How Justice League panders to male gaze with overt sexualisation of Wonder Woman

The Ladies Finger

Nov,21 2017 16:25 37 IST

By Shruti Sunderraman

There was not a single butt shot of Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, which released in May this year. Not a single one. I almost wept into my popcorn in delight. After sitting at the nerd table in high school for years, defending Wonder Woman against the unnecessary objectification to which she’d been subjected, I felt like the Greek goddesses had finally heard my prayers and presented to us, Patty Jenkins, the director of the movie. And to top it off, she saved the DC Comics’ cinematic universe from falling apart. Wonder Woman had saved the day – as she’s used to doing.

But no one could save her from the unlearning eye of the DC universe for too long. In the recently released Justice League, Wonder Woman’s entry involved a long shot of Gal Gadot’s thighs. This obvious attempt to titillate was something I wasn’t subjected to in an entire movie about Wonder Woman. As people in the theatre whistled, I felt like I was back at the nerd table in high school again.

Then again, Justice League has not been directed by a woman. Zack Snyder, the movie’s director, stuck to a lot of crowd pleasers, including the fan favourite of turning Wonder Woman into a sex object – the very thing the female-led crew of Wonder Woman fought mercilessly against.

While I sat in the theatre and played back to myself the various ways that female characters are treated in superhero movies, I made a list of strikes against Justice League.

Wonder Woman in Justice League.

Strike one: The savage onslaught of cleavage

You’d be hard-pressed to find a cleavage shot throughout Wonder Woman. The movie introduced us to the Amazons, a race of ancient female warriors who fought against mythical evil forces. An entire race of fierce, beautiful women on a remote island? Surely, this meant lots of cleavage in store for fans? Nope. Nyet. Nada. Not even one. Why? Because their cleavage, or lack thereof, was not relevant to their narrative as warriors.

But Zack Snyder completely forgot this, of course. Diana (Wonder Woman’s real name) is subjected to multiple cleavage shots that are completely irrelevant to the scene. What’s cleavage got do with fighting an ancient creature? I thought we left Xena the Warrior Princess behind in the 2000s. Also, every scene involving Diana not wearing her uniform involves clothes with a plunging neckline. The demi-goddess warrior princess of the Amazons spends her leisure plotting ways to keep her cleavage in focus

Even the Queen of Atlantis (who lives underwater, for heaven’s sake) could not escape Snyder’s strategic cleavage shots. Scenes with shirtless Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Henry Cavill (Superman) only highlight their heroism. No objectification here.

Strike two: Butt… Snyder has no problem

Gal Gadot has no such luck. Aside from the opening scene, there’s another involving Diana and some terrorists trying to stage a bank robbery. For some reason, this scene involves a completely pointless butt shot. The terrorist tries to shoot Diana; she slides onto the floor and dodges every bullet. The terrorist is probably shocked and awed. But we never find out exactly how shocked and awed he looked. Because Snyder decided it was more important to focus the camera on Diana’s butt than on the terrorist’s face in the background.

I wanted to kick Snyder’s butt for reducing a badass fight scene to blatant objectification.

Strike three: Swipe left on Alfred Tinder

There was a time when Alfred, Bruce Wayne a.k.a Batman’s butler and caretaker, would assist Batman on his adventures and occasionally make giggle-worthy comments about him such as when Michael Caine played the character in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Alfred was cheeky and I immensely enjoyed it. In Justice League, however, Alfred’s primary job appears to involve getting Batman laid.

When Wayne says that he’s only interested in Diana’s skill set (which he should be, since they’re formidable), Alfred smirks and says, “Sure you are.” I’d expect to hear this in bro culture conversations over beer, but not from Alfred (played by Jeremy Irons in Justice League) who’s generally known to speak about women respectfully in the comics and previous Batman movies.

Alfred returns with his human Tinder-ness later in the movie when he makes fun of Wayne again for not getting it on with Diana. Never thought I’d say this, but can we swipe left on Alfred?

Strike four: When men design female superhero costumes

What’s a superhero without her costume? Well, still a superhero, just without the visual drama of one. In Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, the Amazons were dressed to befit the functionality of the warriors they were in costumes designed by Lindy Hemmings. They were covered in tough armour and any skin their costumes revealed only served to grant them full and swift movement.

But in some scenes in Justice League, the Amazonian costumes showed the ferocious Amazon warriors in skimpy leather outfits. The costumes showed the women’s midriffs and highlighted the shape of their breasts. No prizes for guessing who designed the costumes – a man, of course. One can argue in favour of Michael Wilkinson’s designs by saying that they were meant to depict ancient Amazonians who didn’t have advanced costumes.

Umm, firstly, shut up only.

The male ancient Atlantians in the movie who fought alongside Amazonians against Steppenwolf, the antagonist, were dressed up in costumes aimed at functionality and pride – no skimpy clothing for them. They were dressed like heroes. But ancient Amazonians received no such treatment. They were subjected to the full measure of the male gaze.

Even Batman was given an extra muscular, extra padded uniform in Justice League to contrast him against the lithe, slim figure of Wonder Woman.

The problem with Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not in the redesigns of the costumes or the plotlines but in its inherent gaze. In Wonder Woman, Diana was introduced as the warrior princess out to save the world – Jenkins highlighted Diana’s compassion, abilities and spunk above all else. The female gaze held the woman to the standards to which she holds herself. In complete contrast, Snyder’s Justice League treats Diana the way my comic book dudebros in high school did – the hot chick amid some hot dudes, wearing a skirt and fighting and shit.

Snyder reduced Wonder Woman to the sexist ashes from which she was raised by Jenkins. Wonder Woman is easily the best and sanest of the golden trio she’s part of with Batman and Superman. She has an inherent kindness that is never impeded by logic. At the same time, her decisions are not marred by overt sentimentality either. She is intuitive, fierce and has an unforgiving courage. But, of course, for Zack Snyder, she’s just a sword-swishing woman with the greatest butt his camera has beheld.

Patty Jenkins showed him better. She taught the superhero world that the sexist treatment of female characters and superhero movie plots are not inherently linked concepts. But Snyder didn’t learn and created a league of his own male gazers. And they certainly do no justice, to the League or otherwise.

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine