Not Your Mother’s “Wonder Woman”: A Feminist Review

When our family first saw the previews for the new Wonder Woman movie earlier this year, I was determined that this would be a family-viewing event for us.  I wanted my ten-year-old son to see it.  I wanted my 40-something husband to see it.  I wanted my 14-year-old daughter to see it.  And I wanted to see it.  Our expectations for this film were high and varied.  We were not disappointed.

Wonder Woman review, EcoPreacher

The epic origin-story of Wonder Woman is a masterful fusion of mythologies.

Drawing from elements of Greek mythology, Hebrew legend, and Christian themes, the movie deftly weaves these strands into a film that is a must-watch experience.  Not only does it blend riveting action sequences with clever and cheeky humor, it lifts up themes of female empowerment, the hyper-masculine drive for war, and the journey from innocence to painful awareness and self-discovery.

In the story, Zeus designates the female race of Amazons to fight against Ares, the god of war.  Young Diana trains to become the fiercest warrior on an island paradise reminiscent of the Bible’s Garden of Eden.  Their peace is shattered when a World War I pilot crashes into the waters that had hidden them from the outside world.  Diana saves Steve Trevor from drowning, but German troops discover the island and massacre many of the Amazonian women.  Determined to seek and destroy Ares, who she believes to be the cause of the war, she leaves the island forever with the final words from her mother in her ear:  “You are my greatest love.  You are my greatest sorrow.”

Not your mother’s Wonder Woman

Having grown up on the campy Wonder Woman series from the 1970s, I was relieved to see the move away from the patronizing relationship between Steve Trevor and Diana Prince.  Gal Godot’s Diana is a young woman learning the truth about herself, the realities of good and evil in the world outside of her Edenic paradise, and the possibilities of genuine relationship with the man she grows to admire and love.  Chris Pine brings a refreshing reboot to Steve Trevor, alternating between gritty realism and altruistic self-sacrifice that models both humility and, well, wonder.  He is genuinely moved by his relationship with Diana, and it is a joy to watch Pine interact with Godot in ways that are at times boyish, other times tender, while the requisite manly personae struggles to find out where it belongs.

Diana, too, is struggling to find out where and how she belongs.

It’s not until she and Trevor are making their way along the Western Front – he to stop the production of a deadly chemical weapon, she to find and destroy Ares – that she begins to claim her own power.  A town is besieged between the Germans and Allied forces in a stand-off that has dragged on for months, leaving the land utterly destroyed.  Diana wants to help the town.  Steve tells her that would only distract them from their mission.  “That’s not what we came here to do,” he shouts above the mortar fire.  “No, but it is what I came to do,” she defiantly replies.

Wonder Woman, EcoPreacher

THE moment

I’ll admit it: when Wonder Woman climbed up out of the fox hole and slo-mo walked into No Man’s Land, drawing the fire power of the enemy, tears stung my eyes.  More than any other moment of the movie, for me this scene was emblematic of what so many women have faced in one form or another: stepping into the “no man’s land” of war, violence, abuse, discrimination, and oppression in order to “fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”

In that moment Wonder Woman was the Syrian mother crossing the no man’s land of her bombed city, sniper fire all around, escaping the war with her children.  The mother filing a protection of abuse order against her partner.  The grandmothers at Standing Rock facing rubber bullets and water hoses to protect their community.  The black women in the Civil Rights movement facing dogs, gas, and batons.  Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors starting the Black Lives Matter movement in the face of systemic racial violence.  The female pastor stepping into the previously male-only pulpit.  The young girl stepping into a STEM classroom filled with mostly boys.  Malala Yousafzai taking a bullet to the brain for seeking an education.  The lesbian couple daring to walk hand-in-hand in public, withstanding a barrage of insults.  The list goes on.

wonder woman, drawing fire
Photo credit: https://paulwhipps.deviantart.com/art/Wonder-Woman-No-Man-s-Land-684853698

Wonder Woman as Deborah

As I watched Wonder Woman not only withstand every weapon launched against her, but inspire her comrades to rise and join her, I thought of the legendary Deborah from the Bible’s book of Judges.  Like the Hebrew warrior-prophetess, Wonder Woman is the only one brave enough to face the enemy.  Deborah was the one who led Barak into battle against the Canaanites who had “cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years,” (Judges 4:3).  She offered to draw out the enemy so that they could fight out in the open.  But Barak refused to go unless Deborah agreed to lead the way: “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  To which Deborah responded “I will surely go with you.”  A fierce battle ensued and the Canaanites were defeated. (Interestingly, the general escapes, but a woman named Jael kills him by luring him into her tent and driving a tent peg into his skull while he sleeps – another surprising little nugget of female empowerment, violent though it may be).

As my 14-year-old daughter and her friend posed for selfies in front of the movie poster, I noticed these words: “Power.  Grace.  Wisdom.  Wonder.”  Sounds a lot like Deborah.  Sounds a lot like countless women I know who step into battle almost daily with power, grace, wisdom and wonder.

Wonder Woman, power, grace, wisdom, wonder

Is Wonder Woman the perfect female-empowerment movie?

Not exactly.  As some have noted, the film does contain many scenes of war violence, which could be seen as a promotion of militarization. Also, the film still based on a strongly heteronormative worldview that privileges the male/female dyad.  The fact that we did not see any evidence of romantic affection among the Amazon women on Paradise Island shows how cautious the writers and director were in pushing the boundaries too far.  Instead, they found humorous winking moments to de-emphasize the masculine tropes.  (Watch for “the watch scene” for example.  And note Diana’s schooling Steve about the fact that males are not needed for female “pleasures of the flesh.”)

Its few flaws notwithstanding, Wonder Woman rightly deserves accolades as the highest-grossing film directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), starring a strong female lead who, oh by the way, happened to be pregnant during filming.  Especially in this time when women’s rights seem to be regressing on many fronts, the U.S. president was elected despite his predatory history and behavior with women, and one-in-three women will face domestic abuse or sexual violence in their lifetimes, we need inspiring movie epics like Wonder Woman to remind us that women are, indeed, filled with power, grace, wisdom and wonder.


Leah Schade, EcoPreacherLeah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).

Leah will be presenting at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Spring, NC, July 14 and 15!  Her session info is available here:  http://wildgoosefestival.org/sessions17-24/.  Enter the special code BEMYGUEST for a 25% discount on tickets!

You can follow Leah on Twitter at @LeahSchade, and on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/LeahDSchade/.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Arlene Adamo

    I find this movie offensive in that it seems like an attempt to appropriate feminism to promote an agenda of militarization. Even the main actress has a pro-military history. She was in the Israeli army and supported the killing of hundreds of children in 2014.

    • Kirk Lazarus

      Oh you’re brave pointing that out, good luck before you get swarmed by neoliberals in love with Gadot for being a ‘feminist’ while endorsing the slaughter of women and children.

    • freelancewriternyc

      I’ll bet you don’t check on the background of every leading actor for a movie. You just happened to know about her because it’s been written about — ridiculous to base a movie on an actor’s background. Like not wanting to hear a symphony because of the solo violinist’s background.

      • Kirk Lazarus

        Or like not wanting to buy from Hobby Lobby because the CEO is anti women’s healthcare?

      • Arlene Adamo

        Most if not every leading actor in a major motion picture has some sort of political affiliation. That’s how roles are cast. Politics and marketing is in every aspect of our pop culture. It’s just the reality of the world we live in.

    • ihave2cats

      So basically, since all Israeli citizens are required to spend time in the military, I’m hearing you say you don’t like the movie because the actress was a Jew. Racist much?

      • Arlene Adamo

        I am part Jewish.

      • Cynthia

        Arlene’s definition of “part Jewish” is “I’m totally Christian to the point that I write about Jesus all the time, but I once took one of those genealogy DNA tests and now think that I had a distant Jewish ancestor”. She is to Jewish what Rachel Dolezal is to black.

    • https://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/ Leah D. Schade

      Thank you for your thoughts, Arlene. That is certainly one way to interpret the movie. Although I think the case can be made that Wonder Woman’s desire is for peace. The movie definitely wrestles with the tension of whether peace can be achieved through violence. And it raises the question: at what point does one’s use of force to protect the weak cross a line and become a tool for escalating destruction? That kind of deliberate ambiguity permeates the film.

      • Arlene Adamo

        Thank you. I appreciate your writing on the topic. Today I happened upon this article by Professor Mark LeVine which discusses in more detail some of the concerns I find myself having about this movie. It was published in a Progressive Jewish magazine.

        http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/wonder-woman-radiohead-and-bds-by-mark-levine

        • https://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/ Leah D. Schade

          This article certainly provides an angle the average viewer would likely not be aware of when watching the film. This quote particularly struck me: “The reason for pointing this gap between Gadot’s (self-) narrative and reality is because it is repeated in an even more extreme form in her discussions of the Israeli military. Specifically, in her many public discussions of the IDF, including her clear tweeting of support for the 2014 war on Gaza, Gadot has never, as far as I have been able to find in English or Hebrew, said a word about Palestinians suffering, about the ills of the Occupation, about the fact that those soldiers she brags about training routinely commit war crimes and otherwise oppress, harm, and even kill Palestinians whose occupation has just turned 50.”

          I wonder if the film’s director considered any of this when casting the movie. It raises an interesting questions: at what point does an actor’s self-narrative potentially undermine the purpose of a film?

          Thank you for sharing your concerns and posting the link to the article. At the very least, I think we can safely say that the “erasure” of Palestinians is an injustice that the fictional Wonder Woman would find morally and ethically abhorrent.

  • Zakkeus Trépanier

    I agree with some aspects of this review. I find some of your feminist perspectives laughable, however.

  • GORDON

    Ares, not Aries.

    • https://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/ Leah D. Schade

      Thank you. The correction has been made.

  • Paul Whipps

    Please credit my art on this page or remove it. I was not asked for permission for it to be used on this article. https://paulwhipps.deviantart.com/art/Wonder-Woman-No-Man-s-Land-684853698

    • https://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/ Leah D. Schade

      Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I have added the photo credit. My apologies for the the oversight.