitte Nielson and Grace Jones and even Callahan in Police Academy could be said to have achieved a cult following.
The funny thing is, when you look at those iconic strong-women, they look a lot like Gal Gadot. Most are former models with the long lithe and decidedly unmuscled physiques we might expect on the catwalk. Few look like they could pack the punch this woman could.
I’ve heard a lot of people defend Gal Gadots lack of musculature – she’s a Goddess, her strength is supernatural, if you can suspend your disbelief over everything else why not this? But there’s no getting away from the fact that no matter how often female action heroes toss armies about like ragdolls, from the 1920’s to the 2010’s, the overwhelming majority still don’t look like they could bench press more than a tin of beans. Looks – being an object of male gratification as James Cameron would have it – still trump story authenticity, the only question is, does it really matter?
Hollywood is superficial. We know this. Big who cares? And a film so obviously catering to mass audiences that involve high numbers of teenage boys is probably not the place for it to prove us wrong. There will always be the Bette Davis’s and Glenn Closes and Kathy Bates, actresses who hold us spellbound despite their more unconventional looks. There is even the very obvious point that Cavil and Co are hardly any different, required to fit into a certain body type, building as many muscles as we girls conceal. Even actors such as Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield, the less obvious pin-ups of the superhero genre, were expected to develop a lean, toned look that would work with the extremely revealing spidersuit.
As such it becomes almost impossible to avoid the political connotations – are muscles a feminist statement? Is about overthrowing the patriarchy rather than embracing great character, and visual authenticity?
If that’s all it were, just bulging bi-ceps, just one more image, in a sea of images, rooted more in saying ‘fuck you establishment’ like a rebellious child ripping ribbons out her hair to spite her father, I’d probably have to side with Patty Jenkins. As is, my guts telling me that Cameron, for all he produces trite nonsense like Titanic, has a point.
Hollywood along with the rest of the mainstream media of today is presenting an image of female empowerment that not only self-consciously embraces itself in a manner I find undermining but that seems to avoid any thing resembling a real woman. And that’s troubling. Great fiction starts with something real, that grounds us, before it offers something that inspires us. When we start from inspiration and end there, it loses its resonance. There’s no aspiration, no tension, nowhere to go.
I understand where Jenkins is coming from when she says,
if women always have to be hard, tough and troubled to be strong and we aren’t free to be multi-dimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far..
I just don’t think its genuinely addressing the issue.
First we celebrate all women who are attractive for almost no reason except they are attractive. Virtually every actress successful today owes something to her looks, or we wouldn’t have so many ex-models in leading roles. As for loving? Really? I’m not even sure this is worth addressing, but I’m gonna anyway and assume that despite her flagrant disregard for the 140 character limit her true reply was still hampered by being a tweet.
She is absolutely right in pointing out that sweetness (if that is what she meant) is a less than popular trait in female characters currently. If you aren’t sassing it up left right and centre, putting a man down with a dead eye then you’re just not. As in, if you’ve been written at all, you’re still never making it to the screen.
Presenting us with someone sweet and loveable, gullible even, would seem to be a refreshing change from the Cat(ty)women of today. Except of course, we’re still just sitting on the surface, arguing muscles and fashion.
Lets remove the ‘currently’ from this discussion, lets remove the traits in favour today and attitudes that prevailed yesterday, that like hairstyles are ever changing, and address the issue that undercuts and unites them all. She’s still perfect.
Or as I prefer to put it: Why can’t women ever be just a little bit crap?
Because you know, we are. Every single one of us. Just like every single man. We don’t always do the right thing. Sometimes we don’t even consider the right thing.
When a woman breaks its like the equivalent of a single tear tracking down a glistening cheek. When men break? It’s like snot on a dirty face. Not always of course. Cliches abound but the possibility is allowed to exist. The only people who are writing truly powerless women are women, and when they do, they’re cried down for it. Admittedly they are often writing dub-con or non-con erotica which, on the surface can be very hard for many of us to argue for.
We need to move beyond this obsession with appearances.
What we should be asking is what is it that surrender offers us an escape from?
Sarah Connor wasn’t a bad mother, she was an imperfect mother. Her choices hurt those she loved. Her desire to protect, wounded her son and forced him to stand against her. Diana Prince is another Thor, a fish out of water, but where he is at least made prideful and clearly makes at least two fatal errors in judgement, Diana is merely bad at fashion. As we would expect, female heroes never care about their appearance, although when I say bad, I wish I looked like her in an evening gown and medieval sword.
Women are continually painted as paragons, icons, they are the wife who the husband dances around trying to please, the object of affection who holds all the cards, the brilliant Mary Sue who leads the pack. They teach, scold, nurture and imbue men with the will to strive, still often glimpsed through rose coloured windows, the prize on the hill, never allowed to dirty her hems with the muck of tripping over herself.
To return to those muscles, what we have to ask is if they are one more sign of our perfection, that we are not beholden – not in the wonderful world of fiction – to even the basic biology of reality. We’re not being asked to believe in her, simply admire her. The Scarlet Witch can withstand an army with one weeks worth of hand-waving behind her, the Black Widow can hold her own against Gods with nothing but a catsuit to enhance her mortal assets and Wonder Woman can train her entire life to fight and the only battle she faces is her right to be righteous.
I agree with Jenkins decree that
women can and should be EVERYTHING just like male lead characters are
But I wonder if she realises how the film she has produced contradicts this.
is it not possible to be attractive with muscles?
is it not possible to be loving and weak?
Is it not possible to be powerful but misguided? Selfish but kind.
God forbid we see the beautiful strive to be beautiful, the powerful, strive to be powerful. That we see her hunger for something, for herself. Instead we see her struggle to please – please the women who raised and trained her, please the man she loves, please the people who need her. She wants only to serve.
Why are we so afraid of broken women? Of women who must accept guilt, blame and responsibility? What are we attempting to put right by refusing to accept that they can be wrong – and still attractive and loving, loveable? That they can want, desire, learn, grow, be more filled with wonder than merely an object of it.