“You can be anything you want to be”Diana Prince AKA Wonder Woman , Justice League (Zach Snyder Cut, 2021)
Today marks the end of Women’s History Month and as a capstone I am celebrating the magic of Wonder Woman. Brave, beautiful and strong, Wonder Woman represents the greatest of human traits formed in the shape of a woman. It doesn’t hurt that this month also marked the long awaited release of #TheSnyderCut of Justice league on HBO Max, which for me was a 4 hour treat that I couldn’t stop watching. It was another chance to see the example of Diana Prince as a leader, as a superhero, and as an anthropologist.
This isn’t a review or critique of the Justice League or Wonder Woman 1984 films, although both are referenced throughout as these are the most recent releases including Diana Prince. What follows is a commentary on the value of Wonder Woman and what we can learn from her as a symbol for feminism and as the leader that we may finally be ready for.
Part I: “I don’t think you’ve ever known a woman like me”Diana Prince, Batman v Superman
Wonder Woman/Diana Prince was created in 1941 by psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston as a feminist ideal. Her background and values were established to show that a world run by women could be a better world. She is simultaneously the most fierce and the most nurturing member of the justice league. In Diana, we have a female superhero that is strong and powerful without losing her femininity. And yet, she isn’t only viewed through the male gaze. She more than hold her own as a woman and warrior.
The paradise she is raised in, Themyscira, is a feminist utopia that shapes the values that Diana holds. In addition to valuing physical strength, the Amazons also instill a deep sense of responsibility and emotional intelligence into their people. This is demonstrated in Wonder Woman 1984, where a young Diana competes an Olympic like gaming event.
During competition, it was when Diana was looking the wrong direction, looking to see how far she was ahead of others, rather than focusing on her own path that she falls. Her chosen path forward involved taking a shortcut around the course in order to attempt to win. Right before she secured the number one spot, she was snatched away by Antiope, her aunt, who reminded her that she took the short path, therefore cheated, and did not deserve to win.
Antiope, Wonder Woman 1984
“You cannot be the winner because you are not ready to win. There is no shame in that….No true hero is born from lies.”
Diana’s moral nature influences her leadership style. She is empathetic to the plight of others and tends to lead with love rather than power or fear. She values truth and justice and fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. She is a reminder of what we can achieve when work from the best of these qualities.
Part II: “Life is good, but it can be better”
– Max Lord, Wonder Woman 1984
Depicting Diana’s childhood, we see a world where woman and girls are expected to be strong and smart, rather than subservient or simply beautiful. It isn’t just a world devoid of men, it is a world where women are free to be their best. The reminder to Diana to “be yourself and remember that greatness is not what you think” by her aunt Antiope, clung to me when watching during the midst of the pandemic. This past year has forced me to think about what truly matters, and to reevaluate what success means, what greatness means.
When we arrive in the present in Wonder Woman 1984, we are dropped into a shopping mall. In this world of excess, commercials entice to “get what you wish”, and tell you that “you deserve what you want because you want it”, while robbers and thieves infiltrate the mall. The contrast is a far cry form the integrity of the advice given to Diana in Themyscira.
In this world, a businessman like Max Lord prospers because he manufactures greatness rather than earning it through rightful actions. When we follow him back to his office, we find that everything that he purports to be is a sham. Although he appears to work in a large office located in a well to do building, we see that his staff is non-existent and has been replace by empty chairs and tables. The only semblance that anyone works there is his opulent and large personal office. When confronted with the fact that he is a con-man, he retorts back, ” I am not a con man, I am a television personality.”
So much of our world is characterized by this level of superficiality. In Max Lord we find an analogy to the “heroes” of today. Investigative journalism has been replaced by opinionated talking heads. Supermodels have been replaced by celebrities. Celebrities have been replaced by those who are famous for being famous. Now even the famous have been usurped by the Instagram Influencers.
There has been a wool pulled over our eyes that has allowed us to believe a lie. To this farce, Wonder Woman has an antidote. She implores us to be true to ourselves and to value our own gifts. When Diana meets Barbara Minerva, another scientist at the Smithsonian, she appreciates her sweet nature and compliments her personality. While it is clear that Barbara is insecure, Diana values her for her genuine traits and is unfazed by the superficial aspects that Barbara envies in others. Even with her opponents, Diana leads through empathy and uses her emotional intelligence to connect with those that oppose her.
“You are not the only one who has suffered, who wants more. Who wants them back, who doesn’t want to be afraid anymore. Or alone. Or frightened or powerless. Cause you are not the only one who imagined a world where everything is different, better finally. A world where they were loved and seen and appreciated, finally. But what is it costing you? Do you see the truth?”– Diana Prince, Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman’s focus on the truth and the culmination of so much pain allows her to persuade rather than beat her opponents. Her example of heroism is of a person willing to be vulnerable during tumultuous times.
Part III: “Diana Prince, cultural anthropology and archaeology”Diana, Wonder Woman 1984
The week of the capital riots was the beginning of my new year. After brushing off 2020, I had high hopes for the promise of 2021. Even though we are still in the middle of a dark winter in the US, there is a vaccine, there is a new administration and there is some hope for a greater tomorrow. But those hopes were dashed when I, like so many others, watched in horror at what happens when we succumb to the worst in us.
Nearly three months later and time feels elastic. Sometimes it seems as though years have gone by since the riots, sometimes it feels like we are still stuck in the moments when it happened. There are crisis happening in our country and in our world. As we come to the end of a celebration of women’s history month, I am confronted by where to find hope in the days ahead.
I had been asking myself for some time, what can an anthropologist do? What do I do with these skills, in this discipline at a time when the problems are so large? This latest incarnation of Wonder Woman provides some inspiration. While it isn’t often that superheros double as anthropologists, it is a beacon that now is the time for anthropologists to make their mark.
This past year has laid bare the limits of our technological and scientific achievements. Being human is more than the sum of our parts. Wonder Woman represents leadership with humanistic understanding. Although she is supremely powerful, she rarely uses her brawn to win a fight. Although she is highly intelligent, she rarely relies on her quick mind to carry her through problems. Instead, she relies on her ability to display compassion and her willingness to undergo deep understanding of the reasons why things are happening the way that they are.
Her cover as an anthropologist explains away her ability to speak several languages, have vast knowledge of artifacts, and work as a curator. It also provides insight into why anthropologists matter. We treasure language, respect the power of culture, and know the meaning of symbols. We value the past and use it to guide us to the answers to make a difference in the presence.
Wonder Woman reminds us how valuable the skills and abilities anthropologists hold can be in making sense of the messiness of our world. Diana’s respect for culture and empathy for loss is a welcome reminder of why the world needs anthropologists, and dare I say, anthropologist leaders. I think that it is a sign that the combination of a born warrior and a humanitarian is an anthropologist.
Women often feel that there is only one way to be successful. How many of us have overlooked our innate abilities because we have longed to be like another? How many anthropologists shy away from standing out, or standing apart, because we feel most comfortable when go undetected? Now is the time for us to find our power and gain the confidence it takes to lead. The world needs heroes and its time to start at home.
Featured image was found here