Feminism, Pop Culture, and Wonder Woman ft. Joy Xhindole
It's International Women's Day, a time to celebrate the women across the world....something we should probably do more often. But if we are talking about strong, influential women, Wonder Woman is a name that immediately comes to mind. She is the representation young women desperately seek on screen, and watching her has inspired millions over the years.
And once you see it, you can’t and shouldn’t un-see it. Representation in media matters. When Joy Xhindole, a student in Seneca College's PR program, first saw the movie Wonder Woman, it flipped a switch in her. She was seeing a woman being portrayed in a movie in a way that wasn’t very typical and defied a lot of stereotypes. After seeing that, it inspired her to analyze pop culture and media more closely for how it portrays women and what impact that can have.
“If you’re telling a woman how she should act or if you’re trying to dictate her identity, I think you’re just defying the very essence of what you think you’re fighting for as a feminist. I think a woman should be proud of however she wants to display her womanhood and her femininity. There’s power in all of it.” - Joy Xhindole
Not only does Joy tackle the power of representation in mainstream cinema through the lens of Wonder Woman, she also chats with us about the superhero culture that has grown in popularity in the last decade or so, and how it has interacted with feminism.
It's certainly a lot to unpack, and Joy navigates topics such as toxic masculinity and gender roles with ease. While we cover several topics on this episode, the crux of the issue is to understand that feminism is about equality. Wonder Woman is only one example of a strong woman, but strength comes in many forms, and we must recognize the importance of this. The takeaway is to be kind and take time to learn, empathize, and enable discourse.
We hope you enjoy this WONDER-ful episode of Unscripted.
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On this episode, we are celebrating strong women as we probably should more often, but since it is International Women's Day, we thought what better way to do it than discuss one of the strongest fictional female characters around- Wonder Woman.
She has inspired millions of young women with her bravery and strength, and when it was announced that she'd be getting her own feature film so many around the world collectively said “finally”. Diana Prince has been hailed as a feminist icon for decades and our guest today is 100% behind that.
She spent many years understanding how Wonder Woman has impacted our world, so we thought we'd do a deep dive into her character, her values, and how she fits into the superhero culture that has become so very popular.
We are in conversation today with Joy, who is from the PR program, and we're going to be talking about Wonder Woman.
So first of all, before we dive into the topic, welcome to the podcast Joy.
Thank you, guys. I'm happy to be here.
We're happy to have you and this is a very interesting topic. And from what we've spoken before, you've mentioned that you have talked extensively about Wonder Woman and her representation in pop culture in essays and projects, and now your blog.
So I'm wondering, what made you pick Wonder Woman as an icon to talk about and to analyze?
I think her character resonates with me because I see a lot of myself in her, she's extremely headstrong. She's a rebel with a cause. She's a humanitarian and she loves just to challenge the status quo and as my friends would say, that's big Aquarius energy and I'm an Aquarius. You know that rebel with a cause, the humanitarian.
I think seeing a character like her just kind of made me feel more accepted because, you know a lot of the time in Hollywood, Hollywood portrays the female protagonist, as this meek, a little bit naive, very compliant character. For us females that don't fall into that category, sometimes I feel like, and I can speak for myself, it almost makes me feel kind of like ashamed for not complying with the stereotype.
It makes you almost question your femininity and you know have confusion within your identity. So seeing Wonder Woman, Diana's character for girls like me it just, it creates a sense of confidence. It makes you feel more accepted as I mentioned. And it makes you feel powerful in the femininity that you exert right and that kind of energy.
And yeah, just a lot of confidence.
I was just going to say like the word powerful, really feels like the best word to associate with the way that Wonder Woman can kind of make you feel. Just like even circling back before that, Afshaan mentioned that you wrote an essay about all of this. So what inspired you to feel just so compelled that you needed to devote a whole essay to exploring this topic of how Wonder Woman’s portrayal has impacted feminism or portrays feminism in pop culture?
So I'm not gonna lie to you guys, I had to do Wonder Woman, but the approach that I took... I had to analyze Wonder Woman, but I think what's really amazing about that essay that I did that you guys saw, it was a school project, a school assignment in my undergrad that really opened my eyes and it made me understand. I think once I've started to dissect and analyze Diana's character it made me understand my character more.
It is the reason, right? That I started my blog and that I continue on that path of really just drawing parallels between pop culture and cinema and all of the topics that we see in culture today, whether they be political, social, or economic, right?
I hope that answers your question a little bit. I feel like I just rambled.
No, it absolutely does and I think it really speaks to like this idea of seeing representation of yourself, being so important to empower ourselves, right?
A lot of times we don't necessarily always realize who we are until we see aspects of ourselves reflected, and then that sort of almost starts shaping your identity as a person.
I think that's so important to see and it's really cool that it's something iconic. Wonder Woman's been iconic for a long time, right? So it's really cool to see her evolve as a comic book character, as well as continue to inspire kids as she evolves through time.
It really speaks to it and we need more female superheroes! Just putting it out there.
Sure! We do!
Now I'm curious, when you started writing about Wonder Woman, was it based on her comic book representation or did you watch the film?
And if it was the film, were you a little apprehensive about how you thought a movie is going to treat an iconic character like Diana?
It was definitely based, my whole take on her was not on the comics because I'm not going to even sit here and pretend like I read the comics.
Definitely on the movie, but, and then going back to what you asked, I didn't even think about watching it when it came out. Basically what happened was honestly I was with a girlfriend. We were hanging out and we were super bored and she's like why don't we go watch a movie and we went and watched a movie and like I knew I was obviously, we went and watched Wonder Woman obviously, and I knew I was going to be watching a movie about this badass superhero woman. But I just didn't think that I would appreciate her character as much as I did.
And to be honest with you, I think what's stuck with me the most is the fact that she didn't let the idea of a romantic love or like a lust for a man get in the way of what she set out to do. Right? Like her mission. And I think that's just like really admirable in and of itself.
I personally hate when movies create that love story when it's just not necessary to the plot. I feel like it's done to the female protagonist a lot and it's just there, in my opinion, it just diverts attention and it just traps her into that male gaze, or the hegemonic masculinity.
So really it was a breath of fresh air to see that.
Yeah, and I also think it's very interesting for us to analyze it from that perspective. Because I think everybody goes into any movie with their own view of it and their own things they’re going to take away from it.
But like you said, when you watch it and you see the way she is just so focused on getting things done and focusing on how she can help others and not kind of getting distracted by these other things that we tend to see female characters...that happens to them a lot, especially in movies.
think it's interesting when you consider that seeing that and then wondering where else it might be represented. So, like did seeing Wonder Woman kind of propel you to analyze so many other things more closely?
Oh 100%! A 100%! As I said, Wonder Woman is the reason that I started my blog. She was the inspiration. I feel like that's what I do a lot now. I just analyze different facets and aspects of our society, and I think that's part of my nature too.
I love...I'm a poli Sci major, right? So challenging everything, not taking everything for face value, taking everything with a grain of salt, always being the critical thinker. That's part of my nature but also part of being a Poli SCI student.
But yeah, no, definitely after seeing that movie it was a push.
I think that's interesting that you mentioned that it's your poli SCI degree that sort of helped you analyze these concepts because I feel like there's a lot of cross disciplinary stuff that comes in poli Sci or the arts, where you take one concept and you're able to apply it really easily to something else.
And it just goes to show how, I guess in a sense, how political films can be. They’re supposed to be entertainment, but there's also this discourse on how it's... not manipulating, I don’t want to say manipulating because it's a strong word, but sort of pushing us in a certain direction and I think to that point you mentioned hegemonic masculinity, which is, I think essentially a political tool.
It is, yeah.
So I'm wondering, can you explain that a bit further and talk about how this applies to Wonder Woman and what you mean by this?
I'm going to make it really, really simple, there's certain characteristics that traditionally are supposed to be female. The compliant, the compassionate, the gentle character, and then there's characteristics that are favorable, unfortunately, in society that fall under hegemonic masculinity.
But also it's really interesting because those characteristics that I just mentioned about a female are actually from, are actually under the umbrella of hegemonic masculinity because they're through a male gaze, right?
And that's basically it and then I mean tying it back into, the roles and what we see in films and stuff like that, I think when we're tying it back to Wonder Woman... So you see, Wonder Woman, right? And she's this dominant, she's this daring, she's this brave and stubborn and focused female and traditionally females didn't play those roles. They didn't play those characters. We didn't see that.
But forget the movies, females I feel like didn't play those roles in movies because they weren't accepted to be that in real life. If you were that loud, outspoken, dominant, brave woman, you were shunned. You weren't supposed to be like that.
And then going back to what you said, manipulations is a strong word, but yeah, like the media they have an agenda. There is an agenda in the media and they do have a job and they do have these values and notions and ideas that they're meant to perpetuate. And that's one of them.
One of them is that a woman, and maybe not so much anymore, but back in the day, that a woman's role is not to be those things.
And I think we're stepping away from it in general when it comes to gender roles, we're becoming a little bit more open.
But what I want to say about that is that there is no right or wrong answer and what I mean by that is sometimes I've seen women who naturally fall into the category of a more traditional female archetype. They get shamed and they get perceived as this woman who's compliant to the patriarchy or she's weak. And I just think that's simply not true and I don't think that's right either, because if you're telling a woman how she should act, or if you're trying to dictate her identity, I think you're just defying the very essence of what you think you're fighting for as a feminist.
I think a woman should be proud of however she wants to display her womanhood and her femininity. There's power in all of it.
Oh, definitely, I think you worded it so well with just the fact that it's about being able to accept who you are and people being able to be represented in different forms of what it means to be feminine, because you're right like there has been, the shy woman who's supposed to fit into this mold. And that was what traditionally, maybe male writers or creators, knew how to portray, so that's why we saw more of them.
But then there's women on the other side being like, ‘yeah, but we want to see women in other ways too’.
So it's this divide between wanting to see the strong women because that should be represented, but also remembering that we need to accept how other ways of femininity are expressed.
Yea, 100%. As I said, like there's no right or wrong answer. It's whatever makes you feel like a woman. It's whatever makes you feel good. It doesn't need to fit into these molds that society has constructed it's up to the woman.
That's how I feel about it.
And then like to that point and to that discussion, we mentioned that the movie is challenging these representations of women and kind of in a very, I want to say stark way, there's that quote where Diana tells Steve that really he's only essential for procreation and that's it, so I'm curious what your take is on that line and what that kind of means for the film.
This is a hard one for me and I'll tell you why. I understand why it's there and I'll dive into it but I think there's a strong note of radical feminism in that and I do have a problem with it. I don't think division is the answer at all.
I think we see so much division in society in general, whether it be between the two sexes or between races and I understand where the division comes from. I understand for that need of, let's call it revenge or why some would equate that degradation or whatever would equate it with justice.
I do understand that people are hurt, right? People have been mistreated for centuries and enough is enough, and my heart breaks for people and I have so much sympathy and empathy, and I understand it, but I don't think division is the answer.
So going back to Diana, sorry, I feel like I went on a ramp, but I'm very passionate about that. I do understand the underlying message of that line that she said to Trevor, about a man is only there for procreation. Because it's true. A girl can do anything a man can do. I'm all for that and I believe it whole heartedly. And yeah, they're the procreation. We can't make, we can't procreate on our own.
I do get that. I do understand it. And I do think it delivered that message. But again I think it could be perceived as a little degrading, and again I know that there's many women that would say, well that kind of degradation was done onto us for centuries, and you know they'd equate it with justice.
But I'm of the mind that, as I've been saying, equality doesn't come from revenge or division.
I think that's really interesting that you mentioned that because, like you said, there's different schools that have different viewpoints. Some follow a certain path and think that what you said is right, like, oh, we've been treated like this for centuries, so it's only fair that they get a taste of their medicine and stuff like that, but I think more recently, at least something that I personally championed, is in the pursuit of breaking these roles down a bit more and encouraging equality, something that I've been really interested in is breaking down toxic masculinity.
I think since we're talking about superheroes, since we're talking about gender roles and stuff like that, I'm wondering what is your take on toxic masculinity in the superhero sphere?
Do you think, like toxic masculinity always obviously comes from this need to always be a certain type of alpha male, to be strong, to be completely in charge and in control of yourself, and I'm wondering, first of all, how do you perceive that? And do you think because of this sort of mindset that we deserve our time to shine now, do you think that's something that we are in peril of becoming at some point?
Yeah no, I definitely know what you mean. I want to start off by saying, not to get too personal, but the things that you're hearing coming out of my mouth today have changed significantly now versus what you would get Joy to say even as little as 6 to 8 months ago. I was of a totally different mind.
I think I, without even knowing it, I was exhibiting toxic masculine traits in myself because I had, I think, a lot of frustration, confusion and anger when it came to my role as a woman and what that meant in relation with men and I just want to say first of all, I feel so sorry like for the fact that men are living in this culture that really, really really just pushes toxic masculinity.
I think people misunderstand the term manliness. And I don't think that manliness should mean a lack of emotional intelligence or aggression or domination, or physical coercion. I know it's hard, but I think people need to stop trying to fit into a certain socially constructed box because it's just so harmful.
Getting back to superheroes, portraying the superhero as only the Stoic, physically dominating, daring type takes away credibility to many other powerful and necessary traits like gentleness and compassion and empathy. And they're looked down upon when it comes to creating a superhero character because these are traits that traditionally were perceived as weak, and that's just something that we have so backwards as a society in my opinion, and it's caused us to be extremely unbalanced.
That's kind of my take on it.
Yeah, and then that unbalance is perpetuated by these pop culture things that we consume all the time, like just the fact that there's this idea ‘you throw like a girl’ or you need to throw like a guy in order for it to be a good throw.
But that's not what it is. Like what you mentioned, when we try to strive to be more like a man, we are continuing those toxic traits and it kind of becomes this thing where once you see it, you can't unsee it, and I think that that applies through representation of all kinds, is that once you realize what you are being shown and what you aren't being shown. You can't stop seeing what's missing or what's being harmfully celebrated sometimes.
And just to add on to that, like as a woman, right? I see so many versions of woman and a femininity in the media. I see so many versions of that through the influencers and celebrities that are on Instagram and on TikTok and on this and that, so it just leaves you with this confusion of which one am I? Which one should I be?
Be whoever you feel comfortable being, wherever you find power. If you find power in being the loud, silly, crazy, bold, assertive woman, all the power to you. If you feel power in being the more reserved, more introverted, more gentle, more timid, all the power to you.
It doesn't matter that society and the media has labeled them otherwise. That's how I feel about it.
I think it really speaks to the fact that human beings are complex, they’re nuanced, and no two humans are the same. They're all going to have different combinations of similar traits.
But to say that one is more desirable than the other, I think is wrong, and I think that speaks to the idea that we need to see more representation of these different identities, these different people. We see more superheroes that are also moms and all that stuff, right?
Yeah, and why do they need to be aggressive, right? Why do they need to be daring and dominant like there's so much beauty and strength in other characteristics. That's not the only way to be powerful and strong.
Yeah, and I feel like by being really aggressive, like you said, we tend to be toxic ourselves. In terms of seeking out this representation for intersectional feminism in pop culture, what path do you think we need to take? As people who are championing this cause, how do you think we need to call for the..I know that you probably don't have like a solid answer, but just your opinion.
Honestly, I think it's in representation. I think there's a lot of tension and aggression just in general right now in society and in the media and all of that kind of stuff.
And I just think honestly, I think the representation of what is strong and powerful really needs to change.
I think a huge key is to represent these traits that we initially represented as weak as actually beautiful, strong and powerful.
Have you found, like I kind of touched on this before, but the idea of once you see it, you can't unsee it?
Because I also find too, when I get interested in some new subject or movie or franchise, I kind of dive deep into the people behind that and when I do that, even if it's like an industry too, you're looking for representations of yourself. You're looking for ‘how do I fit into this narrative or this industry’? Whether it's tech or it's comic books or it's social media. We're all kind of looking for a representation of ourselves.
So do you find now when you are looking at any kind of media, you're looking at it more critically to see representations of yourself, but also to question how they're representing others or missing others?
Yeah, no, as I said, I'm always one to challenge what I see. I'm always wanting to engage my critical thinking, so that's just something that I do in general. I feel like as people, we’re all so nuanced and the more you become in touch with who you are, and your identity and the world around you, the more that you see yourself in so many different places that you didn't think you would.
As far as like representation goes, I feel like, and stop me at any point if I'm not answering your question, but I feel like we're getting a little better. We're not quite there, but we're getting better at having a lot of representation. Does that kind of answer your question?
Sort of, I think it's just the whole fact of analyzing these things more critically, like you do, and as a viewer, I think it's just learning how to do that because you've kind of picked it up naturally, right Whereas other people might be thinking okay, maybe I do need to be looking at things more closely than I am and not taking them at face value.
So how do you go about shifting your mindset?
Because I think for both of us, all of us maybe, it just happens automatically.
I honestly think the best thing that anyone could do for themselves is to educate themselves. People, and this is fact, we tend to absorb or look for the information that supports our bias. Everyone does that naturally.
It's a natural thing to do that we look for evidence and for information and for whatever it is that supports what we want to hear, what our biases are, whether we realize it or not, and it's usually very subconscious.
So what I want to say to that is, once you are aware of your own biases, step outside of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. It's scary, it is. Inform yourself. Inform yourself of all the sides of an argument. Challenge everything that you see. Don't take anything for face value. I don't care who it's coming from, truly. Again, I'm just that type of person, I don't care who it's coming from, I will challenge it. I will do the research on my own and then once I've done the research, then I'll form my opinion. I don't care who you are? I don't care who it is.
For someone who's not like that, I would just say try as much as you can to gather as much knowledge as you can on any topic. Try to recognize your biases and once you recognize them it's all piece of cake from there.
Yeah, but I think even just recognizing your biases is so difficult to do right?
Because you don't know what you're biased about, and I think that's where an open-minded conversation really comes into play. I would encourage everyone, whichever side of the political spectrum you fall on, to have those open conversation without being discouraging or putting anyone else down.
What would you advise, if you have to give storytellers any advice, who are responsible for creating this narrative that people can have an open discourse in, like what advice would you give them to enable this.
Conversation. Open conversation. Creating that room for discourse and we don't have that. We are in a society that if you are not with me, you are against me. And it is so, so, so dangerous and people don't understand, because now you aren't speaking from a place of fact, you are speaking from a place of strong emotion.
So even if the other side is speaking facts to you. Even if they're saying things that are very truthful, you don't care anymore because you have labeled them the enemy. No matter what it is political, social, whatever.
When you come from a place where you have shut down and you don't care to hear facts, all you want is your personal biases to be supported and for you to feel emotionally charged? I don't know how else to explain it.
Maybe it's the lack of a better word, but when you are talking about or looking at a subject that requires fact, but you are, subconsciously, coming from a place of emotion you have entered very dangerous waters. And that's what a lot of people do when it comes to politics, that's what I've noticed.
In politics comes, gender roles and everything else, right? There are things, of course, absolutely that are inherently wrong and that are just blatantly wrong and blatantly right. There are 100%.
But I feel like other than those things, yeah, we've entered a culture that there's no more conversation. We lack conversation and understanding.
Yeah, and that's evident, I think even just circling back like you said to feminism. It goes back to your two schools, right? Where it's like the other person's the enemy, but that's not the case. We need to stop viewing people as enemies and just an opportunity, I guess, to educate. And that's the mindset we need to have.
Yeah, 100%. And I get it. There's so much hurt, there's so much hurt going around and I totally understand it and I'm so empathetic towards it and I don't blame anyone at all, but I think if we want to reach the goals that we have we have to be a lot more willing to have conversations and a lot more understanding of the fact that making people our enemy probably won't help us reach the goal that we want.
It feels like we need to practice having constructive conversations and just communicating more effectively with each other when it comes to these issues.
But kind of wrapping up, we mentioned way in the beginning that you do also have a blog that continues these conversations. Do you want to talk a little bit about what people can learn from your blog as well?
Basically, what I do on my blog is it's drawing parallels between pop culture and cinema and culture. So things that are going on right now in our current culture, in politics, and society and all of that kind stuff, current affairs, and I basically analyze how pop culture mirrors our culture, and that's the best way that I can kind of put it.
I basically call it where cinema meets culture.
Alright, well we look forward to sharing the posts from your blog and it's basically like the power of the pop culture that you're consuming has an impact on society and society has an impact on the pop culture or you're consuming. It's like a vicious cycle. Let's make it less vicious.
Yeah, what's that expression life mirrors art, art mirrors life? Something like that.
Art imitates life, life imitates art.
Yeah, something like that. I couldn't remember exactly what it is and I think that's very true.
It is! I think you're doing a really good job, like I mentioned earlier that you need to sort of open up these conversations and it is outlets like your blog that do open up these conversations, right?
Like I remember when I was studying, I wrote essays on like 50 Shades of Grey, The Notebook and all that stuff, and I always thought a certain way but then I would go and I would find these blogs. You don’t really find these opinions in editorials or like in tabloids.
No, they have an agenda.
Yea. It's blogs like these that make me think about what I'm consuming, so I think it's really cool that you've chosen to do this. I think a lot of people are going to be very enlightened.
And if there's only one, well, I hope I left people with more than one thing, but just like wrapping up my thoughts, if I could encourage people to do anything, gather your information from various sources.
Do not form your opinions just from watching Fox News or just from watching CNN because it's no secret, you can Google it yourself, these are politically sponsored media outlets. They are biased because they are funded by certain political parties, for example. Same with magazines and same with newspapers. So be very careful where you get your information from. That's all I'm going to say.
Alright, I think that sounds like a good place to land on. Do your research.
Yes, that's all I ask of people. Just do your research.
Alright, well thank you so much for joining us for this conversation, Joy.
Thank you, guys, for having me. It's been a pleasure.
That was an incredibly wonderful conversation.
Yeah, it really highlights the importance of critically thinking about the media we're consuming and to hold even our personal heroes accountable when need be. This way we continue to learn and grow and it's a true character arc.
Once again, we'd like to thank Joy for sharing her passion and perspective on pop culture and media.
We hope you enjoyed this episode and if you want to learn more about all the exciting things our students are up to, you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @SenecaMedia and for all things Seneca Media check out our blog at senecamedia.ca.