When looking at a popular film figure like Wonder Woman, how many of us see her body? How many of us only see her face? How many of us view who she stands beside?
Though many people may be unaware of it, Wonder Woman, the popular comics heroine who has since become a cinematic hero, is not viewed separately from what she stands beside and how she stands. She has been coded in a way throughout her history that makes a very specific impression of who she is, what she does and how her creators want you, her audience, to view her?
Is it intentional? Probably not. But it still shows that there are some aspects of this character, of other female characters and of women in general that are still dictated, subconsciously, by what the male gender requires.
There are some exceptions, but generally, we are used to women who look and behave a certain way. We see the attractive female is shorter than the attractive man. We want close-ups of the attractive woman’s body and face, because what matters the most about the woman his her appearance, whereas with the male comic book heroes like Batman or Superman, we are introduced to the idea that their qualities are more important than their appearance.
This sort of difference is apparent in how Wonder Woman is shown – from silhouettes of her online to comic appearances, to the 1960’s show starring Linda Carter, and finally the recent version of her portrayed by Gal Gadot. Wonder Woman has always been different compared to male superheroes. She is sexualized, not just with her clothing but also when compared to the male heroes she works with, in how she stands, who she stands beside, and the profile of her used in images.
This method of portraying women is discussed in John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” a theorist focused on how we see men and women.
( Click here to see the actual collage: http://i.picpar.com/FdKc.png and a list of all of the sources of these images is included below. )
“Ways of Seeing”
Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” details a very specific theory on how women and men are seen. The male perspective is all about action – what he can do, power and ability. In comparison, a woman is more focused on appearance. A woman needs to be seen first, and her actions are usually always meant to be reciprocated. They are an appearance as well. This means that, for Berger, a woman is self-conscious of herself, and the role the woman occupies is being a spectacle for the man.
Berger analyses different forms of art in his “Ways of Seeing” that feature women in a position that contrasts similar art featuring men. Although much of his work is focused on paintings and antiquity, it still relates greatly to more recent works.
But does this mean that women can’t look at themselves? According to John Berger, when women do look at themselves – in a mirror, or anywhere else, it is because they are self-conscious. They are in a position where the male voyeur is the focus. “A woman’s presence expresses her own attitude for herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her” (Berger 46) in particular shows that Berger’s theory shows the woman as an aspect that does not innately possess the power or ability like men do. Rather, everything is done to the woman. Berger simplifies this by saying “men act and women appear” (47).
Where is she looking? Who is looking at her? Questions like these pose the biggest importance for Berger in his initial four chapters, where he describes that women in European art typically look at the male spectator out of the painting frames. She becomes a spectacle for the audience that views her, most likely male, in Berger’s narrative.
His theory encompasses a way of viewing the females we have seen on television, in films and in media. There is more to how a woman is portrayed than simply the sexual acts she is committing or her clothing. The intricate ways in which we represent women extend to more than just their appearance.
Ways of Seeing Wonder Woman
The implications for this is that the representation of Wonder Woman, a female character who has been an idol and a representation of feminism since the 1940’s, is widely different from what she may be represented as. Although this is not the first study to look at Wonder Woman’s sexuality, I am using an approach that looks at more than the acts she performs. Viewing Wonder Woman in comparison to other heroes in the same frame as her, or who she is looking at, through Berger’s theorized “Ways of Seeing” reveals an entirely different view of Wonder Woman.
I chose the form of a collage, using Photoshop to prepare it, in part because Wonder Woman is a comic character, and there are multiple layers of comics. She is usually in multiple frames, with each one showing a subtle difference in each frame. She is often the centre of the frame, with her looking outward, while others look at her. Like Berger’s analysis of women, appearance and power, Wonder Woman, despite being a character of power, will always be viewed shorter than the male characters surrounding her. Even in her now critically acclaimed appearance as Wonder Woman in “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman arrives on the scene, and despite carrying weapons and presenting herself as a powerful demi-goddess, she is viewed by her male spectators, never looking back at them in the same way. Her physical presence is slim, trimmed and shown as attractive for the viewers to gaze at, especially compared to her bulkier, stronger looking counterparts in Batman and Superman (played by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill respectively). This is similar to Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, who is slimmer than the Wonder Woman introduced in 1940. These Wonder Women are meant to appease her audience, the male audience that wants to view her body the way they see women attractive in their day and age.
She looks radiant. But she is a spectacle for who she is looking at. Her body is facing forward, and she is not the one between herself and her two male companions who is best sculpted, with each aspect of her body in comparison lighted, and contoured. The focus for her is being the spectacle for her viewers.
I selected a variety of images from comics available both online and offline, over periods of time, with her alone in the frame or with Batman and Superman in the same frame as her. I tried to keep the images as varied as possible. I also situated the actual collage inside of a silhouette of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, in order to make it seem framed and layered, something important to comics. She is a spectacle, and having the features of a popular actress who has played her as the actual canvas in which these images are laid helps to emphasize what she means. Showing these images together, arranging them in a way that shows the importance of her being centralized in the image, with her beauty and her appearance being the central topic, reveals that even in 2017, Wonder Woman is still a highly sexualized character.
(I’ve linked the images from my collage at the following location: https://drive.google.com/open?id=16TI4zaL5i6ovRF9gV9-_sLbzz-2jN_P_ )
This isn’t just the case in the film. Wonder Woman’s first appearance in 1940 has led to countless appearances with other male characters. Examples ranging overtime show her face, how much of a closeup is required to show her curves and her expression, and the lack of focus on Batman and Superman, two of her most notable partners, when they do appear beside her. A collage is one way to show the multiple formats of her appearance, in one image, layed like a comic, so that it’s almost impossible to not see what John Berger meant about women being concerned with their appearance, while the men are shown for their power and ability.
So why is this important? Who does it influence?
Implications of Female Representations in Comics
It’s no secret that the presence of Wonder Woman in media generates a lot of feminist movement simply based on what she looks like, how she looks. Thousands of young women and young men are seeing her and seeing her as a representation of what the ideal woman should be. She is in films, in television shows, in their toys and especially in every cover of every DC comic, whether as a leading character or as a promotional image inside. She is a part of pop culture, and media gobbles up every image of her shot or produced. It shows that women are only to be viewed, have no power, and are mere reflections of what the viewer expects of her.
Recognizing when a woman is displayed in a way that makes her a spectacle will help change the perception of the female body. Wonder Woman is just one of many female characters in a wider array of the works that are represented in a way that may be harmful to how women are viewed in general. Berger’s work tries to question the conventions in which women are portrayed and what the portrayals mean. Men and women are viewed in different ways, and throughout history, have continued to be viewed in this way.
Wonder Woman is looking at a male audience. She has men looking back at her, and her appearance is what qualifies her. She is what her viewer, a male, needs her to be. At the end of the day, knowing what we are viewing and how it is being viewed makes a significant impact on how we perceive it. Wonder Woman is a feminist figure, she is a powerful woman, but she is still subject to our gazes. Her appearance is at the end of the day what you will most remember about her, as opposed to her power or her abilities as a goddess or warrior. Who she stands beside won’t elevate her to their level. Knowing and being able to recognize this makes a difference in how you will perceive women in future media.
Peters, Brian M., and Brian M. Peters. “Qu(e)Erying Comic Book Culture and Representations of Sexuality in Wonder Woman.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2003, pp. 6.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 1999.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 1972.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Directed by Zack Snyder, DC Entertainment, 19 Mar, 2016.
Work Cited for Collage Images
Miller, Frank. All Star Batman & Robin No. 5, DC Comics, 2007.
McDuffie, Dwayne. Justice League of America. Vol 2, No. 14, DC Comics, 2007.
Tomasi, Peter. Superman/Wonder Woman. Vol 1, No. 28, DC Comics, 2016.
Buccellato, Brian. Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Four Vol 1, No.5, DC Comics, 2015.
Soule, Charles. Superman/Wonder Woman No. 7, DC Comics, 2014, page 1.
Loeb, Jeph. Superman/Batman. No. 10, DC Comics, 2004, page 2.
Jimenez, Phil. Wonder Woman. No. 186, DC Comics, 2002.
Azzarello, Brian. Superman. Vol 2, No. 211, DC Comics, 2005.
Johns, Geoff. Justice League. No. 1, DC Comics, 2011.
Loeb, Sam. Superman/Batman. No. 26, DC Comics, 2006.
Waid, Mark. JLA. Vol 1, No. 18, DC Comics, 1998.
Tomasi, Peter. Action Comics. Volume 2, No.52, DC Comics, 2016.
Loeb, Jeph. Superman/Batman. No. 10, DC Comics, 2004, cover.
Soule, Charles. Superman/Wonder Woman No. 7, DC Comics, 2014, page 3.
Daniel, Tony. Deathstroke. Vol 3, No. 8, DC Comics, 2015.
Finch, Meredith. Wonder Woman. Vol 4, No. 37, DC Comics, 2015.
Finch, Meredith. Wonder Woman. Vol 4, No. 37, DC Comics, 2015, David Finch variant cover.
Busiek, Kurt. DC’s Trinity. Vol 2, DC Comics, 2009, cover.
Busiek, Kurt. DC’s Trinity. Vol 1, No. 1, DC Comics, 2009.
Snyder, Scott. Dark Knight’s Metal. No. 1, DC Comics, 2017.
Johns, Geoff. Justice League. No. 3, DC Comics, 2012.
Wagner, Matt. Trinity. DC Comics, 2016.
Manapul, Francis. Trinity. Vol 2, No.6 , DC Comics, 2017.
Buccellato, Brian. Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Four Vol 1, No.9, DC Comics, 2015.
Loeb, Jeph. Superman/Batman. No. 9, DC Comics, 2004.
Wein, Len. Wonder Woman. Vol 1, No. 212, DC Comics, 1974.
Meltzer, Brad. Justice League of America. No. 12, DC Comics, 2006.
Mann, Clay. Trinity. No. 3, DC Comics, 2016.
Lee, Jim. Justice League Litograph. 2014.
Finch, Meredith. Wonder Woman. No. 42, DC Comics, 2015.
Lee, Jim. Icons. DC Comics, 2007.
Johns, Geoff. Justice League. Vol 2, No. 3, DC Comics, 2012.
Ross, Alex. Justice League of America Painting. 1999.
Rucka, Gregg. Wonder Woman Annual. No. 1, DC Comics, 2017.
Manapul, Francis. Trinity. No. 1, DC Comics, 2016.
Andreyko, Marc. Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77. No. 1, DC Comics, 2017.
Tomasi, Peter. Batman/Wonder Woman. No. 30, DC Comics, 2014.
Azzarello, Brian. Wonder Woman. No. 30, DC Comics, 2014.
Soule, Charles. Superman/Wonder Woman. Vol 1, No. 6, DC Comics, 2014.
Gage, Christos. Batman Beyond Universe. Vol 1, No. 10, DC Comics, 2014.
Andreyko, Marc. Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77. No. 10, DC Comics, 2017.
Tynion, James. DETECTIVE COMICS. No. 968, DC Comics, 2017, variant cover.
Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman. No. 1, DC Comics, 2016, variant.
Hitch, Bryan. Justice League. No. 27, DC Comics, 2017.
Johns, Geoff. Justice League. Vol 2, No. 13, DC Comics, 2012.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.