Wonder Woman & Authority
It's the end of the Summer and Wonder Woman is now widely available on DVD. You can even stream it on Amazon Video. Basically, you have no excuses left for not seeing it... which means there will be spoilers in this post. Consider yourself warned!
Opening weekend, I was in Utah and through nothing less of a miracle ended up at the IMAX at Jordan Commons with Maxine Hanks* to see Wonder Woman. I recorded the following in my car via Bluetooth to my phone on the drive home. You'll hear some road noise, my blinker, and some funny commentary on the traffic situation in Salt Lake City (it was Pride Week and all my usual routes were blocked off). What I hope you'll also hear is the breathless rush of inspiration, which we'll unpack after you take a listen:
Ah! There's so much to unpack in this film. Because of the density of content, I chose to treat Wonder Woman as a sacred text this summer. Going back again and again, fully immersing myself in it, picking it apart, studying it, eventually extracting personal meaning and application. As you hear in the audio above, Maxine and I both felt this film invited Mormon women specifically to find answers to the questions we’ve been vocalizing more earnestly these last few years. Here are a few of my insights:
We must work with the Masculine if we are to succeed. We see the tension between Hippolyta and Diana, as Diana is ready to jump back into the world of Men, to trust Steve and find Aries. Hippolyta says over and over, this is not our war. For several reasons, which are completely valid to her, Hippolyta would rather stay in the all-female cloister, to continue her routine, and not risk herself or her loved ones again.
How would have the movie gone if Diana stayed? The soldiers would storm the beach again and wipe out the entire island, maybe even Diana herself. Then the only power strong enough to stop Aries hostile take-over of earth would be silenced forever. I found myself asking: are there moments when I’m cowering behind Hippolyta, where I’m taking what I see as a position of strength but it’s really a retreat to safety and self-induced silence? Even apathy toward a cause can be detrimental to it, this idea that “this is not our fight.”
In Western thought, we like to see the duality of masculine and feminine as two separate halves of something, with a straight line down the middle. Truth is, the Chinese Yin/Yang symbol offers a more accurate depiction. The masculine and feminine powers are shown in these round, tadpole-like forms to give you the sense of eternal motion, of one eternal round. There is masculine within the feminine and feminine within the masculine. One cannot exist without the other and they are often so intertwined that you’re not sure where one ends and the other begins. This duality exists within all things: all of us individually regardless of biological sex, in the interplay between the sexes, and in society at large. Years on the calendar can tend more masculine or more feminine, but months within the calendar seek to balance that tendency and will manifest the opposite trait.
The Hero’s Journey
We are divine. And we have divine purpose on this earth. However, neither this divinity nor this purpose are thrust upon us all at once. This is a process of growth, development, of eternal progression. I spoke to a farmer once about the cycles of planting and harvest. He said, you can’t dick around all summer and then plant two days before harvest expect to make a profit that year. You cannot rush natural processes.
There are two of these natural processes at work simultaneously, all the time. The one taking place for us personally, and the one taking place for women as a whole. We see this with the Amazons. The Amazons developed to a certain point collectively, advancing the agenda of the gods and perfecting their craft as a group of female warriors. However, that progression stagnated until one’s personal progression demanded she leave the pack and reach across the great gender divide. Diana’s personal progression provided a catalyst, ushering in a new era of power dynamic in society at large (if we project beyond the end of the film and realize with Aries gone, men are free to act according to the goodness in their hearts, with Diana as a beacon of hope and light, a visible Savior figure who reminds men to choose the better part, etc.).
As I look back over the last five years or so within Mormonism, the personal progression of a few women sparked a church-wide conversation about the relationship between men and women and the balance of power therein. The now defunct Ordain Women pushed many to run before they could walk, in the name of collective progression. I submit, the reason OW is now just a footnote on the pages of history is because individual women need to let their personal progress catch up. Sure, we’ve started a conversation about women and priesthood ordination. But how much do we -- do I, do you -- know about how the priesthood actually functions? Do we actually know -- meaning have we studied, pondered, prayed, incorporated -- that the Melchizedek Priesthood is the end-all be-all of priesthood power? Do we know there isn’t a female line of priesthood, a branch of The Holy Priesthood designated for the ordination of women? Have we looked inside ourselves as women and wondered: do I have a Mother there? And then followed that line of questioning to a concrete answer?
I think - as should be obvious by now - that the answer is a resounding no. If we had, I think we’d end up tossing OW out and returning to deep, meaningful studies of the divine feminine… without apologetics nor this pathological quest for permission. Then return to the table with an infinitely more interesting set of questions: why does God say the seed of the Woman and not the seed of Adam (like the seed of Abraham)? Why is Mary of Bethany allowed to perform the ritual pre-burial rites of washing and anointing? Why is Mary the first witness of the resurrected Christ? Why are women even endowed? What was the role of the Elect Lady in early church history? How do we account for “a mother’s intuition”? If the prophet holds the keys to this dispensation alone, what other keys could possibly exist and where are they? (a partial answer to this given by Elder Oaks) There are pivotal moments in scripture and human history where the voices of women ring clear and true. No matter how much white-washing or male revisionist history has happened over the last thousand years, there is power held by these women. It’s trying to be handed down, but we aren’t prepared to receive it. We keep reaching across it and grasping at male power and authority as if it’s the only power on earth worth having.
Women, remember you are the hero of your own story. And that hero must go through a journey. There are stages to go through and whether you like Joseph Campbell’s outline and imagery or Thomas McConkie’s, recognize the truth of this: you are divine, made in the image of Creators. You have a divine purpose and are invested with the power to discover that purpose and accomplish its goals. Even if the last thousand years of social programming has stripped you of your formal titles and roles, your inherent power cannot be erased.
From the moment Diana goes off with Steve, her agenda is minimized and marginalized. She falls asleep on the boat thinking she’ll arrive at the front to find Aries. Instead, Steve takes her to London. She adjusts to this new location, but isn’t totally silenced. She acquiesces again and again, until she’s arrived at the trenches. Diana refuses to be pushed aside yet another time, dons her tiara, and triumphantly emerges from the trenches, with no one’s permission or approval, no knowledge that anyone will follow her. She takes the intelligence she has and acts independently in the sphere she’s been placed in. This happens again, near the end of the film but to a higher degree of success. She recognizes Aries for who he is -- not a god above her, but as a god equal to her. She realizes the power in what she’s wearing, her cuffs, and that this power is accessible to all on this now level playing field with Aries.
I don’t think I can shout this clear enough nor often enough. Women! You have authority to call down the powers of heaven whenever and wherever you’d like! You are sanctified, declared clean, anointed with power, and clothed in items that grant you access at all times and in all places. If that isn’t a divine investiture of authority, I don’t know what is! Quit second-guessing yourself. Quit asking permission. Step into your role as divinity-in-training and use what has already been given you by your Creator. This is YOUR hero’s journey and the journey always takes the same path: with the hero realizing they’ve had this ability all along, just not the knowledge that they did. You have everything you need, right in your hands.
Love & Anger
Perhaps my favorite part of the entire film, was the moment Diana the Goddess is born. Aries has wrapped Diana in a cocoon of steel. She’s finally hearing what Steve said to her when he left his watch and that she has fallen in love with him. Then she watches his plane explode. She is anger personified! In her rage, she taps into her power as a god and tears herself from the cocoon, now fully formed. She is equals with Aries, but in her anger she is prone to still be manipulated by him. He throws a curve-ball at her, hoping she’ll stay in her rage and join him in destroying mankind. She pauses. Love enters again. She sees her love for Steve is what brought her into full godhood, only truly realized at the loss of him. She knows a future built on anger is the one Aries wants to build, and she refuses. She acts from a solid foundation of love, instead, and destroys Aries in the process.
Do we as women, especially Mormon women have anything to be angry about? Hell yeah! Brigham Young -style polygamy. Crossing the plains in hoop skirts and corsets. Being the last people to get the vote. Being paid less than a man for the same work. Hyper-sexualization of our bodies. The never-ending and completely asinine discussion of how many ear piercings we should or shouldn’t have. That prostitution is even a thing. Paying more for for basic hygiene because it’s pink. Having our shampoo bottles in the shapes of our bodies…!? Characterization as the weaker or fairer sex for the last thousand years.…. I could go on. But, let me ask this…. When you act in response to these injustices, are you acting out of anger? What does that look like? How far does that get you?
What would an action born of love in response to the above look like? Before you answer that, remember, Diana totally kicked ass after she chose love over anger.
This, I don’t yet have an answer to. But I want to explore it with you. I think we’ve reached the end of the Angry Feminist era. It’s time to move through our anger and choose love. Reach across the aisle to a man in your life, one who doesn’t recognize you for who you are. From a place of love, explain it to him. If he doesn’t listen, show him. If he doesn’t see, let him be and try with someone else. Do it in the moment. Don’t retreat to Hippolyta’s side and seek safety in likeness. Every time. Every time I’ve stood up to a man exercising unrighteous dominion, I’ve won. It takes a hefty dose of humility and honesty with yourself and God, but this is part of our divine purpose…. To know the mind and will of God, to develop these attributes, and ascend to the throne of Heaven. Nothing can stop you but yourself.
*the editor of Women & Authority