There's been a flame war on the internet and on this very page regarding the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Opinions have been put through against and in favor of her acting capacity and of her physical suitability for the part. I personaly have nothing against Gal Gadot, for me the fact that she doesn't fit into the exact body type of an amazon is not as important as her acting abilities, which I cannot judge prior to seeing her in the film. I will give her the benefit of the doubt until that moment, besides, this article isn't about her in particular, not even her being cast as wonder woman.
The issue at stake it bigger than that.
The creator of wonder woman
Unlike most superheroes, wonder woman wasn't created just to sell comic books. Her creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston, was an educational consultant for DC at the time (1941) and he wanted to create a strong female character in stark contrast with the all masculine superheroes of the time. Marston's own unconventional ideas on gender roles and sexuality heavily influenced wonder woman. Marston was helped by his wife and by their mutual third partner Olivia Byrne into giving wonder woman all the characteristics they felt women were lacking in the media: Strength, Independance, fairness and magnanimity. He famously said in 1943
"Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman"
As stated above Marston and his wife had a third partner, he also had his own unconventional ideas about sexuality and the role of men towards women (unconventional nowadays, enough to get you in jail back in the 1940's). Wonder womans lasso of truth relates not only to Marston's own appreciation of BDSM but also to his own invention: the polygraph (AKA the lie detector). Wonder woman's lasso initially compeled men (and only men) to tell the truth when they were touching it. It was only later that the lasso would work on women as well, a change that unsurprisingly completely missed the point.
So why is it still a big deal nowadays?
As much as we have advanced in the equality of women we haven't come even close to the archetype that wonder woman represents. Wonder woman is strong, yes, but she is strong without losing her capacity for pity, tenderness or love of justice.
Too often we find nowadays women who are extremely succesful in business (and rightly so) but in detriment of some of the positive qualities we usually associate with "womanhood". As you read this, Facebook and Google are offering their female workers the opportunity to freeze their eggs in order to pursue their carreers without the hiatus that motherhood still represents. It might sound like great news, but to me it sounds like "yes, do the same thing men have been doing wrong for decades: dedicate all your energies and commitment to work, everything else can wait. Success in life is measured in salary, position and money".
The very same thing happens in regards to leadership roles: Women are not allowed to be negotiators and to look for consensus on the workplace when they're managers because the "traditional male" leadership role was "I say, you do" and to act in any other way is understood as a sign of weakness. Women have to be tougher, more work driven and smarter than men in order to get the same credit. They also have to hide or outright give up any qualities that are considered "female/femenine" because they are read by the still-mainly-male status quo as "weak and unproductive".
As I said, equality is on the rise, but instead of trying to equalize taking the best qualities of both the traditional "male" and "female" archetypes we have basically forced women to act as "men" or otherwise be considered less. Marston understood that women had to be strong in order to be an attractive role model, but he also knew too well the many good qualities women had and men lacked. That's the reason he made sure wonder woman would be strong AND merciful.
Rest assured, if they so choose to, women can also be cut-throat executives, dedicate their whole time and life to work and act aggresively and with no compassion. So can men, but in my opinion regardless of gender that isn't the way to go, and even if it's a choice some people might make, the ones that take another route should just as well be aknowledged for it.
Ok... I get it, but how does this relate to the movie?
Wonder woman represents the very paradigm of the best qualities of womanhood and humanhood for that matter. How the studios choose to represent her will have a lasting effect on how society views certain roles for the next years.
It's already a bad start that wonder woman won't get a movie of her own. This is however understandable: Hollywood is about making money, and the last time they tried to pull off a female protagonist we got Elektra. The fact that Wonder Woman will be put in between Batman and Superman might even play to our collective favor; the movie won't be a flop and even if it is, hopefully no one will be bold enough to say it was because of her. It will also give more liberty to the writters to dwell into the differences between the three of them, which might serve as a catalyst to show the good qualities Wonder Woman has and both Superman and Batman lack.
On the other hand... we might end up with a movie where Batman and Superman are the undisputed protagonists and Wonder Woman fills the "token-woman" role, being no more than the sidekick to either of them.
It's your call Hollywood: Show us an unapologetic female character that doesn't need to compete but can, and that isn't a "man" in a woman's body. We want Wonder Woman!