I hate doing topical posts, but this feels important. There have been any number of thinkpieces about Wonder Woman and the movie’s importance to female representation on the silver screen. There have also been thinkpieces about the inadequacy of Wonder Woman in that way (a white, cis-gendred, rail thin, young woman with symettrical features is hardly the Every Woman).
But before I get to Wonder Woman, a little story.
I’ve lived in Canada for almost two decades. My family and I moved here two months before the start of the eighth grade. One of the benefits of having a compulsive obsession with TV is that I was totally fluent, at least orally, on my first day of school. And I worked HARD to kill any sign of an accent. The biggest compliment I could get was people’s disbelief that I wasn’t actually born here.
Anyway, the strange thing about being a brand new immigrant to a country you didn’t know existed until two months before the move but being completely fluent is that people don’t give you the same gentle orientation. People assume that since you speak the language, you pretty much get everything and resent it when you fail to meet that expectation. Balls and Chain and I often laugh about my discomfort around Canadians while he, born right in the city, is constantly fielding “where are you REALLY from?” questions for unwell-meaning strangers.
So the story. A few months into the eighth grade, I was in home ec or whatever they called the class where they taught you basic Life Skills like making a soup and sewing together a fake mouse out of precut pieces. And my period hits. My stomach is somehow both exploding and imploding at the same time and I need to get to a bathroom. So I do what I always did. I skulked up close to my [female] teacher and tried to get her attention as quietly as possible.
This is when I learned about Canadian Personal Distance. In response to my, “excuse me, miss” she responded with “umm! First of all!” And took an enormous step back, tripling the distance between us. “Now what is it?”
Thing about Israelis is that we’re sort of famous for our temper. I tried the Nice Canadian Way, or at least what I thought was the Nice Canadian Way, and it backfired. So I shouted at the top of my lungs “I HAVE MY PERIOD!” And stormed out to use the bathroom.
I felt like shit. I still feel like shit thinking about it and it was 17 years ago. It was a reminder that I didn’t belong. That I didn’t understand anyone of the people around me. That they didn’t understand me. That what they did understand, they didn’t like.
Since then, I have resented Canadians their Niceness. I have envied it. I have pitied it. Sometimes, I felt I even embodied it, for better or worse. But even now, married to a Canadian-born man, with a wonderful Canadian-born father who both get me about as much as anyone has, I don’t ever feel quiet at ease in the West. I’ve never been back, but I’m sure I’m not Israeli enough for the people there anymore than I am Canadian enough for people here.
It is a sentiment I often see shared with other immigrants, regardless of their origins. A sense of loss of both their home and sense of self in a way that feels completely unfixable because it would essentially require the sacrifice of one of two parts that feel equally foundational to who you are now.
As a feminist, I read a lot about representation in media. To be honest, I’ve always read those stories with a sort yes nodding if a bit vacant, “I couldn’t know how that feels, but I believe you have a right to want to see people like you and I would appreciate some variety in what I watch” kind of way. After all, while being a woman limits me in seeing something of myself on the screen, I am white (even if my heritage muddles the water for the less enlightened). And even though there aren’t many Jewish characters on screen, I see the uniquely Jewish anxiety flying off the screen from WASPy faces reciting the words of Jewish authors and playwrights.
And when I really wanted to see a woman at the centre of the story, I’ve always had Disney, which for its many, many flaws, have known what a goldmine that is.
I remember when I saw the first trailer for Wonder Woman and I heard her speak. She spoke with an accent. Holy shit Wonder Woman has an accent! Of course she has an accent! She’s Greek! Why would she speak English with an American accent? Why had it never occurred to me that she would speak like, well like the people I grew up with. Like I would have sounded if I hadn’t beaten my accent out in my failed attempt at assimilation.
This morning I saw it, and suddenly every thinkpiece on representation made sense. Not academically but right in the gut. I saw my arm flaps, my scoffs, my still stilted way of phrasing things in English, the way in which the language still feels foreign when it leaves my mouth even though I speak it better than either of my mother tongues. I had been missing something and I didn’t even know it until I saw it. Holy hell it’s a damn near religious experience to see your reflection up there.
When Diana and Trevor argued over how to proceed after an obstacle came their way at about the 1/3 mark, the way she spoke literally gave me chills. I thought I was going to cry. I saw myself in a protagonist in a way I never had before and not the endless DC-esque exposition, the weirdly out of place rom-com clichés, and the jarring changes in tone from scene to scene could change that.
The movie was not have been perfect. It’s attempts at depth mostly fell unsurprisingly flat. Its use of the wrongs against Indigenous nations and people of colour was tokenist at best and apologist at worst. The women were still sexualized. The acting fluctuated from excellent to snapping me out of my movie trance bad (nuance is important, guys). Literally every character but Diana was as fleshed out as a mannequin.
But I can’t remember the last time a movie, a flighty little superhero flick at that, made me so fundamentally rethink what I believe, and I am so, so grateful for it.