From the adorable reactions of kindergarten children to the women who were reduced to tears by the feminine power on display, Wonder Woman has clearly resonated with audiences on a deeper level than normal, creating a genuine game-changer that's made by women, for women. Much of this success is down to the film's progressive move towards equality, one that explores the strength of women and even their sexuality on a wider scale than we've ever seen on our screens before.
But it isn't just the politics of Wonder Woman which provide a breath of fresh air. The visual design of the film also carries the message of the movie, and give us something new in a cinematic landscape dominated by masculine visual cues. From skyscrapers and guns to even the heads of aliens, phallic imagery is rife in cinema. In fact, it's almost impossible to watch a film for more than a few minutes without accidentally being exposed to some kind of penis-related symbol, which is exactly why it's so refreshing that director Patty Jenkins deliberately sought to avoid using such imagery in Wonder Woman.
As Diana herself explains when she first meets Steve Trevor, the island of Themyscira is "a bridge to a greater understanding" — one that subverts the phallic dominance that Laura Mulvey noted in her theory of the male gaze. Instead of depicting the usual penis-related imagery that dominates our screens, director Patty Jenkins opted to take a more inspired approach, ensuring that Themyscira is full of the vaginal imagery that befits a Paradise Island built for women.
The Lady Gardens Of Themyscira
Ever since comic book author William Moulton Marston first created Paradise Island back in 1941, Wonder Woman's home has been a potent symbol of feminine power in pop culture, serving as a literal refuge hidden away from the influence of man. Patty Jenkins is more than aware of this, actively portraying Themyscira as a female utopia that's littered with images of circles and spirals that represent womanhood and creation.
Unsurprisingly, this symbolism is most potent in the throne room of Themyscira, which serves as the hub of power for this island of female warriors. While Steve Trevor is subjugated by the Amazonian power contained within the Lasso of Truth, Queen Hippolyta presides over the proceedings in her throne. Ornately designed, the chair which seats the Queen of the Amazons contains circular designs. Circles have long been used a visual shorthand for the feminine, given their resemblance to "womanly curves," pregnant stomachs, and the entrance to the vaginal canal.
Themyscira itself also embraces this aesthetic. As you can see, the island contains a number of caves, bridges and other structures that highlight the circular motif, evoking the feminine symbolism of Themyscira.
Production designer Aline Bonetto explained this in more detail during an interview with LA Times, discussing how water also played an intricate role here:
“The island was a gift from the gods. They don’t cut into the stone, they use an open cave. They decide to live with nature, using what nature gives to them... It was important for us to have water everywhere. Water is quite feminine in a way. In its movement and in its energy. It’s the symbol of life, and the women respect and protect life.”
As Wonder Woman made clear in that now-iconic trench scene, it is the sacred duty of the Amazons "to defend the world," protecting life at all costs, so it's impressive that this was considered during the production design stages.
Patty Jenkins Actively Avoided Phallic Imagery
Wonder Woman's grounding in Greek mythology sets her apart from other superheroes. While the likes of Superman and Batman have come to represent modern day versions of the gods from old, inspiring readers with tales of wonder, Diana is a god, one that was created by Zeus himself.
With the distinct lack of male imagery or influence on Themyscira, does this mean that the Amazons were gay?
However, director Patty Jenkins eschewed the typical Grecian architecture one would expect from a story of this nature, reinventing Paradise Island as a feminist haven that didn't include the stereotypical temples and colonnades one might usually see on sets inspired by the Hellenic era.
Aside from the tower where the Godkiller is kept, the kind of stone columns typically seen in Greek and Roman architecture are significantly downplayed, in order to avoid overtly phallic imagery. If anything, it's rather telling that this tower is the only significant phallic structure on Themyscira, as the sword that Diana obtains from this location breaks upon use, rendering the masculine symbolism of this weapon impotent. Fortunately, Wonder Woman is still able to defeat Ares thanks to her bracelets and lasso, circular symbols of femininity through which she channels her love and compassion.
Queen Hippolyta memorably tells her daughter that the world of man doesn't deserve her, but ultimately, Patty Jenkins is the one we don't deserve. Who else would have put such thought into the feminine symbolism of Themyscira? Who else would have been able to position Wonder Woman as a truly innovative piece of filmmaking in a world of straight, male superheroes? And who else would have avoided including the vagina-shaped invisible jet that writer Grant Morrison discussed adding to the comics in an interview with Nerdist? Men may not be necessary for pleasure, but Jenkins is a necessary addition to the world of superhero filmmaking, and the world of man is all the better for it.
Do you think the vaginal symbolism is deliberate in Wonder Woman? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!