When I saw Wonder Woman last weekend, there were two primary thoughts on my mind: 1) how much I enjoyed the movie, and 2) where the hell Gal Gadot got the creme blush she wears in the movie. (I'm still waiting for the answer on that second question, BTW, so I hope the makeup artist comes out with a book sometime). But mostly, I left Wonder Woman excited for the day that I could show it to my 5-month-old son Sol — and not just because the movie contains a strong feminist message. The best reason to take your kid to see Wonder Woman is that it's one of the few mainstream — and even fewer blockbuster — depictions of a beautiful, powerful, and unabashedly sex-positive woman.
With her high-heeled boots, stars-and-stripes bodysuit, and shiny, lustrous mane of dark hair, Wonder Woman is an inherently sexualized superheroine (and in fact, the character was conceived by William Moulton Marston, an early polyamorist and bondage fetishist who advocated for the erotic submission of men to women. But considering critics' complaints that DC Comics ignores its female audience, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Wonder Woman movie turn the character into a one-dimensional bombshell.
That's not what Gadot's portrayal of Wonder Woman is at all, though. Instead, the film (which is helmed by female director Patty Jenkins) depicts a woman who is totally in control of her own sexual urges and has a voracious sexual appetite. Yes, she is lusted after by her male compatriots, but she's also the one doing the majority of the lusting. And that's something that we rarely see in cinematic portrayals of women.
In the film, Gadot plays Diana Prince, a princess on an island of Amazon warriors. She has never seen a man before Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a World War I-era spy, crashes his plane off the coast of the island. Almost immediately, Steve Trevor is smitten with Diana, but the feeling is mutual, as reflected by Diana's lustful gaze when she encounters his glistening, sinewy naked body after her mother, Queen Hippolyte, imprisons him. Her intentions with Steve are clear, and they're much more lascivious than the film's PG-13 rating would suggest.
It is the most blatant plug for female masturbation in a mainstream movie that I have ever seen.
But even though Diana is clearly sexually attracted to Steve, her upbringing on the all-female island has taught her that she is perfectly capable of handling sexual fulfillment on her own, thank you very much. In fact, she straight-up says this during one of the movie's best scenes (which was also, according to Pine and Gadot, improvised): After doing research on the male anatomy, she "came to the conclusion that when it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, not necessary." The line is played for laughs, but the message is clear: a woman as strong, powerful, and independent as Diana doesn't need a dude to get her off. It is the most blatant plug for female masturbation in a mainstream movie that I have ever seen.
The movie is also notable because, although many of Diana's male compatriots leer and ogle at her, what they are most impressed by is not her physical beauty but her general badassery. Unlike most women in superhero movies (such as Catwoman or Supergirl), she doesn't use her sexuality to manipulate people or to get ahead; because she's been raised on an island without men, she doesn't know how to. Her sexuality is secondary to her primary goal, which is to find the god of war and bring an end to World War I, thus redeeming mankind.
In a world where it is taken for granted that women don't have as much sexual desire as men do — a world that still assumes that virginity is a precious commodity, a "jewel" that women give to men in exchange for a ring on their finger — it is remarkably progressive that a superhero movie would depict a woman with as much sexual agency as a man.
Of course, because Wonder Woman is a mainstream film that adheres to mainstream cinematic tropes, Diana does spend a romantic evening with Steve Trevor (and honestly, why wouldn't she, because even though he is the first human man she has ever met, he looks like a guy who would play Prince Charming for his summer job at Disney World).
But unlike most action movies, where the man is clearly the one who initiates sexual contact, Diana leads Steve to her bedroom, a conscious decision on Jenkins' part indicating that she is the driving force behind their sexual encounter. While the scene could've been improved upon with a more explicit conversation about the importance of consent — after all, as Slate pointed out, considering Diana has the street smarts of a newborn baby at this point, her capacity to fully consent to sex is somewhat ambiguous — her desire for sex is clear, and her ability to initiate is clear as well.
It's difficult to overestimate just how significant this is. In a world where it is taken for granted that women don't have as much sexual desire as men do — a world that still assumes that virginity is a precious commodity, a "jewel" that women give to men in exchange for a ring on their finger — it is remarkably progressive that a superhero movie would depict a woman with as much sexual agency as a man. It's also remarkable that such a film would cater to young people, who are in the very early process of shaping their views on gender and sexuality. Even if the message is not explicit, it is clear: women are not only just as powerful as men, they are also just as capable of sexual desire as men are. And they don't just use their sexuality as a good to be bartered, or as a weapon that they use to get what they want: they cheerfully use their sexuality for no other end than to, well, have sex.
As the mother of a 5-month-old son, I recognize that it will be quite some time before I have any discussion of sexuality with him in any form (or at least, I hope that it will be quite some time). But I also recognize that representation matters, and that the gender and sexuality scripts he learns from popular culture will be instilled in him long before he can fully understand or put a name to them.
For that reason, I am excited for him to see Wonder Woman, because I want him to see what it looks like for a woman to be both unapologetically badass and unapologetically sexual. I want him to see that women are just as capable of lust as men are, and that they are just as deserving of pleasure. Most of all, I want him to learn that women are not just objects of desire, both sexual and nonsexual, but active agents of it; and that strong women can and should go after what they want — and that, I think, is a message that children of all ages can appreciate.