Originally published: 31.05.17
It might seem strange to apply a real world principle, like privilege, to a fictional character. But I think it can be quite interesting to consider it in this manner, as it has the potential benefit of allowing a degree of distance and objectivity.
The reason I’ve chosen to do this is partly because I’m a little bit excited about the Wonder Woman film, but also because she is a character who is raised in a radically different environment to the one she ends up in.
For those who don’t already know, Wonder Woman AKA Diana Prince is born and raised on the island Themyscira, previously titled Paradise Island. This is an island populated solely by women who have no experience of life with men, and therefore exist entirely outside of the patriachy. (If you wanted to read a book that Paradise Island was likely based on I can highly recommend Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
On Themyscira no woman has been socialised to believe that there are women’s roles and men’s roles, as women are required to do all roles through necessity. As such they are unlikely to have been taught that women have to fit into a narrow personality type, or only be interested in selected hobbies, or any of the other demands that are placed on women in our society.
I will quickly pause here to point out that I am aware that Wonder Woman was written by a man, drawn by a man, and plays in many ways to men’s desires and expectations. I am also aware that the writer of Wonder Woman appeared to fetishise strong women, especially those of the women’s liberation movement at the time. He would definitely describe himself as a “male feminist” if he were about now.
However for the purpose of this post it still stands that Diana Prince is written as a woman from a woman only community.
She has grown up without any threat of male violence, she’s never been told that she’s “strong for a girl”, or that her most prized possession is her beauty. So when she arrives in our world she is free of much of the baggage that women within a patriarchy have forced upon them.
She hasn’t been taught to hedge her language for fear of sounding too aggressive/bossy.
She hasn’t been taught to expect to be worse at sport than men.
She hasn’t been socialised as women in a patriarchy are – no subtle pushes towards prettiness, passivity and subservience.
Does this matter when she enters a patriarchal society though?
I think the answer is yes and no.
On the one hand, society will still see her as a woman and therefore expect certain things of her. Society also has a tendency to punish women who do not conform to the accepted stereotypes.
For example she is still expected to be the secretary to the Justice League – nevermind that she could beat most of the male members easily.
Admittedly in this era she was written by men who were not comfortable with a powerful female character, so in these panels she is shown being “thrilled” by the idea of secretarial duties. I suspect that a more realistic response for a woman with her upbringing would be to ask why her talents weren’t being utilised to their fullest – especially when the fight was so important.
I think Wonder Woman would definitely suffer from the microaggressions that plague women now, especially as she’d be ill prepared for them. However her upbringing would have given her a confidence in herself that many women raised in a patriarchy lack. So she is in a better position than those women in that she is unlikely to have internalised *all* of the anti-women messages, but as she is still clearly a women that privilege is limited.
I don’t think her privilege could be completely erased, especially given her physical strength. Hampered maybe. But I like to think that a positive upbringing could mitigate some of the harm.