Dear DC Comics: the Amazons are warriors, not sex icons

The hypersexualized armour design for Justice League is both unrealistic and regressive

By Gabrielle McLaren, Staff Writer

One sticky-hot summer day, my best friend and I walked out of the movie theatre and sat in her car finishing our candy and gushing about how we
finally had a superhero movie with a female superhero.  

Ah, Wonder Woman. Women played an instrumental role in your creation and casting. You were interesting, with a punchy script, an awesome soundtrack, and killer action scenes. Better yet, Batman wasn’t there for once. Though they doubted you, Wonder Woman, you are officially the highest-grossing superhero origin movie of all time, you and your $821.74 million box office sales.

I can’t believe DC ruined such a good thing.

Now part of the DC cinematic universe, Wonder Woman appears in Justice League (released November 17). Though Gal Gadot reprises the role, the Amazons themselves have changed. More precisely their costumes, which now leave the Amazons’ stomachs, shoulders, and legs barer, as well as draw more attention to their breasts.

It’s an uncomfortable throwback to Princess Leia’s slave bikini, which Carrie Fisher hated. And it hasn’t escaped anybody that the transition coincides with new male directors and costume designers . . . Though the actresses portraying the Amazons have spoken out against the backlash, saying that they were not made to feel more sexualized or in any way uncomfortable onset, I’m still displeased.

Here’s your classical canon. In her book The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, historian Adrienne Mayor follows the trail of warrior burials and pottery shards that led the Ancient Greeks to imagine an entire nation of women warriors.

The DC canon is that the Amazons of Themyscira are an immortal, ethnically diverse race of warrior women, blessed by Olympian goddesses and birthed from the souls of women who unjustly died at the hands of men. Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, at a time when women were taking their place in voting booths, factories, the war effort, and society as a whole.

Her creator, Dr. William Moulton Martson, was a noted feminist in a polyamorous relationship with two women, and a psychologist deeply concerned with how Americans viewed violence and women.  He noted that “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development, and equality of women in all fields of human activity.”

Changes in Wonder Woman’s costumes over the decades reflect superheroes’ ability to mutate and reflect social change, including a shrinking hemline in the ‘60s and ‘70s as first-wave feminism took off. A historiography of Wonder Woman reads as a parallel to the history of feminism, which is why this armour change is so upsetting.

Sure, Spider-Man’s suit changes from movie to movie, but that’s by a hair, not in design, intention, or colour scheme. The new Amazonian armour seems especially foolish when costume designers have already noted that the boob-cup encrusted breastplate design would counterproductively direct the pressure on your chest so that in the event of a hit or a fall, your sternum would shatter.  

Physics aside, this armour is sexist. Yes, a woman has the right to wear and present her body however she wants. But we’re in a world where women are overly sexualized and denied agency and control of their own bodies, as the survivors of sexual violence and harassment who are stepping into the public light show. Besides, the Amazons are, shockingly, not real. The image onscreen is not their own; it is a male creator’s projection.  

What I appreciated about the original armour design was that it prioritized the Amazons’ warrior aspect. Everything from the material used to the shape of the armour referenced Roman armour, and its design allowed for and enhanced their fighting style. This new armour showcases the powerful and athletic builds of the Amazons, but would leave them extremely vulnerable in battle. Their greaves have shortened, their arms are bare, and nothing protects their groins.

This change is not practical, and it shifts the focus to the Amazons’ femininity. Though this femininity is an extremely important part of their characterization, journey, and history, it should not come at the cost of their warrior nature.

After this, I don’t want to hear any more complaining from superhero movie fans when characters are recast with new races or sexualities — à la Sam Wilson as a black Falcon. Don’t throw consistency in the face of progressive productions that reflect contemporary realities, when two movies can’t maintain the same costume design for the same group of women for a year.

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