It’s 2017 and I am mad all of the time. I’m mad at the news, at Hollywood, at the sexism I see everywhere, every day, this unremitting disrespect and complete lack of understanding that somehow feels like it’s getting worse instead of better. I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person, but I am angry so often these days. Many of us are.
And then I saw Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman – twice. Its critical and commercial success has been something of a schooling for Hollywood and beyond. We’ve learned that, no shit, women can direct blockbusters and carry box office. We’ve learned that we’re in a time where audiences and critics crave uplifting messages and well-told stories over dour bombast. We’ve learned that Gal Gadot is a treasure and a powerful choice for Diana of Themyscira.
While these lessons may feel like a revelation for studios and producers, the people in power who make all of the biggest decisions for Hollywood, they weren’t a revelation for many, for those of us who have been angry for months – years – and who always knew that Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot would knock it out of the park with Wonder Woman. No, I learned something bigger from Wonder Woman, something that I hope will stay with me through the coming months and years, every time I’m given one more reason to be angry.
I learned the value of cheerfully ignoring men when they tell me to stay put.
This happens again and again in Wonder Woman – to be fair, it even happens on Themyscira, well before there’s a single man in sight. We meet tiny little Diana as she’s tearing across the island, watching the Amazons train, kicking and chopping alongside them. Her mother and teacher tell her she shouldn’t be at the training grounds, and it’s clearly an oft-held conversation, but little Diana pays them no mind. She knows she belongs here, and her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), knows the same. They begin Diana’s training in secret, the long and arduous process of turning this soft little girl into the fiercest warrior Themyscira has ever seen – fiercer, even, than Antiope. Once Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), discovers this secret training, she is at first dismayed, but soon understands that this is both Diana’s choice and her destiny. When it comes time for Diana to leave the island, to help Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) fight mankind’s war, Hippolyta does not stand in her daughter’s way. Diana tells her she must go, and Hippolyta sighs, “I know. Or at least I know I cannot stop you.”
It’s an early lesson that serves Diana well: if someone tells you to stay where you are, out of danger, to not do what you know is right, don’t waste a lot of energy getting mad about it. Just do it anyway. And she does, again and again, throughout Wonder Woman’s narrative. Steve jumps in front of her in an alley as they’re beset by men with guns, and he tells her to stand behind him – but Diana whips around in front and uses her gauntlets to deflect the bullets, saving Steve as he wanted to save her. “Or maybe not,” he muses, because Steve is a good man who understands that there is great honor in deferring to a woman who is stronger than you.
But he is gallant and needs to be reminded a few more times that Diana does not require his protection (and will not accept his directives). He tells her to stay out of the council hall where important men are debating the future of the war, a command she pleasantly disregards. He literally pushes her out and she pushes herself right back in, while old white men grumble, “There’s a woman in here!” And later still, Steve tells her she cannot go into German High Command, because she’s too distracting, too impossible to control. “Trust me, stay put.” Diana of Themyscira does not stay put. The next moment, she is gone, scheming her own way into the gala, because what she does is not up to Steve Trevor, or to any man.
And then, of course, there’s No Man’s Land, the treacherous passage that no man can cross – but Diana can. Steve tells her there’s no time to save this one village, a heroic measure that will nonetheless endanger their important mission. Steve Trevor has his eye on ending the war, but Diana will stop to save every single person she can along the way. Unlike her Justice League brethren, she cares for people, individual people, more than she cares for missions or movements.
After she marches her way across that deadly stretch of land, fighting off the relentless fire from men who would hold her back, Steve finally stops trying to suppress Diana and instead empowers her. Along with Sameer, Charlie and The Chief (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock), Steve hefts a slab of metal onto their backs, allowing Diana to leap off of it, to leap off the backs of the men themselves. It’s the most extraordinary metaphor for what a true ally should do: not speak for a woman, not protect her or keep her out of danger, but give her the tools she needs to knock out an entire goddamn tower and the sniper within it.
Diana’s unwillingness to allow men to restrain her is tremendously inspiring, a persistence that we could all use a dose of in 2017, when women’s rights are being threatened in ways both insidious and overt. But I’m more moved by her grace and compassion in those moments, how slow she is to anger when she’d have every right to be enraged that these weak mortals think they can tell her what to do. But Diana isn’t interested in anger. She’s too focused on fighting for what’s right and saving those who need saved.
Anger can be a useful tool, but for the past few months, it hasn’t been useful for me. It’s stifled me, paralyzed me, kept me glaring at headlines and furiously tearing up at tweets instead of doing anything. I’m tired of being told to stay put, but I’m also tired of being so angry. And the vision that I’m cherishing in my heart and holding up as a reminder whenever I need it is of Diana, Princess of Themyscira, punching her way up the wall of a building she was told she could not enter, smiling with glee as she recognizes her own strength, as she understands that no one can tell her what not to do and where not to go ever again.