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In an age of rising social awareness, there is an increased demand for films which explore and challenge the norms, standards, and institutions of society, particularly those which influence one’s way of life on the basis of their gender. Younger generations yearn for films in which dominant female characters drive the plot and are the centerpiece of the story. Two films accomplish both goals of being led by female characters and challenging societal institutions- Wonder Woman and Zootopia- though the two films achieve those goals in very different ways.
Though both films have a female lead, Zootopia and Wonder Woman drastically differ in their depiction of hegemonic masculinity, the hierarchical dimensions of gender, and patriarchy. While Byron Howard and Rich Moore largely avoid these issues in Zootopia, Patty Jenkins makes them key themes of Wonder Woman. However, both films share key characteristics- a reinforcement of the components of masculinity, a lack of non-women being subjugated for their gender, and an absence of a clear demonstration of women either reinforcing or working against gender inequality.
Sharon R. Bird, quoting Connell, defines hegemonic masculinity as “the maintenance of practices that institutionalize men’s dominance over women”. Therefore, it can be said that hegemonic masculinity is present in these films if such institutional practices are present, and while they are certainly present in Wonder Woman, the same can not be said for Zootopia.
There is no clear barrier, legal or societal, preventing females from ascertaining positions of influence in Zootopia, whether in government or in the police force. In fact, in the first bullpen scene, the very first police officer the film mentions by name, Francine, was female, and Assistant Mayor Bellwether held a prominent seat in the city government. Meanwhile, Judy Hopps is never told she can not be a police officer because of her gender; she is only ever discriminated against due to her species.
Wonder Woman, on the other hand, prominently features discriminatory institutional practices throughout the film, from the scene where Diana is essentially shooed out of the Supreme War Council for being a woman to the scene where she is repeatedly belittled by the male British generals as she translates Dr. Poison’s notebook. The type of overt gender discrimination outlined in Bird and Connell’s definition of hegemonic masculinity is largely absent from Zootopia, but is prominently featured in Wonder Woman.Bird and Connell’s definition of hegemonic masculinity deals not just with dominance over women, but also with dominance over “subordinate masculinities”.
Neither of these films show clear examples of this kind of domination. At no point in Zootopia is any institutional practice depicted where those of subordinate masculinities are dominated, and although Wonder Woman displays many practices which institutionalize men’s domination of women, at no point does the film showcase any instance of men with ‘superior’ masculinities dominating those of subordinate masculinities.Bird outlines three components of masculinity which she asserts are perpetuated by heterosexual male homosociality: emotional detachment, competition, and the sexual objectification of women.
One can say that the components of masculinity are reinforced in a film if these elements are present, and though both films do contain some of these components, neither contain all three, and each film contains the components that the other lacks. Wonder Woman offers many clear displays of competition; the central conflict of the film, World War I, was in and of itself a giant competition between the belligerents to see which could be more dominant, and leaders such as Sir Patrick Morgan and General Lutendorf would routinely compete to be more influential and have the most decision-making power in their respective governments. The film additionally displays sexual objectification of women, with Sameer’s first words to Diana upon meeting her being about her body.
Wonder Woman lacks examples of emotional detachment, but Zootopia contains many; the aforementioned first bullpen scene shows Chief Bogo and other dominant, male officers acting emotionally aloof. Nick Wild, the most prominent male character in the film, is characterized by an unwillingness to express emotion, demonstrated when he rapidly changes the subject after telling the story of how he was discriminated against during his Junior Ranger Scout initiation. Taken together, both films depict and reinforce all three of Bird’s components of hegemonic masculinity.
Lee-Jane Bennion-Nixon defines the modern concept of the ‘warrior woman’- a female character who is often recognized by “the physical/mental strength she displays in the face of adversity” (310) and who “has the capacity to reveal the hierarchical dimensions of gender in contemporary society and culture”. Both films have female leads whom one could very reasonably argue constitute ‘warrior women’, but the films differ in whether those lead characters reveal gender hierarchies or work to overturn them. In Wonder Woman, Diana clearly both exposes and works to overturn gender hierarchies. When shooed out of the Supreme War Council for being a woman, she questions why she was, and when belittled by generals while decoding Dr. Poison’s notebook, she continues to speak despite the comments of her male colleagues. In Zootopia, however, gender hierarchies are never truly explored. Judy’s successes against adversity, such as joining the police force or being appointed police chief, are seen as victories for her species rather than for her gender.
The failure of Zootopia to address gender hierarchies largely precludes the film from showcasing or presenting patriarchy, although a reasonable argument could be made that the overwhelming representation of males in the Zootopia PD is a presentation of patriarchy. However, in Wonder Woman, the presentation of patriarchy is clear; once Diana leaves Themyscira, most institutions are dominated by men. The Supreme War Council is made entirely of men, all the soldiers she encounters are men, and the group she travels with to the Western Front is entirely male besides herself. The only prominent female character in the whole film after Diana leaves Themyscira is Dr. Poison; the rest of the world she faces is dominated by men.Bennion-Nixon contends that the ‘warrior woman’ archetype can serve to counter and bring awareness to gender inequality, among other issues women face in real life. However, it is unclear if the women present in the two films counter gender inequality or serve to reinforce it.
In Zootopia, gender inequality is never truly explored, and at no point are Judy Hopps’ successes, such as uncovering Mayor Lionheart’s initial scheme, ever celebrated as advances for her gender. On net, Wonder Woman does seem to challenge gender inequality more than it reinforces it; the depictions of the Amazons as powerful warriors and the dominance of Diana throughout the film counter societal expectations for females in film. However, one relatively prominent character who at least dilutes the success of the film in fighting gender inequality is Etta Candy. Playing the stereotypical role of the female secretary, she insists that Diana dress according to the fashion standards of the day to appear more presentable, arguing that it may at some point afford women suffrage rights. Etta’s existence in the film likely does not outweigh the challenge which the film poses to gender inequality, but it at least dilutes its success in fighting it.
On all fronts, Wonder Woman tends to be much more thorough in depicting and challenging hegemonic masculinity, gender hierarchy, and patriarchy than Zootopia. Both films touch on gender issues to some degree, but allegories to equality in Zootopia generally have much more to do with race and other immutable characteristics than they have to do with gender. However, that does not prevent Zootopia from providing valuable insight into hegemonic masculinity, and does not prevent it from being a useful film for research alongside Wonder Woman.
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