What Wonder Woman means to this Orthodox Jewish woman
Wonder Woman has descended upon the world and has brought with it some rather unexpected effects. I admit that I am shocked to find myself so moved, so affected, and having such difficulty expressing why that is.
But it seems that I am far from alone. Nearly every woman I have spoken with has had a similar reaction to this movie. There is a strange kind of collective response and I think it’s because somehow, director Patty Jenkins and actor Gal Gadot have made a movie that at once shows the difficulty of being a woman in a man’s world and at the same time gloriously portrays what it could be like if women were just allowed to ‘be’ without the dictations of society — and the result is breathtaking.
This is true for women across the globe, whose intense reactions can be read across media outlets, and for me, as an Orthodox Jewish woman, it is especially poignant.
Wonder Woman demonstrates for a lot of us the battles we fight, the sacrifices we make, the times we are told ‘no’ — and she blows right through them. The way we wish we could. She tosses aside the things in her way. She doesn’t even see them.
You know the things I mean — the demands on our time, the demands on our person, on our efforts and energies. The expectations from our communities, our families, our leadership and ourselves.
Diana (Wonder Woman) grows up in a world where women are courageous, strong, compassionate, loving, kind, intelligent, wise, bad-ass as hell, and beholden to no one but themselves.
They are never silenced or told they don’t belong. They are respected — and don’t need to fight for that respect — and they never have to wait for someone else’s permission to ‘be’.
They aren’t judged on a system they can’t join, don’t have decisions made for them by those who don’t share their experiences, and they never have to prove their worth to anyone.
They are feminine, and that femininity doesn’t mean meek or weak, or less than, or too emotional or incapable. Their femininity is strength in convictions, power in determination, and the will to see it done.
They are beautiful, but not objectified. Having railed against secular media for exploiting women, and Jewish media for erasing them, watching strong beautiful women portrayed as people and not objects, for their strength and not their sexuality, was thrilling.
Diana is taught, and believes, that it is the god Ares who brings war and aggression to the world. She believes that if she slays him, mankind will no learn longer war and prosperity will reign. She is devastated when she learns that it is men too, who seek strife and choose aggression.
In this blurring of where God ends and man begins, I see a parallel in Orthodoxy. Often, where God is flexible, men are not. A person who knows Jewish law will tell you that most of things women are told they cannot do are in fact not forbidden by that law. Yet, women are still told we cannot do them. Where God steps back, men step in and create an even harsher reality.
For Diana, sexism doesn’t exist until she reaches the ‘world of men’ – where she proceeds to simply ignore it. When she’s left out of a room, she walks in. When it’s assumed she’ll be silent, she delivers the perfect rebuke. But Diana isn’t being defiant – she’s just being. For her, men are partners not rulers.
The idea that she has a ‘place’ does not exist for her and so she needs no one’s permission to step beyond it. Diana is beautiful and graceful even as she is strong and forthright. And perhaps that is what we love. Finally seeing a woman portrayed as feminine and at the same time, the strongest, toughest person in the room.
Wonder Woman isn’t a female version of a male hero- she is a female heroine. Her sensitivity, her compassion, her joy in life, her smile, and yes, her anger at injustice is quintessentially female.
And we need women leaders, girls and women, but men and boys too.
Chris Pine, who plays opposite Gal Gadot’s Diana, speaks of the positivity of women’s leadership. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, he said,
I feel like with men at the helm, it’s always a revenge cycle thing. It’s an eye for an eye, ‘we’re going to get the bad guys’. What I think is really lovely, with having a woman at the helm of this, there’s a great deal more compassion and love at the center of the story, … the little bit we can do to hopefully inch this universe toward not being as aggressive and violent.”
We fight. But we fight as women. Just as tough but with soul and depth.
And we’re used to fighting. Sometimes, we have to fight just to be heard.
Before leaving on her mission, Diana is told that if she goes forward with what she plans, she may never be accepted or find her way back. Her response, “Who will I be if I stay?”, encapsulates the conflict that so many of us feel, between what we want and know is right, and what our society tells us we should be.
How moving, how norm-shattering to see women make their own choices, fight their own battles, on their own terms, no permission needed, no dress code required, and no one telling them just how far they could go.
Wonder Woman gives us a glimpse of what the world might look like if women could simply ‘be’. And, if the first step in realizing a goal is being able to visualize it, then Jenkins has given the women of the world a tremendous boost towards that reality.