Thursday, June 15, 2017

Two Perspectives on Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
I am not going to see the movie. Not for the reasons given by  Alexandra Fleksher in her Cross Currents article. But because I am simply not a fan of Wonder Woman. I could never relate to that comic book character. I was a Superman fan.  (And had quite the collection of Superman comic books when I was a child.)

Wonder Woman was recently released to the ‘big screen’ and has all but dominated the entertainment news. Jewish publications are fawning all over the fact that Ms. Gal Gadot - an Israeli actress - is portraying the title character. Some of the coverage has to do with Muslim nations boycotting the film. Secular publications are all abuzz about director Patty Jenkins - extolling her achievement as a new height in movie-making for a woman in this genre. Critical reviews of this move have been excellent. Far better than most of the more recent films of this genre.

Gal Gadot is an Israeli model turned actress who is also a proud veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF); a mother; and a homemaker. A Jew that is serious about some of our traditional religious practices (I recall an article about how she religiously lights candles every Friday night before Shabbos.)

Despite all of this, I am not interested. As I said, I am not a fan of the character and have outgrown superhero movies in any case.  (Maybe because the recent ones were so bad.)

There are two articles on the subject that have piqued my curiosity about this movie.  One of them - as mentioned above - is by Alexandra Fleksher. I found it to be both a wonderful defense of Shmiras Eynayim (Guarding your eyes) and yet a bit condescending in making that point.  

Orthodox Judaism urges that men ‘guard their eyes’. This means that we men are supposed to avoid looking at women in ways that can arouse sexual thoughts about them. The less clothed they are, the more we should avoid looking at them. Mrs. Fleksher’s husband is doing exactly that as a matter of principle. He is observing Shmiras Eynayim. This is how she begins her article: 
Last Shabbos, Wonder Woman came up quite a lot. Friday night dinner with guests, Shabbos lunch at guests, and at kiddush after davening. Men were the ones who brought it up. My 14 year old son said some classmates are seeing it with their fathers. Our Friday night male guest said it’s not so bad unless you have a problem seeing lots of arm…
I have seen the Facebook posts of friends who say, with lots of exclamation points, that it is breathtaking and truly a marvel. Articles I have read applaud Wonder Woman for its revolutionary film-making in that it is extraordinary in its treatment of women. That it depicts not only a woman heroine, but a vision of womankind not limited by society’s expectations and limitations. 
She then says that her husband won’t be seeing it. It may not be her intention, but by explaining why her husband won’t see it while other Orthodox friends of hers did, is she not putting them down?

I found that a bit distasteful.  Her purpose was obviously to praise her husband. But she should not have mentioned that so many of her other friends were extolling the movie and ignoring the Shmiras Eynayoim issue.  She came to praise her husband.  Not to bury her friends. But didn’t she kind of do that?

What is somewhat perplexing is that she speaks only about this movie – thereby hinting that her husband might otherwise go to the movies. I’m not sure what principle he is standing up for by avoiding only this particular movie. There is hardly a movie made that these days that doesn’t have a woman in it. And invariably they will not be dressed according to Halachic standards of modesty.

I’m also relatively sure that if her husband participates in the world in some fashion Perhaps at work or in the market place. He therefore regularly comes into contact with live women who do not dress modestly by Halachic standards. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman does not violate the norms of modesty of the society in which we live. There is nothing titillating about her superhero costume if you live in America.

And then there is Shoshana Keats-Jaskoll’s fawning review of the movie. Mrs. Keats-Jaskoll has told me personally that she is not a feminist. But her article had feminism written all over it. She used Wonder Woman as model for all Jewish Women. She compared the social construct of Wonder Woman’s world to the social construct of Orthodox Judaism in negative ways. Here is an excerpt from her Times of Israel article that demonstrates this: 
How moving, how norm-shattering to see women make their own choices, fight their own battles, on their own terms, no permission needed, no dress code required, and no one telling them just how far they could go. 
I don’t think the president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist  Alliance (JOFA) could have put it any better. She seems to see Tznius issues as a hindrance to her freedom.

I cannot think of 2 more different reactions to this movie. One criticizes Tznius violations while the other praises the glory of giving women the freedom to be who they are without caring about how they dress. Both of these women have modern Orthodox backgrounds. I don’t think they could be further apart.