The Composition of a Strong Woman

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Today, James Cameron, director of such Hollywood hits as Terminator, Alien and Titanic, was embroiled in controversy over his comments on the movie Wonder Woman. And, unsurprisingly, those comments perpetuated the discussion over whether or not Wonder Woman is a fitting example of a "strong woman."

"All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood's been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She's an objectified icon, and it's just male Hollywood doing the same old thing!" he fumed. "I'm not saying I didn't like the movie but, to me, it's a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!"

Can I get a show of hands of women who are tired of being told by men who we can hold up as icons of strength? I'm fairly confident those are waters we can navigate for ourselves, you know, being strong women and all that. The ever-classy Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman, showed us all how a strong woman does things, giving a perfect response to his comments this morning via Twitter: 

"James Cameron's inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stand for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman. Strong women are great. His praise of my film Monster, and our portrayal of a strong yet damaged woman was so appreciated. But if women have to always be hard, tough and trouble to be strong, and we aren't free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven't come very far have we. I believe women can and should be EVERYTHING just like male lead characters should be. There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman. And the massive female audience who made the film a hit it is, can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress."

And there you have it. What she nails perfectly is that women come in all shapes and sizes, both inside and out, and how they demonstrate strength can vary widely. To say that beautiful women cannot be a powerful inspiration simply because of how they look is absurd. Being beautiful does not make you less capable of intelligence, goodness and emotional depth, and it does not make you any less deserving of respect. Anyone telling you otherwise is a fool. 

Additionally, objectification requires someone to do the objectifying. So if Cameron sees objectification in Wonder Woman simply because she shows her legs and arms, maybe he needs to do a little self-reflection. 

What Cameron fails to recognize is that being a "strong woman" does not mean being masculine. In fact, it means that women should be free to be themselves without a man dictating their behavior. Hmm... Strength is not a purely masculine trait requiring women who wish to demonstrate it to shed their femininity. A woman can be just as powerful in high heels and lipstick as she can in a leather jacket and torn jeans. 

Here are a few moments of strength Wonder Woman exhibits that no short skirt or full lips can diminish: 

  • She can lift a tank. Over her head. If we are speaking in the literal, she's got strength covered.
  • Despite being beautiful, she never once uses her appearance to get her way. 
  • She leaves everything she loves behind to fight for people who, as the film states repeatedly, do not deserve her, because she knows it is the right thing to do. 
  • She never attempts to hide her emotions. Whether she is overjoyed or in anguish, she is brave enough to show her feelings rather than cover them up in a misguided attempt to be strong. Authenticity is strength.
  • She speaks up for truth and goodness in a room full of men who have already written her off. 
  • She is a true leader, running first into dangerous situations and inspiring others to follow.
  • Even after experiencing extreme loss, she fights on. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, she chooses love over hatred. Is there anything more strong than that? 

Strength is not a quality that must be displayed in a single way. The women we encounter every day may not be wearing golden gauntlets or carrying lassos of truth, and most of them probably can't lift tanks over their heads, but each of them are fighting their own battles. The way we demonstrate strength to fight our way through them cannot be dictated by any person and neither can what we choose to inspire us in our battle. Tears can be a show of strength. Gentleness and kind words can be a show of strength. Just getting out of bed tomorrow morning can be a show of strength. And whether or not you are wearing makeup while you do these things is absolutely irrelevant. 

Women spoke this summer. Wonder Woman will finish as the highest grossing film of the summer season, and that is due in large part to the response women had to seeing the most iconic female superhero of all time step into the limelight for the first time on the big screen. 

Wonder Woman inspires me to be healthier, to be braver and to be more authentic in every situation, and I am sure I am not the only one. I hope that she is only one of many in a series of strong women on the big screen who will display their strength in a beautiful kaleidoscope of diversity, inspiring each and every women to be strong in her own way.