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Am I Really Going to Mansplain What Was Wrong With James Cameron’s Mansplaining of Wonder Woman?

It’s been a bad week for high profile male feminists. First Joss Whedon. Now James Cameron.

I’ve already written about the Whedon controversy, but I’ve been dragging my feet on whether or not to write anything about this new James Cameron-Wonder Woman mishap.

To recap, Cameron said this (in an interview with The Guardian):

“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! 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!”

Which prompted Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins to say this (on Twitter):

James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands 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 for 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 troubled 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 as a man I’m left with the impression that my opinion here doesn’t really matter. Never mind that, historically speaking, Cameron’s absolutely right about Wonder Woman being an objectified icon. Never mind, though, that he’s absolutely wrong about the Gal Gadot version being a step back just because Gadot is objectively gorgeous (what with being a former Miss Universe contestant). Who cares what I think about this because I’ll ultimately just be another man trying to mansplain the importance of a female character or arguing the finer points of female representation.

I’ve done that kind of thing before, but in this case I’m just….just tired of this endless debating. As I argued in my Whedon article, I see much of our ongoing usage of social media to express outrage over things like the Cameron/Jenkins he said/she said as being directly tied to our collective unease with the current state of the world which we then project onto these fights over ideas and ideals represented in pop culture. So, here we are again arguing over what really constitutes a strong female character or whether or not simply saying “strong female character” is sexist since you would never say “strong male character” while living in a world lorded over by Donald Trump.

Let’s just look at the end result:

Is the Gal Gadot Wonder Woman a worthy icon? Yes.

Are Ripley (in Aliens mode) and Sarah Connor (in T2 mode) among the greatest action heroines of all time? Yes. Easily. (I assume people remember how completely against-the-grain Linda Hamilton’s performance and physique as Sarah Connor was in T2, but maybe I shouldn’t.)

Now, the two people responsible for all of that are arguing on social media.  Perhaps it represents a generational shift, Cameron of the older belief that in order to make a female character more palatable in action you have to make her more like a male character and Jenkins of the newer belief that female characters can speak to the universal human experience, sometimes in completely non-gendered terms. You realize, though, that they both want the same thing; they just disagree on how to get there. And that when push comes to shove guys like Cameron and myself must concede that at a certain level we’ll never truly be able to understand any of this the way a woman can.

So, that’s me stepping back from the mansplaining and turning it over to you. What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments.



  1. Okay…let’s take this apart:
    1. Wonder Woman as an Icon is important. No one should ever deny this. I mean, Ripley and Sarah Conner are both great, but they weren’t around while woman fought for their right to leave the kitchen. Wonder Woman was.

    2. Thus said, I actually agree with Cameron that Wonder Woman in the movie is overrated, though not for the reasons he mentions. I always loved the Lynda Carter version, who went to earth because she earned the right during a completion which showed her being the strongest under already strong woman, and I liked the notion that the sky is the limit for woman if they aren’t impended by rules made up by males. I am kind of offended that nowadays Wonder Woman needs to be subject of some sort of prophecy in order to be a hero, and that the Amazons were literally created by a male god.

    3. This in mind I am actually take more offence to the statement that Sarah Connor is a terrible mother. She is the best mother imaginable, she knows what the future will bring and therefore does everything necessary to ensure that her son will survive. That is the job of a mother, to protect her child and prepare it for the future. The only person who would claim that Sarah Connor is a terrible mother can be someone who measures her based on what society has decided a mother should be like.

    4. Btw, Sarah Connor in T2 only works as well as she does because we also know Sarah Connor from T1. Seen in isolation she is actually a pretty flat character in T2, the interesting character development happens in T1. Meaning I do agree with Patty Jenkins that a strong female character doesn’t necessarily equal a kick-ass female character. There are a number of wonderful heroines which aren’t kick-ass at all. As I always say regard Mrs Brisby (who is by the way an even better female character than any mentioned so far): heroism isn’t the ability to fearlessly go into battle, it is to push forward no matter how terrified you are.

    In short, both are kind of right in this. But naturally I am the most right because I happen to be female with a feminist blog…just joking. I am sure that there are other females who would disagree with me. There is no definitive answer to this and for once, I am not even sure if it is worth discussing.

    1. It was strange for Cameron to disparage Connor as being a bad mother in such an off-handed kind of way. For all of the reasons you stated, it’s either that he misunderstood his own character or he was simply caught trying to over-simplify. Heck, one of the arcs in that movie is John hating Sarah and thinking she was a psycho horrible mom only to discover she was right about everything and was just doing the best she could.

      I also agree about Sarah in T2 versus T1. I highlighted T2 because that’s the one, or at least that’s the Linda Hamilton performance, which is remembered the most. However, watched on its own the T2 Sarah can feel aggressively one-note. It’s the knowing how far she’s come since the beginnong of the first movie that adds to her power.

      “As I always say regard Mrs Brisby (who is by the way an even better female character than any mentioned so far): heroism isn’t the ability to fearlessly go into battle, it is to push forward no matter how terrified you are. ”

      Well put.

      “There is no definitive answer to this and for once, I am not even sure if it is worth discussing.”

      To be honest, part of the reason I even discussed it is because I knew people would read it. It seems lately the internet is less interested in reviews or lists or whatever and more interested in hot takes on politicized controversies. Half the time, though, I’m just over here thinking, “But I’d really rather finish that Wind River film review.”

      1. Ha very very true KK. Although some of these discussions also sell movie tickets. I know I have given a few films a try solely due to your mild ramblings. Thanks by the way and keep them coming.

      2. It is highly likely that James Cameron unintentially threw some free advertizing WW’s way since it was actually celebrating its IMAX re-release and ramping up to its digital release. Then along comes some guy to again put WW into the victim role and draw out those who would defend and support it and encourage others to go see it, either again or for the first time.

      3. This is the Cameron who praised Genesys before we all went to watch it and learn the truth.

  2. I think the whole controversy is stupid. And I think it’s ridiculous a man has to apologize for having an opinion about an argument about a woman. In fact, I hate the word “mansplaining”.

    I think James’ idea belief that if a female character isn’t massively flawed as well as being strong then that’s an inappropriate image to portray is ludicrous.

  3. I feel that “male femisnts” tend to go overboard with their go beyond the looks comments. “Oh no!! Wonder Woman is being objectified” “Why can we just realize she is a strong independent Amazonian in a skirt?” It’s great that you can have a Riely character and It’s great that you can have Wonder Woman. One does not negate the other. I think Ms. Jenkins is correct we have come a long where you can have a a strong beautiful female character who can kick ass. More importantly, she doesn’t have to sleep around or seduce every male character. It’s a step in a right direction. You never know maybe in 50 years an Amy Schumer type can be Wonder Woman. Hopefully, I will be dead because I don’t want to see that bullshit.

    1. I read that at some opening weekend screenings of Wonder Woman when the No Man’s Land sequence arrived and Wonder Woman first popped up in that skirt there’d be a guy or two in the audience yelling out, “Take it off!”

      And we wonder why so many women flocked to those various Alamo Drafthouse women-only screenings.

      But, yeah, the “Is she being objectified?” question can be overblown. Will some people look at her with sin in their hearts? Yes. Unavoidably yes. Is that a reaction Jenkins actively encourages with her camerawork? No. This isn’t Michael Bay. The camera’s not halfway up WW’s skirt half the time as it would if this was Transformers and she was Megan Fox. Moreover, the film even includes that little Etta Candy joke about Diana being the most gorgeous women anyone’s ever seen regardless of whether or not she puts on those silly glasses.

      “You never know maybe in 50 years an Amy Schumer type can be Wonder Woman.”

      Then the jokers in the audience would yell out, “PUt it back on!” instead of “Take it off” because some things about humanity will never change.

      1. If she is being objectified that is a problem with males of today and not the character. She kicked most of the men on screen’s butts and showed layers of strength. As for men in the audience cheapening it by shouting slurs and perving to her, so what. Buy more cinema tickets suckers before cinemas close down but you missed the point of this movie.

      2. “If she is being objectified that is a problem with males of today and not the character”

        I know. That was my point. There’s a different between beeing ogled by men and being intentionally objectified by a filmmaker and/or advertising team. WW falls more into the former, not than the latter, because nothing Jenkins or WB did came off as objectification to me. You can’t help it if some guys want to see her strip or rush home to find some WW parody porn. That’s the just the way it is.

  4. Cameron has done plenty for female role models in cinema. But patty has like she said made more layers to a character and role so 9s right also. Kudos to you Patty.

    1. Patty’s proven you can do Monster and Wonder Woman. That’s a little more varied than what Cameron has done with female representation. That being said, they’ve both done great things for female characters in their careers, and it’s unfortunate that this disagreement had to happen.

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