In October of 2013, a little known Israeli actress signed a three-picture deal that would go on to redefine female cinema, and this year's theatrical releases as a whole.
Previous to this, Gal Gadot had modeled and acted, reprising her role in the Fast and Furious movie franchise three times. And then she beat three other actresses for the title of Amazonian Princess, Diana Prince, and her acting career was changed forever.
The announcement of a live action Wonder Woman was met with a response that rose decidedly above the rest of the DC live action releases. Finally a female superhero. Finally a role model for the girls that flock to theaters every year only to see men in inspirational and heroic roles.
"I wanted to show that women are empowered and strong, and don't have to be saved by some male hero"
Needless to say, the world of cinema, feminism and indeed chauvinism all followed suit in the fervour. Gadot's role was criticized because she was too thin and her breasts too big. A female director, Patty Jenkins, was chosen when many felt the “pressure" of such a blockbuster and large budget would be too much for her. And the excitement was duly heightened by Gadot's glowing appearance in the dud that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
You may remember that last year the movie was in headlines again on a completely unrelated movie topic, as the U.N dropped Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador. SWAAY previously recognized how foolish the decision was on behalf of the U.N to reward the character its title in the first place, as before Gadot, Wonder Woman was most definitely not an emblem of female empowerment, nor deserve such a title. Had they waited for after this release, perhaps then their decision would not have become such a controversy.
Clouded and controversial as the movie and its lead/director has been, we never expected just how much it would be in the headlines, and dominating social feeds. Below we look at three different instances of just how much fervor Gadot and Jenkins' movie has created.
Previous to its release, the movie was caught up in a torrid of conflicting press reports about whether or not it was getting the marketing budget given to its DC counterparts. Articles abound and nobody was decided as to whether the movie had in fact received more or less funding than that of Suicide Squad, or any of the Batman/Superman films. Why? Because this year has become defined by a rampant raging feminism that has consumed the press since the president's inauguration and the subsequent women's marches. Those that didn't vote for Hillary have received a torrent of abuse for purportedly anti-feminist views and 2017's “Year of the Women" title has created a sense of urgency within the wider press to produce content that complements the idea that women are a constant victim of the patriarchy in every aspect of their lives. Was this the case with Wonder Woman? No, in fact, DC spent more on its marketing budget than its sibling live-action film Suicide Squad. Click bait conspiracy, anyone?
Girl-only screenings wreak havoc
Women-only showings of the movie have become very popular in the last week and have sparked incredulity from both sides of the line because of their hard female-only stance. Is it a civil rights violation that these showings are taken place? Is it sexist? Perhaps. But this is (set to be) the first female superhero blockbuster ever, and hey - if you've been deprived of say beer for your entire life, and then magically are given beer - would you prefer drinking it for the first time with people who have been depriving you of it - or people who have been deprived with you? Don't we deserve a little all-female celebration of what could become indicative of 2017 as “the year of the woman."
Lebanon officially bans Wonder Woman from theaters
In what actually seems like a veiled attempt to scupper a step forward in feminism, the “Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel" spotlight anything or anyone that might be funding the Israelis in their decades-old war against Lebanon. They have thus called on the Lebanese government to cancel all showings of Wonder Woman in Lebanon because of Gadot's time served with the Israeli army (which is mandatory for Israeli youngsters), and her outspoken views against Hamas. On Wednesday it was officially announced that the movie would be taken out of the Box Office, with reports slowly coming out that some rogue theaters plan to go ahead with showings despite official orders.
How is this a step to scupper strides in feminism? Well, you might remember Gadot's previously mentioned cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie which ranked third in last year's Lebanese box office. While the campaigners penned a letter to officials requesting a boycott for this movie, this request was snubbed and as such the movie ended up making over $800,000 at the Lebanese box office. Now that Gadot is at the centre of the movie, authorities veritably jumped to cancel its showings and as soon as the statement was read, movie posters were torn down and campaigners were overjoyed with the outcome.
Politics aside - what does this say that Gadot was featured in both trailers and movie posters for the two films - but only the one where she is the lead is thrown out of cinemas?
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."