This seems to be quite a week for men who think they are heroes of women in media to really muck it up. First we had Joss Whedon and everyone finally seeing what he really is. Today we had James Cameron decide that he knows what women want in a hero more than women do. Regarding Wonder Woman in particular, here is the quote Cameron gave to The Guardian:
“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”
There are so many things wrong with that statement. It fundamentally misses why so many people, women especially, fell in love with Wonder Woman. There are going to be think pieces written about this quote for a long time, but Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins decided to weight in on twitter.
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) August 25, 2017
James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman. Strong women are great. His praise of my film Monster, and our portrayal of a strong yet damaged woman was so appreciated. But if women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far have we. I believe women can and should be EVERYTHING just like male lead characters should be. There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman. And the massive female audience who made the film a hit it is, can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress.
Cameron has the idea about “strong women” that Whedon and so many other writers do; they seem to think strength only comes from suffering. That a woman can’t be strong without something absolutely terrible happening to her. So they use plot devices such as assault (in different forms) and bad things because that is what makes women strong. The problem is that women can be strong just because they have strength. Diana did have some terrible things happen to her but she was strong before those things happen.
Then there’s the idea that a woman has to be ugly in some way to be strong. There are so many people that think beauty somehow makes a woman less strong. There are so many women out there who are beautiful and strong. The idea that they are somehow less strong because of beauty seems to point to this idea that being feminine is inherently weak. What Cameron wants his women to be is more like men. Being feminine does not equal weakness and the fact that Cameron seems to correlate the two speaks volumes about him.
Finally, the reason women were watching Wonder Woman and bursting into tears is because we never see women being strong that isn’t filtered through the male gaze. There was not a single moment in that movie where Diana was objectified in any way. Women are so desperate for that we didn’t know how to react when we got it, hence the tears. Cameron can never give us that, because the male gaze will always exist (in some form) in his movies.
If James Cameron or Joss Whedon or any of these other so-called “allies” of the feminist movement really want to be allies, they need to sit down. They need to stop expecting a parade for creating female characters with different dimensions. You don’t get to complain about people getting pats on the back and then turn around and pat yourself on the back. If Cameron doesn’t understand that, it doesn’t make Wonder Woman any less valid. It just means he can’t see past his own ego to try and understand what people got out of this character.