Imagine my sheer pleasure of indulging in a Wonder Woman movie night.
Some things that delight me about this movie:
• An all-female society, full of fierce, strong women warriors.
• A strong female heroine, totally unfazed by men trying to tell her she’s wrong, she’s weak, and she’s impolite.
• A conversation between this strong woman and a male character regarding the twelve volumes of a treatise on bodily pleasures. She tells him, “You won’t like it….because they claim that when it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, unnecessary.”
Sure, it’s a cheesy movie. Sure, it has some flaws.
And, it was a great anecdote to the constant stream of media coverage with quite a different message.
Every classroom I go into, from fourth grade on up, can quickly and easily define gender stereotypes in America. Girls “should be” thin, attractive, tall, blond, sensitive, and caring. Boys “should be” strong, handsome, tough, providers who take charge of things.
Children as young as nine also have personal experiences with what happens when they step outside of those descriptors. They are teased, called names, and pressured overtly and covertly to get back inside the boxes made up of those adjectives.
One little girl, who had proudly told me she was in training to be a women’s activist, also had an emotional reaction to being labeled “the smart one” in her class.
“I know it’s a compliment,” she said. “But that’s all they say about me. Don’t they see the other parts of who I am?”
Since she was outgoing with her intelligence and system-challenging, she’s already been defined by her fourth-grade peers as “the one” who is smart and challenges the system — because it’s outside that flippin’ stereotypical box. She was simply asking to be seen as an entire person, who happens to be intelligent.
Similarly, boys who like art or are sensitive tell me similar things. They get labeled as “the nice one” because they have friends who are girls, enjoy art, or don’t particularly like sports. Being labeled “nice” happens if the kids are kind. The other place that frequently goes is “you’re so gay.”
And one of the most prevalent types of bullying remains regarding perceived sexual orientation—regardless of whether that perception is true. In other words, if you’re a teenager and someone thinks you are not straight, you are many more times likely to be bullied.
Seeing a blockbuster movie challenge some of these stereotypes—that do real damage to children and teens in our society—did my heart good.
Do I recommend you and your teens see it? Yes, and in order to delve deeper into the significance of these messages, have a discussion about it afterward. Here are some starting places:
• What do you think has changed for women in society since WWI? What hasn’t?
• What do you think about Wonder Woman’s struggle with whether or not to help humanity?
• What do you think about what Steve Trevor tells her, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe.” What do you believe is most important?
• How does this movie challenge stereotypes about gender? How does it reinforce them?
• How can you challenge those stereotypes in your daily life?
Go forth, mere mortals of Federal Way. Do your part for truth and justice — and smashing gender stereotypes.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.