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?
It's the question on everyone's tongues. It's what motivates every conversation about whether or not Liz Warren is "electable," every bit of hand-wringing that a woman just "can't win this year," and every joke about menstrual cycles and nuclear missiles. Is America ready for a woman president?
It's a question that would be laughable if it wasn't indicative of deeper problems and wielded like a weapon against our ambitions. Whether thinly-veiled misogyny or not (I'm not going to issue a blanket condemnation of everybody who's ever asked), it certainly has the same effect: to tell us "someday, but not yet." It's cold comfort when "someday" never seems to come.
What are the arguments? That a woman can't win? That the country would reject her authority? That the troops would refuse to take her orders? That congress would neuter the office? Just the other day, The New York Times ran yet another in a long series of op-eds from every major newspaper in America addressing this question. However, this one made a fascinating point, referencing yet another article on the topic in The Atlantic (examining the question during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid), which cited a study by two Yale researchers who found that people were either the same or more likely to vote for a fictional male senator when told that he was ambitious; and yet, both men and women alike were less likely to vote for a woman when told that she was ambitious, even reacting with "feelings of moral outrage" including "contempt, anger, and disgust."
The question isn't whether a woman could be president, or whether a woman can be elected president – let's not forget that Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than the wildly unqualified man currently sitting in the oval office – it's whether or not it's appropriate for a woman to run for president, in a pre-conscious, visceral, gut-check way. In short, it's about misogyny. Not your neighbors' misogyny, that oft-cited imaginary scapegoat, but yours. Ours. Mine. The misogyny we've got embedded deeply in our brains from living in a society that doesn't value women, the overcoming of which is key for our own growth, well-being, and emotional health.
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?
That misogyny, too, is reinforced by every question asking people to validate a woman even seeking the position. Upfront, eo ipso, before considering anything of their merit or experience or thought, whether a woman should be president, that, if given the choice between a qualified woman and an unqualified man, the man wins (which, let's not forget, is what happened four years ago). To ask the question at all is to recognize the legitimacy of the difference in opinion, that this is a question about which reasonable people might disagree. In reality, it's a question that reason doesn't factor into at all. It's an emotional question provoking an emotional response: to whom belong the levers of power? It's also one we seem eager to dodge.
"Sure, I'd vote for a woman, but I don't think my neighbor would. I'd vote for a woman, but will South Carolina? Or Nebraska? Or the Dakotas?" At worst, it's a way to sort through the cognitive dissonance the question provokes in us – it's an obviously remarkable idea, seeing as we've never had a woman president – and at best, it's sincere surrender to our lesser angels, allowing misogyny to win by default. It starts with the assumption that a woman can't be president, and therefore we shouldn't nominate one, because she can't win. It's a utilitarian argument for excluding half of the country's population from eligibility for its highest office not even by virtue of some essential deficiency, but in submission to the will of a presumed minority of voters before a single vote has ever been cast. I don't know what else to call that but misogyny by other means.
We can, and must, do better than that. We can't call a woman's viability into question solely because she's a woman. To do so isn't to "think strategically," but to give ground before the race even starts. It's to hobble a candidate. It's to make sure voters see her, first and foremost, as a gendered object instead of a potential leader. I have immense respect for the refusal of women like Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and pioneers like Carol Mosley-Braun, going as far back as Victoria Woodhull, to accede to this narrative and stick to their arguments over the course of their respective campaigns, regardless of any policy differences with them. It's by women standing up and forcing the world to see us as people that we push through, not by letting them tell us where they think we belong.
One of the themes I come back to over and over again in my writing is women asserting independence from control and dignity in our lives. It's the dominant note in feminist writing going back decades, that plea for recognition not only of our political and civil rights, but our existence as moral agents as capable as any man in the same position, as deserving of respect, as deserving of being heard and taking our shot. What then do we make of the question "is America ready for a woman president?" Is America ready? Perhaps not. But perhaps "ready" isn't something that exists. Perhaps, in the truest fashion of human politics, it's impossible until it, suddenly, isn't, and thereafter seems inevitable.
I think, for example, of the powerful witness Barack Obama brought to the office of president, not simply by occupying it but by trying to be a voice speaking to America's cruel and racist history and its ongoing effects. By extension, then, I think there is very real, radical benefit to electing a chief executive who has herself been subject to patriarchal control in the way only women (and those who others identify as women) can experience.
I look at reproductive rights like abortion and birth control, and that is what I see: patriarchal control over bodies, something no single president has ever experienced. I think about wage equality; no US president has ever been penalized for their sex in their ability to provide for themselves and their families. I look at climate change, and I remember that wealth and power are inextricably bound to privilege, and that the rapacious hunger to extract value from the earth maps onto the exploitation women have been subject to for millennia.
That's the challenge of our day. We've watched, over the last decade, the radicalized right go from the fringes of ridicule to the halls of power. We've watched them spit at the truth and invent their own reality. All while some of our best leaders were told to wait their turn. Why, then, all this question of whether we're ready for something far simpler?
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?