clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A letter to my sons after watching Wonder Woman

New, 165 comments

Talk to your kids about Wonder Woman

Warner Bros. Studios

Wonder Woman is a pretty big deal, and it’s something many of us doubted we’d see in our lifetime: a good DC Comics movie.

But there’s a lot going on here, and it’s something I think we should talk about, because I don’t want you to hear about Wonder Woman from the streets.

I’m kind of joking, but also kind of not. Let’s have this conversation in the car so we don’t have to look each other in the eyes, because this might get uncomfortable.

No, this isn’t how women feel watching Marvel films

You know how the first chunk of the movie featured no men? It’s kind of tempting to think that uncomfortable feeling we both experienced is what women feel every time they watch a superhero movie with a mostly male cast.

But the the shoe isn’t on the other foot, and that strange twist in our guts isn’t a replication of anything except our own feelings. We’ve spent our whole lives being catered to by our culture, so having one example of a superhero movie that doesn’t pander to our feelings and power fantasies isn’t much. We get to go back to the status quo the next time we see an action film.

Women don’t go to the movies expecting to see themselves in the heroes; they’ve spent their entire lives consuming pop culture that is meant to make white men like us feel good and powerful. White men haven’t been deprived anything by the creation of this film, but women have been shown something that’s almost unheard of in movies with a budget this large: A hero who isn’t a white guy, and who isn’t there for our sexual consumption.

This isn’t an empathy exercise, because we’re a few thousand years away from any kind of equality in society or culture before we’re put in the same situation. It’s important to examine our feelings, but just be aware this isn’t a magical window into what women feel watching the majority of superhero films.

Also, if you’re curious about why you’re feeling uneasy, it’s because our culture relentlessly assures us that society would grind to a halt without the guiding hand of white guys. Wonder Woman shows us a happy, healthy environment where we’re not needed for manual labor, war or sex. This is likely the first time we’ve ever seen that idea in a mainstream film, and it didn’t just seem possible, it felt real.

This is why we might feel a bit uncomfortable during some parts of this movie, but many women are so happy to see a clear-eyed and positive portrayal of women as warriors, citizens and politicians they’re crying during the film. It’s not an equivalent thing, especially when we know we’re going to leave the theater and re-enter the world where everyone in power more or less looks like us.

Which brings us to ...

You don’t get to blow this off because it’s a period piece

As you get older you’re going to watch a lot of things that point out a problem and then help you feel better even though you’ve done nothing of substance to fix it. I don’t want to let you off that easily.

Genre movies often introduce analogues for sexism or racism — or directly show them if the story is set in the past — and then have the characters themselves react to it, letting the viewers know everyone agrees what’s happening is terrible ... but luckily we know better and have grown past it. Everyone gets to feel good.

Wonder Woman is set in 1918, and shows how little respect Diana is given once she enters London society. The men in power are made uncomfortable when she’s in a room where strategy is being discussed, and they’re later shocked to learn she’s a polyglot.

Even after being told Diana is the only person available who can read a piece of writing, it takes a man to suggest that she do so before it’s allowed to happen. The idea is treated as if it’s just crazy enough to work.

We don’t get to pretend we’re past this shit.

Don’t think society has moved past the point where men have to be shamed into letting women speak for themselves. Women hold just 5.8 percent of the CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. These are the people deciding our country’s healthcare laws:

We can’t pretend we live in a time where rooms of almost exclusively white men don’t hold the power, and that they wouldn’t be upset if a woman walked in. These are basic issues of inequality that men have the luxury of not having to think about, which means it has likely felt invisible to you for most of your life. This is just how things are, and of course how things are has probably worked out pretty great for you so far.

I don’t want you to pretend the scenes in Wonder Woman are addressing solved problems in our society. This isn’t a woman’s issue, because women aren’t in these places of authority telling other women they can’t speak. This is a men’s issue, and you’re a young man, which means it’s your responsibility to begin improving things.

We’re not going change anything by taking people to see a movie, but we can sure as shit help by inviting women into the room and then shutting the hell up when they’re speaking.

Why your dad is telling you these things

Because you’re going to listen to me more than you’re going to listen to a woman telling you the same thing, and that sucks. Because I’m less likely to get attacked online for saying these things in an article, and also because I’m likely to get praise for saying basic facts about our entertainment that women have been saying for decades.

Because the bar for men talking to other men about this stuff is so fucking low that we are allowed to sail over it by the simple act of showing up and giving a shit. No, you can’t use that word now.

Because Wonder Woman doesn’t have the luxury of being just a movie, and like everything else in this life it has to be twice as good to get the same amount of basic respect because a white guy isn’t the most visible character.

Because I don’t have to tell your sisters about any of this. They already know.