A recent feminist gesture involving DC’s Wonder Woman – one that notably causes male fans little to no inconvenience – has, predictably, infuriated many among their ranks. The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin announced Wednesday that the popular theater would host a screening of the superheroine’s debut film for women and women-identifying persons. Upon learning this news, droves of indignant men began broadcasting their displeasure across social media. Of course.
“Apologies, gentlemen, but we’re embracing our girl power and saying ‘No Guys Allowed’ for one special night at the Alamo Ritz,” the Drafthouse announced. “And when we say ‘Women (and People Who Identify As Women) Only,’ we mean it. Everyone working at this screening – venue staff, projectionist, and culinary team – will be female.” Issuing an apology for this rare and significant event was sorely unnecessary.
The Alamo Drafthouse publicized this event on Facebook, alas enabling male patrons to air their grievances.
“I’m not sad but more disappointed in Alamo than anything,” writes one commenter. Another counters with utmost charity, “I can see why a lot of guys are getting bothered by it, but come on…there’s way more important things in this world to flip out over.” And another pipes up with the old “reverse-sexism” chestnut: “Boy oh boy, turn it around and ban a woman from seeing a movie…All hell would break loose! Women would be out picketing…Alamo Drafthouse, epic fail.” A chorus of men echoed the accusation of discrimination, some demanding to know whether the venue had ever offered “men-only” movie nights.
Let’s consider the historical context for this moment, which Beth Elderkin neatly articulates on Gizmodo. Since 1920, we’ve been supplied with roughly 130 films either adapted from comic books or focused on a superhero’s narrative. Only eight of these films, which have appeared in theaters and on television, have featured female leads. A number of the male-dominated films, many of which balloon into flush franchises, are drawn out into trilogies: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Blade and Spider-Man comprise just a handful. In fact, Spider-Man will soon boast three franchises in the space of a decade.
We’re currently wading knee-deep in capes and throbbing biceps and magical do-gooders, but the atmosphere is one of undiluted testosterone. Writes Elderkin, “Any girl born after 2005 has never seen a woman star in her own comic book film, yet at least 30 superhero and comic book films since 2008 have starred men (this doesn’t include group franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy, although they usually star male protagonists as well).” The release of Wonder Woman (with Gal Gadot in the title role) is not merely exciting: it’s a glimmering chasm in heteronormative masculinity’s grasp on heroic narratives. To honor the film’s significance with an all-women screening – to emphasize to young girls that they are mighty – is a worthy endeavor.
As for the frisson of male outrage – that’s all too expected, not to mention the product of gluttonous entitlement. Just as reverse racism is structurally impossible, so too is reverse sexism: many – though not enough of us – understand that the world is organized so as to buttress the power of white heterosexual men. You cannot be discriminated against in a world that is made for you. And yet because the internal logic of white male supremacy is elliptical, these social bulwarks are built on sand. The men fear that they have no claim to power: they balk in the shadow of idealized heteromasculinity, grasping at its ever-ebbing figure, or they suspect – rightly – that their dominance is merely the product of historical repetition rather than moral righteousness.
After all, feminism and female empowerment are only acceptable according to men’s terms. Wonder Woman’s presence among the DC superheroes (like Superman, Batman and The Flash) is accepted because her strength is a fetish. So long as she is confined to sexual fantasies, men welcome the novelty of a woman who beats men at their game. She becomes less desirable when she resists a conventional male gaze, or when she becomes a model for other women to emulate. And she becomes a bonafide problem when she is rendered inaccessible, even for a night.
Watch the Wonder Woman trailer here.