Feminine Superpowers

660 480 Elisabeth Karsten

Finally I went with a dear friend to watch Wonder Woman (USA 2017) in the movie theatre. Several critics celebrated the movie as the best comic book adaption for a while, the high number of viewers and box-office results confirmed this and in general the movie is now considered as a worthwhile opening for more femininity in the super hero genre.

The movie is indeed great fun: the actors are good, the story works and the characters are a bit more exciting and interesting than one might expect. Visually it is particularly enticing: great scenography, great camera, great editing and impressive special effects and of course action, action, action: there are so many chases and fights and collisions that it is a veritable opera of bangs, crashs and blasts. And the leading actress does a great job with just the right mixture of grace, sexiness and aggression. Wonder Woman is depicted by the jung Israeli woman Gal Gadot, whose career began as Miss Israel. Furthermore she was in the Israeli army and obviously has a talent for combat and dance – she has the necessary mastery of her body. Apart from that she is married and has two daughters – and when she went to up notch film event and came in evening gown, however in flat shoes stunned reporters asked her why she wasn´t wearing high heels and she answered kindly: “Because it´s more comfortable!’ So a down to earth and seemingly likeable woman!

It is also worth noting that the film was directed by a woman and grossed the highest box-office results a female director has managed thus far. Which means the film was also viewed by and popular for men – and hopefully there is no need in the future to mention this specifically. For of course men can be enthusiastic about a female hero, especially in their favored genres – and Jenkins does not avoid the traditionally masculine genres like action and horror not in the least, as her biography shows.

Jenkins said about her movie, that Wonder Woman realized in the end and also says that ultimatively it´s about love! As true as I find this, I don´t find it quite convincing in the film – for she has this thought while holding a tank above her head just to drop it on the female villain, crouching below it. It made me actually think that she doesn´t want to ruin the potential for a sequel…

But yes, in the end Diana Prince aka Wonderwoman says in her voice over that it´s always worthwhile fighting for love and justice – and who would want to question that?

Wonder Woman´s origin

Wonder Woman is traditionally clearly an American woman – usually her hero´s attire is in the colors of the US flag, however less so in the latest movie.  Here her lineage from the Greek gods is stressed and the story takes place in a battle ridden Europe of the first World War. But the character is much older than the movie, she was added to the comic book universe in 1941. In the early 1940ies, Max Gaines, the publisher of DC comics was worried that his comic books might be too violent for the mostly juvenile readers and turned to his advisor William Marston, not only a comic book writer but also a psychologist and very strongly influenced by unconventional and strong women of his day: he lived together with his wife, his mistress and four children. According to legend, Marston said to Gaines: ‘What you need, is a female super hero. She will be as strong as superman, but basically a pacifist. She will fight for democracy but also for equal rights for women. And her super powers will be love, truth and beauty.’ Max Gaines decided to give it a go and as I don´t know the original comic books I have no idea in how far this was achieved.

But if I was now asked if the youngest Wonder Woman has specifically female super powers that mark her heroism I would draw a blank. Though she is clearly beautiful and focused on truth – in the film she confronts others, mostly men mercilessly with her attitude concerning saving the innocent and accuses them of lacking compassion. And love may be her motivation, but is not her power that consists of – as in her male colleagues – primarily a physical superiority. So she appears to be more feminine – not only because of her wonderfully sexy outfit, but she also solves the current conflicts like her male colleagues ultimately with force, violence, some magic (she can fly and create a force wave) and combat skills.

The same applies to the new TV-Series ‘Supergirl’, which also attempts by introducing ‘Superman’s cousin (and a whole megillah of relatives of seemingly lost Cryptonides due to their planetary catastrophe) to expand the genre for the feminine.

Super Chick

I also thought that it was about time for this during my film studies in the US in the late 1990ies and had created a story along those lines. In my version Superman had had an affair with an Australian Olympic swimmer. The fruit of that encounter was then overwhelmed by her superpowers at the onset of her period. After several visits to doctors and psychologists who all explain that this is not a temporary side effect of puberty, but indeed extraordinary, Mom finally reveals the truth – she once spent a night with a flying American in a red cape!

The heroine decides to find her father – of course against the wishes of her mother, but who can stop a teenager with super powers? So the girl travels to America and learns to deal with her powers ever better on the way. However she also draws the attention of the opposing forces to herself (the genre requires them…). The story culminates in her running into the arms of the evil guys while searching for her father who is indeed already imprisoned by them but uniting their forces, they manage to liberate themselves and yet again save the world.

Two things put the development of this pretty idea to an end. For one the professor in whose class I had developed the story explained that the rights to Superman and all that was attached to him were with DC (Detective Comics) and that they´d never give them away and would also not accept ideas that were not exactly matching the lore of their super heroes,  who are after all, already established characters in the marvel universe. And my ‘Super Daughter’ was clearly going too far.

Furthermore a fellow student remarked it reminded him of the Stephen King Novel ‘Carrie’ where a young girl has telekinetic abilities from childhood on but they really become strong at the onset of her period. As usual with King the whole thing escalates most gruesomely and ends with a massacre during which also the heroine dies. I had no wish whatsoever to feed such ideas.

But I too fell for the notion then, to equip a woman with super male powers!

Today I wonder whether that would really have inspired me as a young viewer – I am sure that a few young girls will become more excited then about martial arts, but that was never my interest. So this raised the question what super feminine powers would truly inspire and be so motivating that one would feel compelled to make an effort to make our world a better one! For this is always the ultimate goal of a comic book hero…

And yes, of course I´d find it exciting to master telekinesis, like Carrie or the classic Superman abilities, like flying – without the cape getting caught. The x-ray gaze, the superlistening, the relative invulnerability and of course the super strength: being able to carry the grocery bags with one finger and park the car upright, if need is would come in handy occasionally.

However – those are somehow super masculine powers: the immense physical strength and always the fight for justice and the ending of battles by simply turning everything into dust and cinders -I do not only find unsatisfying but also boring.

Truly feminine super powers

But what would be possibilities to bring order to our chaotic, violent and unjust human world with more feminine super powers? And I´m not talking telekinesis as it was exhibited by Mary Poppins or the amazing Jeannie cleaning up the nursery or managing household chores with a nod.

After some musing I came up with the following:

  • Being able to decode feelings and become aware of their origin – and therefore the source of any conflict
  • Being able to lead humans from fear to compassion – for an opponent can become rather helpless if one focuses on his weakness, his pain…
  • Being able to heal with a glance or touch
  • Being able to make any weapon dysfunctional with a glance
  • Mastering complicated tasks by enlisting help from others, i.e. if the threatening ocean liner was stopped by cetaceans.
  • Being able to make landscapes green again with a gesture – turning battle fields into blooming gardens…

In line with my current research, concerning the specific feminine energy that is allegedly now finding its path in our collective consciousness, I would furthermore – if I could – encourage ALL superheroes to use less violence and destruction and find a more feminine, maybe more softer but certainly more sustainable path.

For in my opinion every villain is only evil, because he is deeply wounded and hurt – to heal that and do reconciliation work would probably be more rewarding than simply getting rid of him. Furthermore I would welcome more cooperation – not only among the super heroes (and that is actually already taking place, i.e. the Fantastic Four) but especially among humans and an instruction of their consciousness that many people together can actually be a superpower to be reckoned with!

It would also be most fabulous if she could radiate such an aura of peaceful power that nobody felt a need for violent combat anymore – has Buddha been turned into a super hero yet? Love and beauty too, of course!  The super powers that can emanate from that are known by all people who truly love or have been touched by beauty in a deep and lasting way.

And if anybody thinks that this isn´t entertaining and requires less action, I beg to differ. I am absolutely positive there are ways to make this visually interesting and that more psychological depth would not necessarily require more dialogue, quite the opposite. Besides, I´m tired of the continuous war scenes. I would find the amazing appearance of fish to save the oceans or birds to save the skies quite more original!

I am sure there is room for a lot more – and I´m curious how the genre will develop further and the changes that Wonder Woman and her colleagues might undergo, for the comic book literature mirrors the Zeitgeist always very clearly!