When A Boy Wonder And A Girl Wonder Love Each Other Very Much…
In Wonder Woman, 2017, Diana of Themyscira and Steve Trevor talk sex.
More realistically, they talk relationships. The conversation in the movie is super awkward, and I hesitate to repeat it. A TL;DR version is thus:
Diana of Themyscira: Why are you sleeping over there. It’s more comfortable over here.
Steve Trevor: Where I come from, men and women only sleep together if they’re married. It’s a matter of propriety.
Diana: You only sleep with your wife?
Steve: No. I’m single. I’m also a cynic and a rake. I’ll sleep with anyone.
Diana: This boat is too small for social delicacies. Sleep over here.
This small bit (if it were put so briefly) would have been sufficient enough make the point: Diana is no western-culture pre-modernist delicate flower. She’s inclined to suffer propriety on the field about as much as would Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil of the Navy Combined Reconnaissance Team (G.I. Jane, 1997, played by Demi Moore). But Steve Trevor couldn’t leave well enough alone, and had to bring up sex. The conversation (here, verbatim) didn’t go so well.
Diana: You refer to reproductive biology.
Diana: Yeah, I know. I know all about that.
Steve: I refer to that and other things.
Diana: The pleasures of the flesh.
Steve: Do you know about them?
Diana: I’ve read all twelve volumes of Clio’s treatises on bodily pleasure.
Steve: All twelve, huh? Did you bring any of those with you?
Diana: You would not enjoy them.
Steve:: I don’t know. Maybe.
Diana: No, you wouldn’t.
Steve: Why not?
Diana: They came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.
Flirt At Your Own Risk
There may be a conspiracy in Chris Pine‘s cinematic career to assure he gets regularly drubbed for being too forward. This isn’t the first time it’s happened under circumstances inconsistent with the fiction.
In Star Trek 2009, not yet in Star Fleet, James Kirk (Pine) flirts with Cadet Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in an Iowan bar only to get pummeled by a mob of cadets on shore leave. Gene Roddenberry imagined the Star Trek future (human society, at least) as a sexually permissive one, at least much less uptight than twenty-first century United States. It was Roddenberry’s script writers and overseers who
couldn’t hack it disagreed. Across several series, the Star Trek franchise would drift to become even more conservative than US society during their respective eras. Captain Kirk circa 1967 made out with (had sex with) a woman at every waypoint during the original series. Roddenberry intended Kirk to be exemplary of human conduct. But Pine’s Kirk in the 2009 reboot was made into a butt monkey who suffers harshly whenever he has a pervy moment.
In Wonder Woman 2017, Pine’s Steve Trevor approaches Diana. It not only provokes her to get defensive and deflect with academics, but then she feels the need to insult him. She not only insults Steve, but all of male-kind.*
But why would she? Why would she feel the need? Why would an Amazon of Themyscira need to deflect or retaliate because sex was mentioned?
This kind of offense and reprisal is particular to Christian-dominated western culture. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for a woman to respond any less than aghast would be to imply her own promiscuity. Slut-shaming has a long standing tradition. As has telling men to go fuck themselves when they show even a hint of sexual interest.
Regardless these are traditions we westerners are beginning to regret now we’re in the twenty-first century.
Doing It Amazon Style
Slut-shaming and punishing men for flirting are also traditions to which Diana of Themyscira would be completely unexposed, having not been connected to the rest of Europe since way before St. Augustine of Hippo campaigned to spread Christianity. When discussing Artemis, I noted that sexual openness (what is often regarded as sluttiness) was the expected norm of women in classic Greece. The 20th century stereotype we have for men in the United States, that they’d fuck any passable woman given any opportunity, was the stereotype of women through the classical age and even through the Roman Empire.
Diana has never been taught to be ashamed of her sexuality, or to be wary of men.
With that in mind, I’d imagine a better response (one truer to a self-secure Amazon warrior and classical-era demigod) would look something like this:
Diana: Are you propositioning me?
Steve: Um…what if I were?
Diana: I’d reject you.
Steve: You would? Why?
Diana: Because I don’t want to.
On Themyscira (or, say, in Attica, Locris or Oetaea) that would be enough. But say our turn-of-the-century Steve Trevor expects women to pretend to be pure and virginal. As such they must always reject a proposition (as per the one-sided rules of courtly romance), and so he presses on just to be sure.
Steve: Was it something I said?
Diana: No it wasn’t. I don’t want sex. I want to sleep. Also, I barely know you, Steve Trevor. At the end of this mission, we can rest. And if, by then, I have no cause to resent you, my answer may be different.
Wonder Woman is not just a superheroine with powers beyond mortals. She’s also a paragon, like Superman or Jesus (or Supergirl should be). Being a paragon, she serves to set an example of how we humans should behave in given situations. In this case, a woman should be able to say no, for any reason. And any reasonable man should be able to accept it.
Wonder Woman was created by Charles Moulton to serve as an example of how a self-secure, empowered woman could behave (often in contrast to expectations and stereotypes).** Moulton’s premise is that if women were able to exist as equals to men; if they were to participate in society alongside men (rather than under them); if they were able to openly state their will and interests rather than having to subvert them, then our society would be a better, happier place, not just for women but for men as well.
And Wonder Woman serves as an embodiment of this ideal.
* Granted, she’s noting someone else’s opinion, but it is that of a scholar, and Diana is implying she agrees with it, or at least accepts it until proven otherwise. In the defense of men, even if we developed the ultimate vibrator (or better-than-human sexbots), and a completely-touchless breeding / cloning program, we’d still want to relate to each other because we like to relate. At worst, our standards would go up regarding the company and paramours we’d keep. Pleasure and reproduction are not the only functions of sex. Furthermore, there’s the matter of orientation: Someone who (say) is attracted to bears is often going to be inclined towards a mediocre bear over a highly-skilled non-bear much the way a typical heterosexual guy is going to want an attractive, if unskilled woman over even the most sexually adept and completely charming of gay men.
Yes, I’m insecure about being replaced. Why do you ask?
** By empowered, I include the presumption that a woman doesn’t fear for her life in refusing a man. Plenty of statistics (especially regarding young adults in college-related circumstances) suggest there are numerous predators amid gentlemen. Mortal women are often at considerable risk of physical harm when they do engage / are engaged by unknown men.† Furthermore, men have been assumed (in courts of law, no less) to be justified when they physically aggress. And yes, this implies men are expected to be brutes with no self-control. In these cases, it doesn’t seem to matter which tact is taken: If she firmly rejects him, she was too firm, and bruised his ego. If she was gentler, she was too obtuse, and he pressed on thinking she was just being coy.
Wonder Woman, in the meantime, is capable of tossing a man like an Olympic shot-put champion and is willing to do so when diplomacy fails. So for Diana specifically, the risk of assault is insignificant, and she can behave as if she actually lives in a society where men typically respect women’s personal space. (I do wonder if she’s still susceptible to date-rape drugs. I’d expect Wonder Woman to be immune to toxins as well, But I’m not sure.)
For the rest of womankind, matters of sexual assault are not only common, but currently politicized in the US. It may require decades of social change before women and men can freely negotiate a fling without facing a considerable risk of harm, even if it’s due to only a small number who act in bad faith.
† One old study from the 90s that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed suggests one in twelve, or 8% of college-age men are willing to rape or sexually assault a women if they think they can get away with it. Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest in century, the rate-per-capita of sexual assault has plummeted (along with all violent crime) and it’s being reported more often (about 78% of sexual assaults in the 1970s were not reported according to estimations). It’s still a problem: we don’t treat our rape victims well. We don’t take them seriously. We also don’t teach our kids about consent or how romance and courtship works in the real world. Yet, our media continues to suggest the way to a girl’s heart is to stalk her like a slasher-flick madman until she submits. When it comes to sexual matters, the US is a messed up society. (But we’re getting better.)