October 4, 2022

Wonder Women and Malignant Men

Now, more than ever, we’re in need of an empowering female to inspire us


I loved “Wonder Woman.”

As an avid comic book reader and general superhero fan, I’ve had my fill of both movie adaptations that thrill (“The Avengers”) and those that severely disappoint (“Batman vs. Superman”). However, until seeing “Wonder Woman” this summer, I hadn’t realized how much I was longing for a movie that “got” what it is I love about superheroes — their ability to inspire.

Superheroes aren’t just action heroes. James Bond isn’t a superhero, nor is John McClane. What differentiates a superhero is that superheroes inspire. They inspire us to action, to be our best selves. And that’s what “Wonder Woman” gets so right. The famous “No Man’s Land” scene shows her compelled into action to help others, even when that may come at a grave personal cost to herself and her immediate mission. What’s more, she inspires others to follow her into danger, to risk their own lives for what is righteous and just. She’s inspirational to the other characters in the film, but she’s also just as inspirational to the audiences who flocked to the film.

Superheroes inspire us to be our best selves, to strive to do better. After all, Superman was invented by two Jewish kids in Cleveland who were vicariously fulfilling their power fantasy about being able to fight against both the Nazi threat abroad and American corruption and injustice at home. Wonder Woman, herself, was deliberately created by William Moulton Marston to serve as an inspiration to young women, as a representative figure of his era’s “modern, liberated” woman.

Wonder Woman’s first appearance (All-Star Comics #8 in Dec. 1941) where she was introduced as an Amazon champion on a mission to rescue a downed World War II pilot.

It’s good to see that she’s still able to do this 75 years later. The image of a warrior woman based on Greco-Roman mythology, speaking with an Israeli accent and played by Gal Gadot, a Jewish actress, literally smashing into a Christian church steeple in order to take out a Teutonic villain may be the most inspiring moment I’ve seen on film in years. And if I was that moved by the film as a man, I can only imagine how empowering this film was to female audiences.

That kind of inspiration is important, because now, more than ever, we’re in need of an empowering female to inspire us. 2017 may have seen the most successful and empowering mainstream feminist action-adventure narrative in quite a long time, but it has also seen accusations of wide-scale sexual abuse and harassment leveled against powerful men in every industry, from Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Charlie Rose to Roy Moore, Al Franken and Donald Trump.

Has 2017 been a good year or a bad year for women, then? I’m a male, so that’s certainly not for me to say, but I do know that there’s a great irony to “Wonder Woman coming out shortly after a presidential election wherein an unqualified, accused serial sexual abuser defeated one of the most prepared candidates in history, largely because she committed the unthinkable sin of daring to overstep her bounds as a woman. And I do know that if I’m angry about that, as a man, then I can’t even imagine the rage women are experiencing right now, and how cathartic it must have felt to see Gal Gadot beating the snot out of a bunch of dudes for an entire movie.

I have to see a ray of hope, though. Hell, as a white, middle class, cis-gendered straight male, it’s pretty much my duty as an ally to provide that ray of hope when people with far less privilege than I are flagging from having fought so much harder, simply for their right to exist, than I’ve ever fought in my life.

Though the rain of accusations against men in power is disheartening, because it reveals the poisonous heart of a patriarchy that still doesn’t treat women as equals, it is also a sign of changing times. What may have been acceptable behavior even a decade ago is now rightly being pointed out as an abuse of power, an overstepping of bounds, and just plain gross. These men, very powerful men, are finally being held accountable for their actions, and even though there will be an inevitable backlash, it’s nice to see the majority of Americans finally believing women instead of taking the side of their abusers. This may just be a watershed moment for women in America (but I’m hardly the most qualified person to talk about that).

What I know for sure, though, is that this needs to be a watershed moment for men in America. Each of us needs to explore our own complicity in the toxic culture that has allowed this kind of abuse and harassment to thrive, and examine what we can do to change it. Being good allies going forward means (to me) accepting and rectifying our past misdeeds, however that may be possible, and changing our behavior in the future.

I’ve done some soul-searching myself since all of these many accusations have come to light. I look back on my own life and think about what actions I’ve taken that may have been questionable. In my professional career, though I’ve never groped or exposed myself to anyone, I’ve certainly made jokes that might be questionable and hogged conversations. When I was a graduate student, I asked out some of my fellow students, and though I like to think I did so respectfully (and took the almost universal rejections just as respectfully), I can’t say that they felt the same.

Outside of my career, in my dating life, I was certainly never violent or took any nonconsensual actions, but sex and sexual relationships are complicated, and I was certainly a cad at times. Does that mean I ever crossed the line into what could be considered emotional abuse? That’s really for the women I dated to say, not me.

I can’t change any of my own past behavior, but I can apologize for it and do my best going forward to provide a counter to that. I can bolster my female colleagues at work, speak out against toxic masculinity amongst my male friends, and do my best to defend women against male aggression out in the world. Men certainly need to play a part in evolving the way women are treated by our society if anything is going to change. Hell, we’re the ones who created this horrific situation in the first place.

2017, if it’s done nothing else, has inspired me. It’s inspired me to try to be a better man, in direct contrast to the kinds of men currently in power. It’s inspired me to work hard as an ally to women (and to all minorities), utilizing my privilege for their advantage. It’s inspired me to be like Wonder Woman and fight for peace and justice in a world at war.

I know this may get me labeled as a “white knight” or a “social justice warrior” (which, by the way, I think is a term we on the left should own; what kind of psychopath wouldn’t want to be a warrior for social justice?), and that it may seem like I’m just trying to “virtue signal” what a good person I am. But I say all this not for any kind of praise—lord knows I don’t deserve it—but in the hopes of passing on that inspiration to others.

Let’s be inspired to be better men. Let’s be inspired to be better people.

Let’s be inspired to be Wonder Woman.



Andrew J. Friedenthal
Andrew J. Friedenthal
Andrew J. Friedenthal is writer, an editor, a cultural scholar and historian, based in Austin, Texas. His book "Retcon Game: Retroactive Continuity and the Hyperlinking of America" is published by Univ. of Mississippi Press. He is regular contributor to Time Out Austin and the Austin American-Statesman.

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