Bulk, breast, and beauty: negotiating the superhero body in Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman

Rikke Schubart*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Abstract

    This article discusses how the choice of actress Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman negotiates between comic book fans’ expectations and society’s gender schema. It has taken 75 years for the industry to produce a film adaption of Wonder Woman, perhaps due to the ‘problem’ of female muscles. This article focuses on the significance of Wonder Woman’s muscles using theoretical frames from sports sociology. One frame is edgework, coined by sociologist Stephen Lyng about dangerous activities that amateurs perform. The second frame is the feminist analysis of women’s muscles. Women navigate the boundary between what sociologist Shari Dworkin calls ‘emphasized femininity’ and what is beyond this femininity. The article introduces Wonder Woman’s origin, then presents theory of edgework and female muscles, third, it analyzes Wonder Woman as bodywork and edgework, and, finally, discusses Gadot’s Wonder Woman body as feminist physique.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalContinuum
    Volume33
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)160-172
    ISSN1030-4312
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

    Bibliographical note

    In a 2016 talk show, actress Gal Gadot said she almost fainted when trying on her costume and that the hardest part of shooting was the cold of winter – this for her role as Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), before the character’s first real-action cinematic feature film, Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017). Gadot’s comments capture the challenge of the female superhero costume: She is as able as male colleagues, yet in high heels, has long hair, and is squeezed into a skimpy outfit.
    The paper examines the negotiation between the comic book character and a modern awareness of gender. I compare “doing” female superheroism to edgework, a concept from sociology. Edgework is dangerous activities we do for fun and to “work” the edge is, “most fundamentally, the problem of negotiating the boundary between chaos and order” (Lyng 1990: 855). Research in risk sports say edgework trains self-management and “masculine” virtues of physical strain, pain, and danger. Risk-seeking is innate and equally strong in men and women but how players work the edge is a matter of social negotiation. Sport sociologist Jason Laurendeau says, “the ways skydivers, freeclimbers, mountaineers, or BASE jumpers, for example, ‘do’ risk are also – and simultaneously, and always already – ways that they negotiate gender” (304).
    Drawing on research in gendered edgework (Lois 2001; Laurendeau 2008) and female athletes (Heywood and Dworkin 2003), the paper asks how the casting and customizing of Gadot, an Israeli model and army combat instructor, negotiates female superheroism.

    Keywords

    • edgework
    • female superhero
    • Gal Gadot
    • gender
    • muscles
    • Wonder Woman

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