Ever since the #DCEU's Wonder Woman was first cast, she's faced a backlash from fans and the media — and almost all of the "controversies" revolve around how the character looks. First, Gal Gadot was criticized for being too skinny, for not having big enough breasts, or for not gaining muscle mass for the role. Thanks to the strength of Gadot's performance in Batman v Superman, these complaints have largely been set aside, but a new issue has reared its ugly head: Wonder Woman's outfit is too revealing.
Director Patty Jenkins, known for Oscar-nominated movie Monster, has been questioned about this over and over. In her latest interview with the LA Times, Jenkins defended the skimpy costume — and yet again, she kinda misses the point.
"I get frustrated by people who think that they're defending [Wonder Woman] by trying to make her lesser. When people get super critical about her outfit, who's the one getting crazy about what a woman wears? That's who she is; that's Wonder Woman. I want her to look like my childhood fantasy."
Jenkins seems to take the complaints about Diana's costume as an attack on her character, when really this isn't the case.
The Problem With Wonder Woman's Costume
There's a difference between a woman taking control of her own sexuality and choosing to wear something revealing, and a male-created character who is put in an outfit to titillate readers (also assumed to be male). As much as I'd like to believe that Wonder Woman is real, she is very much the latter — because any practical warrior woman knows that it's impossible to fight in a strapless corset that restricts your movement, while your breasts threaten to fall out at any moment.
Superhero women are a product of a patriarchal system that defines female beauty as slim and large breasted, so their costumes try to show that off as much as possible. Jenkins seems to be oblivious of this, as she tells the LA Times that the male gaze played no role in Wonder Woman's enduring popularity.
"It's not the male gaze that's made little girls buy princess dolls for all these years. They're into it. And so we're into it. Who's been the fan base that's kept Wonder Woman alive all these years? Women. So let her be every glorious thing that she is. Including hot and beautiful and sexy and loving and great and kind."
Jenkins doesn't seem to understand that women can be a fan of superheroines, while still feeling uncomfortable with how they're portrayed. (She also doesn't seem to be aware of the role that patriarchal cultural coding plays in a child's desire to possess icons that they want to embody, because society told them to, but I digress.)
This isn't the first time that Jenkins has fundamentally misunderstood comments about costumes. When the first promo image for Wonder Woman was revealed, there were multiple criticisms of the Amazons' outfits. Why would a warrior race wear high heels, and armor that leaves vital areas of their body vulnerable? As Diana asks in the movie, we're left wondering how women can fight in these outfits.
Jenkins responded by claiming that her priority was making the Amazons "hot as hell" idols. She didn't explain why the Amazons — a matriarchal society totally independent from men — would have the same ideals of beauty as we do.
[Update 06.01.2017] Having seen the movie, it's worth noting that despite the debate Wonder Woman's outfit doesn't come off as sexy at alll. She is not portrayed in a gratuitous or sexualised fashion, and although it must have been difficult for Gal Gadot to move in such a tight outfit, the way the film is shot, this costume looks like the most practical and lightweight armor a warrior woman could wear.
We're Too Obsessed With Wonder Woman's Appearance
But while this conversation is important, there's no denying that Wonder Woman herself — an icon of justice, truth, and compassion that young girls look up to — is more important. Besides, the posters for Wonder Woman have not depicted her in a gratuitous fashion but have featured her running into the conflict head on, deflecting bullets and lifting tanks — and not showing off her curves.
Is Wonder Woman's costume sexist? Yes, but pointing that out might also be sexist, at least according to Jenkins. This has made for a horribly toxic conversation, one in which we aren't allowed to problemize Wonder Woman's portrayal while appreciating her character. This debate also threatens to overshadow the importance of the movie, and why Wonder Woman is such an inspirational icon — not to mention the impact a female-lead superhero movie could have on Hollywood.
Personally, I adore Wonder Woman, as I adore many other superheroines. But I am also frustrated with DC's insistence to shove these women into impractical outfits (don't get me started on Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn) in order to satisfy the people they see as their main fanbase — boys and young men.
Ultimately, this whole discussion about the costume is reductive. Instead of talking about Wonder Woman's villains, the mysteries in the movie, and the role of WWI, the vast majority of articles written in the run-up to Wonder Woman's release are all about her appearance — specifically, whether her costume is sexist. Really, the fixation on Wonder Woman's image —instead of her character and story — is sexist in itself... and I'd really like to be able to talk about something else.
Tell us in the comments: Do you think Wonder Woman's costume is sexist?