Natasha Franks anticipates the new Wonder Woman film and discusses how the costumes of past superheroines have been innately sexist.
Two actresses have played Wonder Woman on film: Linda Carter in the 70s television series, and now Gal Gadot in Warner Brothers’ sprawling DC universe. This, in comparison to the nine variations of Batman and Superman that have graced our screens, and to the regular rebooting of Marvel’s Spider-Man. Despite being among the largest superhero names in the world, DC has handled Wonder Woman as a tertiary character. Only now, as her first feature film approaches, does she have a moment in the spotlight.
Poor treatment of female superheroes dates back to the early days of comic books. In the original Fantastic Four comics, Susan Storm was referred to as “The Invisible Girl” and spent most of her time being slapped by her husband or left behind on missions. In 1988, editor Len Wein approved a storyline that would paralyse Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) with the phrase “Cripple the bitch.” In every case, female subjugation is reinforced by their fashion. Bodice-ripping bodysuits, miniskirts, tight leather trousers. Not only did they receive poor treatment at the hands of their creators and co-stars, but female superheroes were forced into physical subservience with inherently inferior outfits.
Their jump to film has been fraught with that innate sexism. The process is further complicated by the fact that many female superheroes began as side characters to male leads: Batgirl to Batman, Supergirl to Superman, Black Widow to Iron Man. The male characters appeared front and centre, their muscles drawn with painstaking detail. Female characters were no more than “sexy” versions of the men, scantily clad compatriots in low-cut tops and thigh high skirts. Despite Wonder Woman being an independent character, DC has continued this trend by introducing her through the vehicle of Batman v Superman - once again, her body exposed in comparison to her male counterparts. Similarly, Marvel has yet to produce a standalone Black Widow movie, even though she has featured heavily in each Avengers instalment and multiple tie-in films (in a skintight catsuit, naturally).
Until now, there have been only two female-led superhero movies - Elektra and Catwoman, rivals for the title of “worst superhero movie ever made.” Between horrendous acting, poor special effects, and lacklustre dialogue, nearly every scene of each film is painful to watch. Consequently, detractors often bring up these films as examples of why female leads cannot work. For some reason, male-helmed disasters (The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, Batman & Robin, the 1990 Captain America…) are not used as examples of why male superheroes are not suitable for film. Once again, the superheroes’ clothes reinforce their standing in society. Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry were squeezed into revealing leather bodysuits, while the most titillating aspect of the male costumes were the nipples on George Clooney’s bat-suit.
This summer, Wonder Woman will arrive. I admit I have watched the trailers with a certain degree of anxiety, considering DC’s recent bout of misfires and her leg-baring unitard. But there is more riding on Wonder Woman than on Suicide Squad, which used its female leads as scantily clad sex appeal. Wonder Woman brings with her hope for the future of female superheroes in film. On June 2 2017, our wait may finally be over.