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The Wonder Woman “Slut” Problem: As Discussed By Two Professional Nerds Via Email

This picture makes me happy.

By now, I’m sure you guys have seen the pictures of Adrianne Palicki costumed as David E. Kelley’s new Wonder Woman but, if not, here she is. Early Friday afternoon, my tweet stream was inundated with cries of outrage, some excitement and sadly, a whole lot of misogyny. A friend and peer of mine, Bobby “Fatboy” Roberts (writer, podcaster, actor, and not at all fat guy), sent me a message which basically asked (in a guidance counselor-y manner) if I wanted to rap about the issue, because I was clearly reaching a nuclear level of anger. So we did. And here are the results.

Bobby: Hi, Kiala! For the purposes of this email, I will be playing the role of Tim Gunn! I know you have seen the Wonder Woman costume that David E. Kelley and NBC have shoved Adrianne Palicki into. Do you like it? I think it’s a case of “So close – so far away.” The general idea is good, I think. It’s just that the details kinda make the whole endeavor go sideways. I don’t like the high-heels, I don’t like the shade of blue they used, I really don’t like the fabric – the vinyl/pleather thing just seems sorta tacky, to me.

 

EW.com/Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC

Kiala: Hi Bobby! For the purposes of this email I will be playing a man hating feminist. For the purposes of life I will just be playing a nerd who is also a feminist.

Here are my feelings about the new Wonder Woman costume: I like it! Do I think the material could have been better? Sure. It kind of reminds me of Raw-era Eddie Murphy but it doesn’t send me into an angry nerd spiral the way the news of Lucas deciding to 3D the shit out of Star Wars did. I think it’s fine. I like the leggings – I liked them when the illustrations for the new (non-Kelley) WW costume came out. I think they’re waaaaay more practical than no pants. Do I really need to say that? I mean, duh. I like the corset. It’s, you know… the same as all the other corsets Diana has worn throughout the years, basically. And high heeled boots are pretty. She’s a superhero. She’s got like super balance and super calves.

Now here is what I don’t like: I don’t like that this convo with you is the first opportunity I’ve had to talk about the aesthetics of the costume itself, because my Twitter feed has been hijacked by people claiming her outfit looks like “a slutty Halloween costume” and that she will be playing a hooker who fights crime. Apparently. And I’ve been deflecting those slut-shaming bullets ever since. WITH MY SHINY TIN CAN WRISTBANDS.

I get that the slick PVC-ness of her costume could remind people of naughty nurses or what have you, but does that make her “slutty”? Do cheap fabrics somehow imply Wonder Woman is gadding about town DTF anyone who buys her a drink (because that is what “sluts” do, I guess?) or, I don’t know, just anyone she finds attractive? Even if this were so, who gives a fuck? Why is that “bad”? In fact, a promiscuous Amazon would really not be so very far-fetched, but again, I understand this is not the point these people were trying to make. Unfortunately, instead of taking a moment to consider the impact of such loaded terms (not to mention lazy ones), people just started throwing around “whore” and “slut” like those are perfectly justifiable adjectives and aren’t totally ironic when used within the context of a female superhero who embodies strength, justice, and beauty.

Lynda Carter's Version

And, finally… FUCK. HAVE ANY OF THESE PEOPLE SEEN A SUPERHERO COSTUME BEFORE? They are all — every single one of them — bright, shiny, primary colored, tight in the sex places, and ridiculous.

Anyway, her hair looks real pretty.

Bobby: Yeah, the usage of the word “slut” here is some poorly-thought-out shorthand, definitely. I think it is the PVC-ness of the costume that’s prompting that shit, too. The word “Catwoman” keeps coming up, as does the word “Fetish.” And fetish has a lot to do with Wonder Woman, and her history; William Moulton Marston, her creator, was a kinky little asshole. But while this costume looks cheap (and I don’t mean that as in morally cheap, it looks like a costume I could have grabbed half-off, November 1st, at those Halloween stores that take over abandoned Party Depots) it doesn’t look SLUTTY. Hell, neither did Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Intimidatingly hot, yes. But not slutty. For one thing: There are pants. Long ones. Palicki’s showing less skin below the waist than most Quakers.

But it’s that Halloween costume thing that seems to be hanging people up. We’ve been hit with about a couple decades worth of “Sexy” versions of Halloween costumes marketed directly towards females age 13-up. And for a lot of people who are ignorant/scared shitless of sex, “Sexy” = “Slutty.” So that’s where people on your Twitter feed seem to be tripping over themselves and faceplanting into lazy idiocy. It doesn’t excuse that laziness at all, but I can see where they’ve had that particular angle sledgehammered into their heads.

It might also be where David E. Kelley is tripping himself up, too. If I remember correctly, he’s written (poor) reasons for why this costume looks like it does into the script. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I remember seeing an excerpt that shows Diana acknowledging the sex-appeal of her costume, and her chest specifically. And there’s nothing wrong with the Superhero having sex-appeal. It’s how you frame it, and I wonder if Kelley is choosing to frame it in a fashion that panders to people who substitute “sex” for “slut” frequently. I wouldn’t put it past him. He doesn’t seem to have a working understanding of what makes the character tick in the slightest, so far.

Here’s my problem with the Twitter langoliers criss-crossing the internet, all chattering teeth and mindless ripping: The suggestion that Miss Palicki is too “dainty” to play Diana. Granted, this costume isn’t helping get across the idea that this woman is an ass kicker. That’s one of the reasons I want the heels gone, replaced with a more all-purpose boot for extra-satisfying mud hole stomping But it’s like, Adrienne Palicki is an imposing actress. Emotionally and physically. Sure, she’s not a UFC fighter, but she’s not Angelina Jolie, either. Wonder Woman isn’t the Punisher. I don’t need Ray Stevenson w/ bracelets. It’d be cool if she acted more like Titus Pullo with tits, but she shouldn’t look like that. Palicki is one of the few actresses who doesn’t fit the body type of most starlets her age, to the point where I know she’s missed out on roles due to her size and physicality, and now she’s not big/butch ENOUGH? The complaint irritates me even more because I have yet to see anyone offer up an alternative that makes anywhere near as much sense.

I guess that’s my biggest gripe with the costume. It seems like yet another symptom of a production led by a creative team that is bound and determined to not only kneecap the character’s potential, but Ms. Palicki’s. The opportunity to be something more is being slowly ruined for her before she even gets a chance to do something with it.

Kiala: What? They think she’s not Xena enough? She’s so TALL. And I love her. Tyra was my favorite FNL character – a character, by the way, saddled with the epithet “slut” and stronger than almost everyone on that show.

I don’t know. I have a very low bar set for this thing already so I’m not expecting much from it. I am, however, expecting more from Wonder Woman fans. So if they could stop conflating sexy with slutty I would be satisfied.

Bobby: Okay – let’s strike a deal. I’ll go to the internet and be like “Hey, Internet. Quit being dickmouths,” but only if you promise to go to NBCUniversal and be like “Hey dickmouths — get Gail Simone to run this show and you can enjoy success for once,” and everyone will win.

Sound like a deal?

Kiala: OMG YES. But only if she lets me help write the jokes. Because I am so funny. Also Geoff Johns told me one time I looked like Wonder Woman. So that’s… something.

Anyway, DEAL.

Tw00t at Bobby and Kiala here and here!

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26 comments

  • Overall I agree with several of the points made by both sides of this conversation, especially the part articulating the widespread lack of differentiation between “sex appeal” and “slutiness.” I for one am willing to give the new show a shot, I think Wonder Woman is overdue for a comeback. Thanks for posting this summary!

  • I’m disappointed so much of the Internet reaction was derailed by talk of sluts, because I think there’s a more interesting conversation to be had about how the costume is wrong for character reasons. I nerded out in some depth on the matter myself. In theory, clicking my name should take you to my blog post.

  • I really dislike the plastic look but agree that a sexually uninhibited WW is more likely than one who isn’t, and I like that WW traditionally does have a lot of sex appeal but not in a gross James Bonds kind of way. It’s more self-confidence than smarminess. I don’t like the boots because they are impractical for a warrior but,so is the corset and WW always seems to fight just fine with that on. Go WW!

  • The “halloween slut” reaction is not the fault of the costume design. It’s the photograph. It’s most likely a costuming department work-in-progress shot never intended for the public. It’s a quick and dirty utility photo, unfortunately “slutty pirate” halloween costumes are shot the exact same way.

    Do the shoot with some care and you’d get something like this fake ad: http://moviecultists.com/2009/11/05/10-fake-fan-made-posters-that-look-real/wonder-woman-poster/

    BTW, if this image WAS approved for public release, well, that’s just poor judgment on the studio’s part.

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    @Bill The “Halloween slut” reaction is the fault of whomever has deemed it appropriate to use that word ever without thinking of the consequences. WORDS MEAN THINGS.

  • Funnily, my twitter feed was devoid of people calling this costume slutty, and was dominated by Kiala arguing with a bunch of invisible people about it.

    I kind of feel like the lesson here is: twitter isn’t a great place to have constructive discussions about… anything with other people. Thanks for breaking it down in more detail here, you two! And yeah, I say “BOOTS! Not heels.”

  • I think I’ve put my finger on it — it’s all that high gloss; costume and lipstick.

    Look at the hero costumes from recent movies (omitting the new Spidey), the colors tend to be tweaked just a bit with subtle patterns embedded in the design. Bit of shine here and there on a belt or whatnot, just as a change in texture.

    They could have done so much better (agree with the boots needing to be red), but this is on a TV show budget and I doubt they can blow tens of thousands of dollars per costume and fitting any more ‘with the times’.

    But the gloss, ruby red lipstick? Yea, Diana/Adrianne deserve better than that.

    Back to wardrobe and makeup for this heroine.

  • @Kiala Sorry. I was throwing the “s” word around in what was intended to be an academic blab about the dangers of bad photography. It’s a gross word. Which is why I used quotes, the yellow kitchen gloves of cyberspace.

  • Overall I like the cotume. I think the actress is lovely. I think the corset is very sexy. I understand the switch to pants but something about them looks a little funny but they may look a lot better after they are on film. I don’t know what FNL is and I am not familiar with this actress but I think she looks wonderful. I had hoped for a long time that they would get Lucy Lawless to play a middle aged WW in much the same way that I think John Hamm would make a great middle aged Superman.
    I really dislike the term slut. I really don’t understand it. I enjoy sex. I really want the women I’ve been with to enjoy it also. So why should anyone be a slut? Is it wrong to enjoy a nice walk or run? So why is a women who enjoys sex a slut? I’ve never understood that. I still don’t.
    What are they all afraid of?

  • I hate the word slut. It seems the general consensus is that cunt is the worst thing you can call a woman, but it’s actually slut. It implies that whole double standard bullshit.

    As for the costume. It’s really terrible looking. Very cheap. Cheap as in it looks like it was inexpensively made. I hope it improves on account of the backlash. I was really hoping they would go with a more utilitarian look, but still evoking Wonder Woman-ness. As for the studio not having enough money? Bull. You’d think with a show centering around a super hero they would pay great attention to what will become the sartorial symbol of it. You don’t have to have scads of money to make a decent costume. It seems like it was such an afterthought for them.

    Ugh. I’m kind of dreading this show though. The pilot script does not look good, forget about the shiny costume.

  • Disappointing pilot script aside, I think the costume design is pretty bland. It’s neither utilitarian (where are the unnecessary pouches/belts?) nor mythical. At least the Thor costume went with that armored neo-Asgardian theme. Though I guess the costume’ll suffice if WW only had to do a cameo on Smallville or something. Speaking of which, the costume kinda reminds me of the plasticky looking Dr. Fate helm they had on that show.

    Also, first pic is exactly what Mxyzptlk would look like if he dressed up as WW.
    ^5000 xp to anyone who gets that without looking it up

  • I am not liking the costume because of the cheap ass looks.
    I did like Lynda Carter’s costume.
    Hot, sexy, slutty… It’s all in the eye of the beholder and you can’t make everyone happy all the time.

  • I think the problem with every live-action Wonder Woman costume is the same: Wonder Woman is and always has been DC’s premier female superhero, and none of her live-action costumes–not even Lynda Carter’s–has given her that appearance. The current costume is by far no exception.

    Adrienne Palicki definitely has the acting chops to handle the role, as well as the physical appearance…but the outfit depicted does make her look dainty compared to her normal statuesque look. The plastic look does not say “top-of-the-mountain superheroine.” It says “I need attention and have major daddy issues.”

    Wonder Woman definitely should have long pants (though the knee-length armor pleat skirt sometimes used in the comics and by Erica Durance dressing as Wonder Woman for a costume party on “Smallville” also could work. High-heeled boots–super-balance or no–just don’t function. Remember, Palicki and her stunt doubles ARE human, and it’s hard to even walk in 3-inch heels, much less run and kick in a gracefully athletic manner.

    The colors also are too light, and the metals should look metallic.

  • I’m giving this show a chance because it’s David E Kelley and I loved Boston Legal. Still, early descriptions I read didn’t mention the Wonder Woman persona at all – just her other more normal aliases. The new Wonder Woman reboot in the comics parades her around in a jacket and jeans rather than the star-spangled shorts and red and gold she’s known for – I was worried it would be something like that, or like Smallville where it’s basically the most boring adaptation of the character who has a great social life and barely fights the forces of evil. At least she’s in a costume that is believable as Wonder Woman – I’ll give it a shot. On our podcast we discussed the early news of the show a few weeks back, and our greatest fear was that like Heroes or Smallville, the “hero” wasn’t actually going to be out there like a comic book character fighting crime in her hero costume. Fans get bored not seeing their heroes actually fight anyone. If it’s a show about Wonder Woman, the audience will accept and EXPECT a degree of cheesiness for it to be true to the character, we like to see our heroes running around in bright colors battling evil-doers – that’s why the comics are popular, it’s what we expect and what we love. Anything falling short of that – why bother with it when you can read the comics and graphic novels with much more interesting characters and story lines? So, to be honest, I was really excited to see the character in a full-blown Wonder Woman style outfit.

    As for her cleavage, the outfit is about just as skimpy as Lynda Carter’s (who I loved!!!), so this comparison that she is much sluttier is frustrating to me. I completely agree with you guys, sexy is absolutely not the same as slutty. More than anything it’s actually more modest than a lot of popular comic book depictions of the character. In fact, comic book women are commonly depicted as being gorgeous women with large breasts who show off their legs and/or cleavage because it has become important to the comic book world to demonstrate that a woman can be strong and powerful but also beautiful, sexy, and feminine at the same time. Still, not quite sure those pants fit her right, and I hate how all the gold and silver accents are trying to look like armor or something, because they end up looking like cheap plastic. The accents were done much better on Lynda Carter’s costume. I’m not crazy about all the vinyl, but I think they could’ve pulled it off if they used something of higher quality for the accents and details of the costume.

    Either way, I think my pick would’ve been Lucy Lawless over Adrianne Palicki… She’s gorgeous in Battlestar Galactica and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The targeted demographic should be nerds who dig good representations of their favorite iconic characters, which will lead to a higher quality, more interesting TV-series for all to enjoy. Lucy Lawless has that *strong amazon* thing down easy, she even voice acted as Wonder Woman in several Justice League movies. But I am going to give this show and Adrianne Palicki a chance, I am too much of a Wonder Woman fan not too. I believe she has the potential to breathe new life into the character in this live-action portrayal, and at the same time hopefully keep true to this comic book icon. The fans should give her the opportunity to do the character justice, and the creators of the new show should definitely read some of the comics and speak to people like Gail Simone.

  • I look at Wonder Woman’s outfit the way I look at women’s suits. There tends to be a difference between the “sexy businesswoman” look in porn, and in the office. Women can rock the suit in the office, show a little bit of cleavage and some leg. But it’s definitely not the same outfit.

    Why? Because the former is a “hot, sexual woman” as imagined by a man, seen through a male lens. Whereas the latter is a woman who may feel sexy, but whose primary identity and use is not just as a sexbomb.

    For me, the new Wonder Woman is a step closer to porn WW than to the more-than-sexual empowered Wo-man.

    I also can’t help but point out — fighting crime with boobs pushed up around her ears, breathing constricted with corset, in a mobility-impairing non-breatheable fabric, on heels no less – hmmm, yeah.

    I don’t believe in sluts — eff who you want, wear what you want, y’all — but you can keep your post-feminism cooing over pretty shoes in lieu of making an argument, and your weird idea that looking like you can go from bedroom-to-beating-baddies in less than 5 minutes is somehow about being free and empowered..

  • I said “slut” on twitter. I also said “hooker.”

    Let me say it again. slut slut slut, hooker hooker hooker! whee!

    “Slut” may have been poor shorthand, but so also is the assumption that by saying the costume looks “slutty,” I am making a judgement about the character of someone who likes to have a lot of sex. I’m not. Sorry if you think I am or if you think some people are. I’m not.

    They could write a Wonder Woman who has lots of sexy good times and I would not care if it was at all true to something about the character. And by “the character,” I’m not even talking about some mystical “canon” developed by hundreds of good-to-middling writers/bondage devotees over seventy-odd years.

    That fact? That’s irrelevant to the picture and what’s wrong with it.

    Sorry if the use of the word “slut” in a shorthand context in a 140-character medium is somehow offensive. It’s a costume that emphasizes the character’s sexuality over anything else. I know, I know, “All superhero costumes do that,” yadda yadda…except, um, NOT.

    People hate the current Wonder Woman costume in the comics. I kinda like it. It’s a sensible crimefighting/battling outfit. Even her “classic” costume is less sexual than this one, although it is most often drawn as a thong and some metal over boobs.

    This is a shitty costume that to me makes it clear the writers/creators have no intention of doing anything but Sex and the City with superheroes. So fine. Go do it. But it’s a stupid, cliched idea that is so much more offensive in a feminist sense than someone using the word “slut” to describe a costume that is sexualized to the point of parody. And this costume is that logline in a nutshell.

    ultimately, I’m most upset that while I feel I was one of the leading Twitter advocates on the slut/hooker side, I get no linkbait from this article. I like traffic. I care.

  • I think one of the more encouraging aspects of the word Slut is that it’s often used gender nuetrally, as opposed to, say, Skank.

    Both are shorthand, to me, for “someone who substitutes self esteem with promiscuity,” (As opposed to, say someone who has a strong self-image that includes displays of secondary sexuals.)

    I like the costume well enough – biker shorts would have been better – a good mix of the classic and the practical.

    As far as the “Corset” – it’s not a corset, knuckleheads. It’s a breastplate. Sure, a sleevless breastplate might not be soo practical, but the idea isn’t ridiculous.

  • I know why i don’t like it. Let’s think about some of the past super female roles in movies and television of the last 10 years. The X-men franchise, Black Widow from Iron Man 2 , even Hit Girl from Kick-Ass. Thought, detail and more importantly money went into making these characters look like they spent more than 60 bucks and or minutes on the costume. When I see that poor actress in that get-up I don’t see effort into the design, I see what looks like someone coplaying Wonder Woman. Google images for that and I’m sure you can find worse examples but most are on par with what she’s wearing.
    @Greg Zywicki if you see the pics on EW the resolution is better and no, it’s a corset. with some ridiculously looking plastic eagle. a breast plate covers ALL of the chest.

  • Show’s not going to air! Guess all the costume debate… (my 2 cents? Pants = bad, should have been modern-style bikini type bottoms instead of the granny panties Lynda Carter wore) … was for naught.

    Nothing is coming out of worth… and what little there is worth watching is being canceled rapidly. TV is dead, and has been since the end of the greatest show in history, Lost.

  • As for what would be wrong with a promiscuous amazon, I really only care if she is (like Wonder Woman) a role model to young girls.

    I don’t particularly like any role model being promiscuous, it’s bad for society (guys think they’re Bond if they cheat on their spouse – good for you , guys!).

    Calling her a slut is stupid, I don’t think she looks like one, and I highly doubt she’ll be acting like one on screen (which I would have a very big problem with).