So I gave in. After promising everyone that I never would, and complaining (a lot) about the very concept of superhero movies, I went to see the much-hyped adventures of Wonder Woman. Initially, I was humoring a friend, but with each minute I sat there, I found myself unwillingly inspired by what I saw.
Much has been made of the fact that several countries have chosen to boycott the movie, on the grounds of its lead actress, Gal Gadot, being a proud Israeli and Zionist. It makes sense that this movie would rub Israel’s neighbors the wrong way, but after actually seeing it, I have a feeling it is not the Zionism that is their main point of concern.
“Wonder Woman” is far from just a superhero movie, it is a feminist masterpiece, without being either schmaltzy or on the nose. It features a strong, empowered woman who makes her own choices and goes her own way and who isn’t overly sexualized or used as a vehicle to transport a male lead. To me, a self-assured Western woman, it was unexpectedly inspiring. To the Arab world, it must be a terrifying thing.
I will say that this fear of female emancipation is not isolated to the Arab world, but highly exacerbated in these areas, and the consequences of not following the rules are all the more dire. But the West has a sneaky type of misogyny, where women are judged more harshly and exempted from various arenas, or choose to exempt themselves because of the cost of admission. After Theresa May bungled the recent British elections, the political commentators felt free to describe her disappointment and loss by referring to her physical appearance and age, and I saw the same thing happen to Hillary Clinton just a few months ago. Whether or not I care for the people in question, I can ?clearly see the things that hold us back, just because we are women, and the higher we climb and the stronger we are, the more enemies line up to defeat us.
“Wonder Woman” did not just put an extra spring in my step, it made me wonder what it is about Israel that creates women like Gadot, or for that matter, women in leadership positions all across the social and political spectrum. One the one hand, it could be the fact that the divisions of gender are secondary to the greater divide created by the conflict and the constant presence of real and present danger but on the other, that is probably just part of the truth. Israeli women are shaped by the equality of military service, a fact that cannot be overestimated, as girls at an early age learn to focus on something much greater and more important than their appearance and to garner both physical and mental strength that shapes how they approach the world.
We all know that a totalitarian society focuses on enslaving girls and women, because ?women are the key to freedom, prosperity and development. This can be seen in societies that circumcise their girls and later prevent them from driving cars. In juxtaposition to that is a place where women are in positions of power and protection and encouraged to grow.
Israel is neither Western nor Eastern; in every sense, it stands alone. And because it does, it has been able to make its own rules. Israeli feminism is not the fake and shallow brand we see in the West, but a practical kind in which women are treated as people first rather than shamed for expressions of their femininity. That is why I loved “Wonder Woman” and felt that no other actress than Gadot could have made me feel as I did when I saw her fill that screen. She wasn’t playing strong or acting fearless, but expressing something real before our eyes.
That’s why this movie is being boycotted, and why it holds such power for our enemies. Not because Gadot is Israeli, but because the movie so perfectly portrays ?what Israel is, and all the promise it holds.
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political adviser and writer on the Middle East, religious affairs and global anti-Semitism. Twitter @truthandfiction.