I got super excited about the new Wonder Woman movie and decided to have a conversation with my friend Mike MacLafferty. Mike and I share an interest in comics, mythology, and astrology, and how these intersect in such fun ways with psychology and our work with clients.
A different kind of Origin Story
Kris: What do you think is significant about fact that your typical superhero has an origin story that is very much about how they are traumatized; By war, losing their parents, some freak experiment gone wrong, an evil doer, the list goes on. Wonder Woman isn't traumatized. The triumph in her story is the simple and yet very real struggle to believe in the goodness, or Love, that exists inside every human, even the ones that are acting evil. This is, actually, an every-human story. Even an everyday every-human story. That’s actually kind of profound don’t you think?
Mike: I was thinking about how there’s often an arch-villain that the hero defines him/herself against. But Wonder Women doesn’t really have that either. Ares is probably her biggest enemy, but you don’t automatically think of Ares when you think of Wonder Woman.
Kris: There isn’t a nemesis.
Mike: Yeah, there are villains but none of them are significant to her identity. Part of what makes her special is the way her story transcends that typical good vs evil duality; us vs them, good vs evil, where evil = other. If Wonder Woman has a main enemy then it’s violent conflict itself. I think she really is fighting for peace.
Kris: To me it feels so pertinent for our times….on so many levels. Exposing this dualistic and over simplified point of view in gender, race, morality, politics…. I mean, that “us vs them” story has gotten a lot of play in the media lately with politics becoming so divisive.
Mike: I think last year was Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary… this movie is SO long overdue.
Kris: I think about the difference in role models from when I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. I mean, I idolized shows like Charlie's Angels. it’s SO different! I mean, even these badass Angels were constantly getting rescued by men. Wonder Woman doesn’t need rescuing. Nor translating. She fights for what she believes in. And she didn’t have to be damaged to get there…she just had to get through a bit of a crisis of faith. Which we pretty much all have to face at some point in our lives.
Mike: It’s cliche, but she’s FIERCE…. there’s something about how she’s totally unapologetic, she’s….
Mike: Like you were saying before, maybe it could be misconstrued as arrogance. And when it’s not rooted in something real it would be arrogant. But she’s not trying to prove anything. She just is.
Hero's Journey and The Patriarchy
Mike: I feel like the hero’s journey is a typically male story… or at least our culture has put it through a male perspective.
It was good to have a woman direct the film, but I think it would have really helped to have a woman writer. They got her persona right, did that well, but there were some things…like how her mother wanted to protect her/hide the truth about who she was. That’s not even comic-book accurate. It feels like a lazy plot twist I’ve seen in a lot of superhero movies: “oh can’t tell this person, I need to be overprotective…” it feels so paternalistic.
Kris: How is that different from any parent being overprotective?
Mike: I mean paternalistic in a patriarchal sense. Women can still behave in paternal ways… we’re in a patriarchy. I’m referring to that Father-knows-best kind of attitude as opposed to another version that might let that knowledge be empowering.
Kris: Ahh, I got you. It’s like that authoritarian ideal - where it’s not knowledge that gives the right of rule but rather bravado and assertiveness. And these are whole social structures…. people want that. They want to be told what’s true and what to do. As opposed to a system in which humility and cooperation and nuanced evaluation of the information and multiple points of view would be the higher currency. Where there’d be more emphasis on collective empowerment. Which is a lot closer to what the Amazon culture seemed to be modeling.
The Role of Steve Trevor
Mike: Well, I see him as a gatekeeper in a way. There were a few times where he could have used his male privilege to defend her right to speak and be listened to. But no, ‘officially’ we have to play by the rules, and side-step authority to do what’s right. She wants him to take a stand for what’s right. She is disappointed in him when he doesn’t.
Kris: Somewhere I read an article that really appreciated the relationship between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, saying that it modeled a more mutually empowering and supportive version of relationship. Where both individuals goals/journey’s are equally important and respected. I’m not sure I agree with this…. what do you think?
Mike: I kinda want to compare this to Mad Max, which, overall, is more of a feminist story. There are similarities in the way Max realized it’s not really about him. Once he realizes what kind of person she is he’s ready to follow her, let her be in charge. Steve Trevor never really believes Wonder Woman though. He goes along with her idea of Ares, and he does help her….
Kris: But he never publicly says he believes her. It’s implied that he might, but it’s not explicit.
Mike: It’s too bad that Wonder Woman flashed on Steve Trevor when she had her epiphany about the power of her love…
They show her as having such strong caregivers and role models, family and community, etc. That’s where her values come from. But then there’s no more mention of that once she leaves the island. No more mention of her roots, her sisterhood, her moral base. It’s almost like she traded that in for romantic love.
Kris: I don’t think she did…. but I know what you mean. That scene starts to suggest that she’s making the “good” choice because of feelings for him, not because of her own moral compass.
Mike: One of my gripes is that the other women aren’t developed well. Look at Dr. Poison: She is super bad ass to have gotten to the place that she did in that army at that time, but that’s totally not acknowledged. Her being disfigured is a totally lazy shorthand-for-evil trope that happens in movies a lot. And that, of course, comes from ableism and this idea that the good guy has to be physically perfect and that this is somehow reflective of their character.
Kris: Back to binaries, in a way. Dualism.
Mike: Yeah…. and she’s really tied to that German general. It’s like they wanted to have a female villain, but didn’t actually know what to do with her.
Kris: I appreciated the part when Steve Trevor talks about fire and the dark side in all of us…I found that rather poetic. He didn’t just shove her into the evil category.
Mike: But was it because she was disfigured that it would be easy for him to flatter her…? She didn’t actually seem desperate to me though…
Kris: And yeah, so what was that exposure of Dr Poison’s face to Wonder Woman supposed to be about?
Mike: Ares is trying to expose/reflect the ugliness of her character…. and what does Wonder Woman see?
Kris: Well, it’s cliche, but vulnerability… humanity.
Mike: I dunno…you could argue that she sees the potential for good… or just that she knows that she doesn’t want to take a life. And yeah, part of her journey is that she starts out with this naiveté - to save humanity. She believes their pure good nature will thrive without the influence of Ares. But she realizes by the end that Ares isn’t the source of the evil, he’s just playing it, influencing it. She sees the capacity of good and evil in all of humanity.
Kris: So this good-evil or “Shadow” stuff….. This is the kind of thing we deal with as therapists a lot. What do you have to say about that?
Mike: I think we have to be Wonder Woman as therapists. Well…. we can’t just punch evil in the face! But…I dunno. It’s interesting. She has such strong convictions about right and wrong but it’s not really about destroying evil….it’s a different distinction. Is she more focused on behaviors? Evil is a very shaming idea….. that’s…. I mean, if you think you’re evil you think “I am bad”. As therapists we have to recognize and accept all the parts of a person and also as part of the human condition.
If Wonder Woman is trying to reconcile conflict in the world….and there are some parts who think other parts are evil or bad….that’s why people go to war. Maybe we’re trying to mediate a similar conflict within individuals.
Kris: Totally. Part of our job is to help clients not shame themselves, not disown those supposed “bad” feelings. To actually honor all the parts of themselves and the jobs that they do in fulfilling our needs. And in ourselves as therapists too, like you said. We have parts too….
But coming back to the hero’s journey stuff, I often see us as there to support the client on their own unique journey. We can’t take sides and we can’t do it for them. All we can do is try to support them along the way. And we can help deal with the stuff that gets in the way of the person being able to approach that journey. It’s kind of like a developmental task. Ultimately it’s very empowering, just like when children find their way through self doubt or some physical challenge. If we do it for them it won’t mean that much. But if we can support them in their own way through, then the result is both empowering on an individual level as well as on a social/interactive level. We need others…. but we also need to find our own individual sense of our true selves, our own expression and satisfying interactions with others.
Mike: In the hero’s journey there’s usually some sort of magical assistance; Maybe that’s what we’re trying to do? Trying to lay out the path, prepare the person to face the struggles themselves? Give them some tools to use along the way.
Kris: (Like a magic Lasso of Truth!) From my experience, there’s also another layer in this process: The importance of having someone (therapist or whomever) who holds that bigger story for you.…that you are on a journey, that things will unfold as they will, that you're a part of something bigger. And that you have choice, creativity, desire, will...these 'powers' that will get you where you need to go. They hold that belief/that narrative until you’re able to. To me that’s huge…
Mike: The natural force of healing…vs being a healer. It’s not within the person, it exists in the whole container….
Kris: Yes! And it’s not just one act…it’s a series of acts. A whole lifetime of actions and decisions and choices.
Mike: That’s part of Wonder Woman’s journey too. She thinks she’s just going to kill Ares and that’ll be the end of it…that she’s that kind of hero. By the end of the movie it doesn’t really work that way…. you see hints of that along the way too.
Kris: Yeah. The little moments… when she speaks up, takes a risk. And they are successful. This was one place where I think the movie did really well. It smashes my experience of patriarchal culture and the ways in which historically a woman speaking up would be silenced or shamed, a woman stepping up to take action would somehow fail or need to be rescued. But Wonder Woman just nails it. Saves the village. Saves Steve. She just keeps finding out how much more awesome she is with each move she makes!
Kris: So, to wrap up, I know you’re into archetypal astrology.… What’s Wonder Woman’s sign?!?
Mike: Haha! Well… I can only guess. She seems very balanced in terms of Masculine and Feminine qualities. I feel like Mars and Venus and are in aspect in her chart. Maybe the Sun and Moon too.
The movie was released on June 2nd right? So looking at the charts, one of the main things happening around that time was the Mars and Saturn opposition. One of the ways they are represented is as a soldier because Mars is the warrior and Saturn is organization and discipline. On this day we also have the moon making a T-Square with both of them, so that’s bringing the divine feminine to a soldier archetype. Also, Venus and Uranus are in conjunction. which brings in a sort of revolution of femininity, or feminine qualities expressed in new or different way.
Kris: That feels pretty accurate and timely!
Thanks Mike, it’s been a pleasure! And thanks to everyone who's been reading. If you haven't seen Wonder Woman yet, GO! You'll have a blast. If you're interested in some more in-depth critiques of the movie, then I suggest this Harper's Bazaar article. To find out more about Mike and his work in the Oakland, CA area, You can visit his website here, and follow him on Facebook here. You can also find me on Facebook here. Comments welcome! :-)
Mike: I had a lot of fun! And thanks to my femme movie-going partner Emma, for helping to flesh out my feminist critique. :)