As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 31st, 2017.
Yes, yes. I know. I know I promised that I was done writing about Wonder Woman. I promised no more articles until the sequel. But the thing is, I recently saw Justice League and fell in love with Wonder Woman all over again. Which means I had to of course watch Wonder Woman again as soon as I got home, because let’s face it, that movie is awesome. So here I am, once again writing about Wonder Woman, which is exactly where I was 12 months ago. I ended the year with an article titled “2017. The Year of Wonder Women“, in which I outlined how I was hopeful that the coming year would be a notable one for women and women’s leadership. And it has been, just not in the ways we might have anticipated.
So with 2017 now coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months, and I am going to use the narrative of the Wonder Woman movie to help me do just that. As I watched Wonder Woman for about the tenth time last night, I was struck by just how timely this film truly is; as if it was written solely as a reflection of the events of this past year. Impossible of course, seeing as the script was written long before 2017 even began, but it is remarkable nonetheless. Below are some of my favourite lines and moments, and what they mean to me as I look back on the year that was with Wonder Woman leading the way.
First and foremost, 2017 was a year that women truly rose up, individually and collectively, to step into their power and use their voices. From the Women’s Marches around the country that started the year, to the #MeToo movement of the past couple of months, to FEMINISM becoming the word of the year, this year truly was a tipping point for women standing up, stepping forward, and speaking out. I’ve already written about the almost indescribably powerful experience that was the solidarity of the women’s march in January, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever truly come down from that high, but there were those who in the immediate aftermath of the marches questioned whether or not that event would yield any long term change. Thankfully, those naysayers have been proven wrong. At least so far. Time and time again this past year, concerned citizens, but especially women, have shown up and stepped up.
A few examples. On March 8th, women around the world went on strike as part of a protest against pay discrimination and gender based violence. In January, hundreds of thousands of people, but in particular female lawyers, showed up at airports across the US to protest the President’s travel ban. All year long women’s organizations across the country have seen spikes in donations and members, and groups such as EMILY’s Listand She Should Run have reported record numbers of women showing an interest in running for elected office. There have been many articles written pondering the reasons for the burst of energy and commitment towards women’s rights, and while many focus on the political change in this country, which of course is probably likely, I also like to think that the reason is much bigger than that. It is the confluence of many factors and I really do believe that having Wonder Woman on the big screen helped.
I thought about these possible reasons while watching the training sequence in the beginning of the film, when Antiope is urging Diana to be better, to fight harder, and to stop doubting herself and her strength.
“You keep doubting yourself…You are stronger than you believe…You have greater powers than you know…You expect the battle to be fair. A battle will never be fair.”
That is a lot to unpack, word by word, line by line. First, let’s go with that big word – doubt: a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction. This was a year when there seemed to be more than our usual share of doubt floating around. From the narrative created around ‘fake news’, to the whys of mass killings, to the confrontations with white supremacists, to masses of women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. Questions like Who do you stand with? What do you stand for? Who do you believe? were front and center. Upon reflection, this was a year where I felt called to step into my core beliefs and values in ways I had not been previously. I felt called to know my truth and to speak my truth, but to balance both with humility and curiosity. This was brought to life so beautifully in the Wonder Woman screenplay, as one of Diana’s favorite questions seemed to be, “Why?” She showed up asking questions before jumping to action and to judgement.
Onto the next part of the quote about strength and power. This has been the core message of every speech I have given over the past decade. My talks are most often to women’s groups, and I usually talk about my own story from small town girl, to competitive bodybuilding, to Goldman Sachs trader, and finally, to philanthropic movement builder. It is a journey about stepping into my power to be an agent of positive change for women in leadership and more generally for gender equality. I invite women to use their “power tools”, which include their voice, their platform, their skills, their networks, and their financial resources (giving dollars, purchasing power, and investment capital) in alignment with their core beliefs and values. I share my core belief that women’s rights are human rights, and using our resources to support human rights is something we all can and should do.
And yet, we don’t. I don’t. I still don’t even come close to fully activating my power. I had dinner in early December with an amazing group of women in New York City. It was post-Wharton’s gender impact investing conference where I left feeling pretty fired up about the potential to align investment capital with women’s empowerment. The dinner was hosted by an amazing woman who had started a firm in this area, and the table was filled with other well known and powerful women. We were asked to share our stories with a question around where we were now with respect to women’s inclusion and leadership, and more importantly, what might be holding positive change at bay? Most of the gathered women felt hopeful and activated, and yet there was also a sense that this was a moment that might pass and that the backlash from #MeToo might be too strong. When it was my turn, I said something I had never said out loud before. That if my power, defined as power to, not power over, was on a scale of 1 to 10, I was only operating at about a 2 or a 3 right now. There were gasps. I was considered a powerful person in the room so how could this be? What did I mean?
Well, it’s complicated, and an article in and of itself, as there are many threads to the answer. First, it is a time thing. I often try to do too much for too many, and often in a reactive and not a proactive way, which means I don’t have the time needed to really focus on my big ideas. And I have some big ones. That being said, my big ideas scare me. I have known what it feels like to be 24/7 committed to building something, making something happen, and I am at a point in my life now where I do want more freedom to not work all the time. And then there is this.
Again, back to a scene in the movie where Antiope really challenges Diana while her mother is watching. Antiope comes at Diana fiercely, with all her force, and it is at this moment that Diana crosses her arms, directs her energy back at Antiope, and blows her back, causing her to fly into the air and crash down. This is the first time she gets a sense of her potential power, and while it scares the shit out of her a little, it also is an ‘ah ha’ kind of moment. I love the look on her face, so if you missed it the first time around, go back and re-watch the video above. Her expression is fantastic.
What I found so interesting about this scene is that it shows the other Amazons shunning her to some degree. Maybe the filmmaker Patty Jenkins was making a point that this is what women do to other extremely powerful women. Let alone what the forces of patriarchy do. (Please Ms. Jenkins, if you read this, I’d love to know) This is part of the reason why I answered 2 to 3 on my scale. This might sound a little weird, but I am afraid of scaring people off or turning people off. Relationships mean the world to me and, AND, I want to be effective. Over the years I have often been told that I am “a very strong personality”, that I “overwhelm people”, and in not so many ways asked to “tone it down a little”. I am also trying to be very aware of my privilege, and not making that the basis of my power. It is a balancing act that I feel all the time.
There is also the thing about being nice. At another recent dinner with a friend, we got talking about her daughter, a 15 year old, who was being bullied. My friend said that she made a point of talking to her daughter about the difference between being nice and being kind, and about how the latter is so much more important than the former. I had never thought about it like that, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. As girls, as women, we are so often told to be nice, play nice, act nice. It is time to end the nice. Not end the kind, just the nice.
This is something that women, individually and collectively, have to come to terms with if we ever, ever, ever want to have anything close to gender equality in our world. We cannot be ambivalent about our power. We have to activate it, use it, leverage it, both collectively and individually. To be clear I am talking about power to, not power over. I am not talking about power as it supports a narrative of rugged individualism, competition, and winner takes all. I am talking about power anchored in the we, anchored in the collective good, anchored in community, anchored in fundamental beliefs around human rights, and anchored in kind. It is time, about time, beyond time, to create a whole new narrative about power in our world, and Diana has shown us what that might look like.
And the other thing. The patriarchy. Again I am going to add a definition to be super clear what I am taking about. “In sociology, patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.” It is a social system. I think about it like The Matrix, another one of my favorite films. We all live in a world that has been constructed around rules, laws, belief systems, and norms. Some of them make sense, and some of them don’t. Just because something exists does not make it right. This was the year when the patriarchal matrix we live in began to show some big cracks.
Think about how this was brought to life in Wonder Woman. It is when Diana stepped into her power that the world of men broke through. Until that moment the Amazons were quite literally living in a bubble. We get the foreshadowing comment right before by Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, when she says “What have I done?” after she witnesses her daughter’s burst of power. They were safe on the island, isolated from the war that was ravaging the earth, until one of them stepped closer to her full potential. At my dream dinner with Ms. Jenkins and the writers of the screenplay, I would go deeper into the meaning behind this scene as well. Clearly there is a message in there about not only having a female superhero step in to save the world, but how women coming into their power, motivated by different beliefs, would be met with backlash. In the film Ares, the God of War, has corrupted men’s hearts, and it was the power of love that would ultimately set them free. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The last part of that quote. About expecting battles to be fair. This comes up a lot in my family as one of my daughter’s core thinking talents is fairness (if you want to understand what I mean my thinking talents, get this amazing book). It drives her absolutely bananas when hard work and doing the ‘right thing’ is not rewarded. One of the key things we have had to message to her over the years is to always work hard and do the right thing anyway. Will it be rewarded or acknowledged every time? No. But it is more likely to be, and regardless of recognition, at the end of the day, at the end of every day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you were that day. Expecting fairness is not the same thing as hoping for it, working for it, and creating the conditions for it. If you walk through the world expecting fairness, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. And yet we have to do everything we can in this world to create fairness. For me, that is what #MeToo is all about. That is the goal. No one should have to endure harassment and discrimination in the workplace, or anywhere. We should all be shocked, disgusted, and called to end what has become normalized in our culture.
It was hugely significant that earlier this month it was announced that TIME magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017’s Person of the Year. Reading the accompanying article was an incredibly sobering and emotional experience for me. The backgrounds of the storytellers could not be more different, but that very fact only served to reveal just how shockingly widespread and prevalent the issue of harassment and sexual assault is in today’s culture. This is an issue that has been festering for decades, and while it should be noted that many brave people have spoken out in the past, 2017 was truly the year that the dams finally burst. Emboldened by the solidarity of #MeToo, brave women and men everywhere are standing up and speaking truth to power. They are allowing the truth to come out, and finally, FINALLY, people are believing them.
One of my favorite aspects of Wonder Woman’s character is that her most well known weapon is the lasso of truth, because make no mistake, the truth is a powerful weapon. Can you imagine what might have happened if we had a lasso of truth at our disposal this past year? It would have been of great use in Washington, DC in particular. This was a year when we seemed trapped in endless cycles of accusations, denials, and efforts to fact find. We are still there. I find it somewhat ironic that the creator of the character of Wonder Woman, together with his wife, developed the first ever lie detector test, hence the lasso. If you have not yet seen the film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, also released this year, I would highly recommend it. And just because I am throwing the kitchen sink in to this very long end of year post, if you have not yet watched the Netflix series Black Mirror, not only should you, but you may come to believe, as I now do, that we may not be that far off to having an app for that.
Which brings me to my favourite moment in Wonder Woman. Indeed, a lot of people’s favourite moment.
Gives me chills every time. In the face of the hellscape that was the trenches of World War I, and after being told that there’s nothing that can be done to help the people around her, that you can’t save everyone, Diana decides that these people, the ones right in front of her, are worth saving, and if no one else will do it, then she will. “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Such a powerful statement, and something to which we should all aspire. As Steve Trevor later confesses, “My father told me once, ‘If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing.” It’s that simple. Flying men in capes are never going to change this world. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to do our part to make this a world a better place, and we can’t sit back and assume that someone else is going to fight the battles for us. Believe me, I wish there was an island full of Amazons who could just fix the world, but the fact is that’s on us. “It is our sacred duty to defend the world”, and we all have our part to play. “I can save today. You can save the world.”
As I sit here, working on this article, my daughter is sitting across from me working on her college admission essays. In many of them she is asked questions like what makes her special? How does she hope to use her education in the future? Who does she most admire? How does she think she can make the world better? These are questions we should all answer for ourselves. A part of me hates the “you can change the world” narrative that we serve up to our children, but the other part of me loves it. The part that hates it feels like we are putting too much pressure on our children too early. The part of me that loves it knows that it can be the millions of small acts of kindness that make all the difference. What I would change is the word ‘you’ to ‘we’. We can change the world. We can. We. The world is the aggregation of all that we believe, all that we hold dear, and all that we do individually and collectively. If you have seen the masses of Wonder Woman paraphernalia on the store shelves this holiday season you will have seen the core message of the film that is blazoned across a lot of it, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
There are so many great lines in this movie, but this is one of my favorite: “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” Ultimately, Diana chooses to lead with love, and I wish, more than anything, that we would all heed her example.
I used to want to save the world, to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world.
This past year has been filled with highs and lows, but as far as I’m concerned, the potential for change has never been higher. So as we head into the new year, let’s keep moving forward, together, with Diana as our guide. Let 2018 be your year of somethings, not nothings. Let this coming year be the year of letting the truth come forward. Let this be a year of stepping in to your power, power to, not power over. But above all else, let’s choose love.
Happy New Year.
To access the Wonder Woman screenplay click here.
Wonder Woman by the Numbers:
16 years in development
$103 million opening weekend
92% on Rotten Tomatoes
$412 million domestic gross
$821 million overall gross
#1 Superhero Origin story by gross
#1 DC Extended Universe film by gross and critical reception
Top grossing film directed by a woman
#1 Movie of Summer 2017 by domestic gross
#5 Superhero film of all time by domestic gross