Warner Brothers, 2017
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by Allan Heinberg
A review essay by Dr. Christy Sim
In one of my recent articles for Christian Feminism Today, I lamented the lack of divine feminine imagery while showcasing Eric Drooker’s art of a feminine Jesus. I explained how important it is to find, create, and celebrate divine images reflecting women’s experience alongside those considered more common to a masculine experience. I claimed the reason it is so crucial to include metaphors of the feminine is because this is what empowers those of us who do not identify as male to imagine how we can reflect the divine in the world. It is with great enthusiasm I offer this new article as an example of where I saw divine feminine imagery throughout the movie Wonder Woman (trailer).
Fair warning, this article will have spoilers—so watch the movie first! Then come back and join the conversation.
I carry around a plush Wonder Woman. She is my “training buddy” who comes with me every time I teach a workshop or speak about the trauma of violence. She is a reminder of my own agency and helps me remember I can do this!
So of course I was excited as my son and I sat down in the movie theater to watch Wonder Woman. The reviews were great and I expected an enjoyable experience, complete with well-developed themes of self-sacrifice, honor, and hope.
However, as high as my expectations were, the film exceeded them. Wonder Woman, as presented in this Warner Brothers production, is not simply a comic book retelling. It is not just an action adventure flick with a female protagonist. Wonder Woman is a compelling, empowering, and dynamic exploration of divine feminine mythology.
Far from taking myth as literal truth, many cultures that have recognized and embraced their mythology understand even in the weaving and telling of it that it is fiction. And they understand that there is truth behind the fiction. Looking at myth this way forces us deep into the story, delving its deeps for the pieces that ring true to us not on a literal level, but in our psyches. These are truths that cook in ourselves not on the surface, not empirically, but instead on a metaphorical level. (emphasis mine)
Cultures and societies that engage in myth-making often take the narrative and pull out deeper, more fundamental truths from the stories. As the Joseph Campbell Foundation says, “myth opens our eyes to seeing beyond what is in front of our faces.” In other words, the fictional myth reveals a truth within the story; something that serves to instruct and guide our lives today.
This article examines aspects of the “truth behind the fiction” notion in Wonder Woman by highlighting the ways this entertaining adventure reveals the truth about the divine feminine spark women embody and cultivate in the world.
A journey of self-discovery—the divine spark within
Within this narrative we see a young woman named Diana who is raised as part of an elite, all-female society. As the movie progresses we learn this Amazonian society was created to destroy the god Ares (the god of war) to release his hold on humans. More specifically, we learn it is Diana’s destiny to be the one who challenges him.
The most exciting part for me was to watch Diana’s process of divine self-discovery. Not only does she train to become physically adept, but she is also carefully guided to discover the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength within herself. In this process, she becomes more than a warrior. She becomes a manifestation of the divine feminine, the goddess herself.
Granted, we will not discover we are literally the daughter of Zeus and a goddess, as Diana does, but this mythology reveals the potential for awakening to the creative spark of divine power within. This narrative reveals how we might come to know ourselves as beautiful reflections of the divine love.
Learning we are strong requires feminine support
Diana was raised in an all-female society and, thus, had strong female role models. In fact, she never met a man until she rescued a pilot who accidently broke through their protected island.
Diana’s mentors, especially her aunt, work hard to help her discover her power and strength within. Diana is told “you are stronger than you believe,” and when she falters, her aunt urges her on by saying, “You are stronger than this!” The women around her do not tell her she is a goddess but, instead, tell her she is more than she knows herself to be.
Just as the movie provides images of Diana growing strong with the support of dynamic, powerful female mentors, we, too, can manifest this theme in our own lives. When women come together, encouraging and strengthening each other, amazing things are bound to happen. Just visit a red tent event or (please, please) come to one of our Christian Feminism Today gatherings. When we join, united, we discover our own and collective power together.
Misogyny needn’t diminish feminine power and strength
When Diana leaves the Amazonian island and enters into the world we know (during the time of World War I), men repeatedly push her to the side. After all, she is only a woman. She is told to “stand back” or “stay here.” Often Diana simply nods in acceptance, and then promptly walks where she desires. I could almost hear women across the globe cheer every time Diana defied the expectation of silence and inaction.
The men in the movie, not understanding her worth and ability, try to exclude her. However, she is undeterred and believes she is quite capable of fulfilling her mission.
Deeper examination of this aspect of the Wonder Woman myth allows a glimpse into the notion that women are a divine spark who cannot be held back by man’s restrictions and rules. She will emerge and claim her voice.
Grave injustice and violence demand we act
As Diana ventures from the island, intent on addressing the injustice of an abstract world she’s never experienced, her mother (knowing the great risk) does not want her to go. But Diana learned well from the other women around her, and she goes anyway, asking, “Who will I be if I stay?”
Personal safety becomes secondary, as Diana declares she is willing to “fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Diana feels the call to act deep within her being and is unable to stay on her comfortable island when she knows war is terrorizing humans.
The lesson from this part of the myth leads us to understand that violence, especially violence against women and children (in all its aspects), must not be tolerated.
In the realm of our own experience, as violence perpetrated worldwide against women and children becomes more visible, women are feeling the call deeply within themselves just like Diana. Women are saying “no more” (quite literally in the No More Campaign against domestic violence). Women are taking to the streets and marching; women are speaking up and saying “our bodies matter.” Women are acting to draw attention to racial injustice. The truth in this myth involves women standing to act in the face of injustice, death, and violence.
The feminine yearning to diminish suffering is its own power
Diana eventually reaches the location where the violence of war goes from abstract to personal. As Diana walks through war-torn fields and villages, she sees babies crying, people in desperate need of help, wounded warriors, and a seemingly endless trail of destruction. Diana sees the human suffering and her first reaction is compassion to help the people.
What motivates her to great, courageous action is the stirring in her feminine spirit to care for those who need her. This compassion is her strength.
Today, as we confront suffering in our own world, brought about by years of conquest, lust for power, and patriarchal disregard for the marginalized, we could become overwhelmed by the vastness of the abstract forces working against us. However, if, like Diana, we dare to be vulnerable and allow the painful issues to become personal, we can access the most powerful force in the universe: compassion for our fellow beings. When we feel with those suffering, we access a deep passion to act. We, like Diana, can rush onto the battlefields of our times and work to create change. Feminine power is often found in compassion.
Violence does not define humanity—beauty, resilience, and self-sacrifice do
The very thing that gives Diana the power to continue (when she is literally strapped to the earth with little hope for escape) is watching someone she loves sacrifice themselves to give others a chance.
Ares tries to convince her humanity is dangerous, worthy only of destruction. But Diana does not agree, saying, “You’re wrong about them. They’re everything you say. BUT so much more.” In this declaration of the goodness in humanity, Diana is able to break the final chains that bind her to the earth, and she claims her power as a goddess who can save the world.
This myth can reveal truth to inform our own experience. Just like Diana, we can become paralyzed when we allow ourselves to be overcome by the extent of the violence and destruction around us. But also like Diana, when we focus on the goodness of humanity, we are freed to act in ways that reveal a beautiful power and strength.
Love can save the world—but we can must chose for ourselves
As the film comes to a close, Diana declares only love can save the world. Humans might have destructive, jealous, hateful tendencies—but they are capable of great love, too. Diana realizes she cannot make this choice for humanity; instead each individual person must choose to believe in the power of love and to allow others the space to make that same choice.
This point reminds me of my work in the field of domestic violence. Too often others who think they are helping try to take choices away from victims. In an attempt to protect them, we try to keep people from choosing something we think is stupid and destructive (like staying with their partner, “sleeping around,” or coping with alcohol). However, victims must be allowed to make their own choices. If we take choice away from a survivor of violence, we are no better than their perpetrator (whose trademark is taking power and choice away).
The truth in this myth is that we must choose for ourselves to love, but we cannot control the choices of others. Learning only love can save the world means we must love others enough to allow the power of choice and hope they will also choose love in the end.
We can transform the oppressive power of patriarchy into the life-giving power of self-awareness and autonomy
At the end of the film, Ares, the male god of war and Diana’s ultimate opponent, directs his destructive lightning energy against Diana. But instead of destroying her, the energy becomes the very thing that empowers Diana. In this fascinating twist, she grabs the light meant to harm her and takes control of the destructive force, using it to shine.
The truth in the myth here is that patriarchal power tends to be destructive when we allow it to flow unimpeded into us. But like Diana, we have an ability to transform this oppressive energy by infusing it with love and changing it from something that oppresses and destroys us to something that motivates and emboldens us.
This is how we create a more compassionate world, a world in which we understand the divine spark is alive and powerful in each of us, just waiting to be kindled into the blazing light of love.
These truths within the Wonder Woman myth are beautiful! Women need not be held back by cultural restrictions and rules. We must nurture competency and compassion in each other to create a new way of being. We are capable of acting with great authority and conviction. It is our choice to choose love and claim our own voices.
Wonder Woman is truly a divine feminine myth for our day, filled with beautiful truths empowering for people everywhere. As we experience this narrative, may we find our inner feminine divine and join Dianna as love saves the world.
For “this is my mission now” and forever.