The wonder of imperial feminism

Or how Wonder Woman turned from a hero to a war crimes supporter.

Cast member Gadot poses at the premiere of "Wonder Woman" in Los Angeles
Cast member Gal Gadot poses at the premiere of 'Wonder Woman' in Los Angeles on May 25 [Reuters/Mario Anzuoni]

When I was a little girl, like many women of my generation who grew up watching American television shows (even if they were dubbed in Arabic), I used to twirl and twirl, trying to attain super powers like Wonder Woman. I would twitch my nose to magically transform my surroundings, like Samantha from Bewitched.

These female characters were exceptions among the docile housewives, the efficient secretaries, and damsels in distress that pervaded the popular media of my time. Wonder Woman and Samantha had the power to change their lives, even if that power had to remain hidden, forever a secret.

I am sure I knew that those characters weren’t real, that their powers were mere fantasy for the sake of entertainment. But that did not stop me from believing that maybe, just maybe, I might also have power lurking somewhere in me. It didn’t matter that twirling only made me dizzy and twitching my nose failed to magically complete my chores. I kept trying.

I am in my late 40s now and the world has changed a lot since my youth when print, radio, and television mostly taught women how to be obedient and pleasing wives, good mothers, and efficient housekeepers. Naturally, I was excited when I learned that Hollywood was producing a big-budget feature film about Wonder Woman, finally, after multiple iterations of Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and other male superhero films. Even better, the film was directed by a woman.

Then came the shock and betrayal. 

Wonder Woman, it turns out (at least in this Hollywood version) is an avowed Zionist and cheerleader of war crimes. Gal Gadot, the actor in the lead role, was an active soldier in the military when Israel invaded and carpet-bombed Southern Lebanon in 2006.

In 2014, Gadot sent a message of support for Israeli soldiers as they were slaughtering more than 2,100 human beings imprisoned in a seaside enclave with no place to hide or escape. They bombed whole neighbourhoods, burying families in the rubble of their demolished homes. For 52 days, they rained death from sky, land, and sea on to defenseless civilians in the most densely populated place on earth. 

Those who were not killed were either maimed, wounded or traumatised in one way or another. The bombing didn’t stop until what little remained of Gaza’s infrastructure from the previous assault was crippled again, including hospitals, electricity, water treatment facilities, agriculture, businesses, roads, schools, and fishing boats.

Israel has one of the world’s deadliest militaries, with the most advanced and technological machines of death, and they used their might over and over against the principally unarmed and besieged indigenous population which had no way to defend itself. What Israel has done to Palestine, and Gaza in particular, is unconscionable. It rises to the worst forms of oppression and injustice and it is decades old now.

Zionism cannot reconcile with feminism, and such antiquated imperial feminism belongs to another era, when feminists fought for the right to vote, but only for white women.


Yet, precious few opinion pieces have tried to examine what it means to cast a Zionist in the role of an iconic feminist character. Mainstream media reactions have been mostly laudatory. What criticism there is has mostly focused on the incongruity of casting a corseted beauty to reflect an image of female power. Where Gadot’s ideological underpinning was mentioned, it tended to be in the context of trying to quell public outrage when it was revealed she is a Zionist.

The defence is familiar: Israel is fighting terrorists. They are defending themselves, merely trying to maintain their enlightened Jewishness in the midst of a barbaric non-Jewish region. This is much the same narrative that apartheid South Africa gave when it imprisoned Nelson Mandela, when it mowed down schoolchildren in Soweto, or when it massacred protesters in Sharpeville. They, too, were defending themselves against the natives who did not appreciate being oppressed.

What if Hollywood made this film in the 1980s and cast a militant apartheid supporter for the role of Wonder Woman? Would the US media focus on her acting talent and beauty instead of the fact that she openly and proudly asserts her right, as a white woman, to subjugate the natives of her country?

What is even more bewildering is that Gadot is being touted as a feminist (per her own claim) and, remarkably, as a woman of colour. Queen Latifah fits that bill and would have made an excellent Wonder Woman, but I digress. 

Gal Gadot’s family came to Palestine as colonisers and conquerors. Like most Zionists, her parents changed their name from Greenstein to “indigenise” themselves, but that does not change who they are. Gadot’s position of privilege in life is predicated on the despair, displacement, robbery, and destruction of the indigenous society where she lives. For that, she offers neither shame nor apology, but rather, pride.

Discussions of feminism around this film have sidelined this crucial fact about her. They’ve omitted the actor’s cheering of wanton killing, which took the lives of 547 children in less than two months. Instead, the focus is on her impossible physical proportions. This is just another way that the destruction of our society is normalised.

But make no mistake. Zionism cannot reconcile with feminism, and such antiquated imperial feminism belongs to another era, when feminists fought for the right to vote, but only for white women. 

In the words of Jaime Omar Yassin, “Feminism cannot be Zionist, just as it cannot be neo-Nazi – feminism that doesn’t have an understanding of how it intersects with racial and ethnic oppression is simply a diversification of white supremacy.”

I have not seen the film, nor do I intend to. But millions of girls have or will, including little Palestinian girls, like the younger version of myself. They will see feminine power epitomised in a superhero who holds disdain, disregard, and contempt for Palestinian lives. It is a painful thing to contemplate. And I can only thank Lebanon and Tunisia – and individuals around the world – for boycotting the film.

Susan Abulhawa is an international bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist. Her latest novel The Blue Between Sky and Water has been translated into 26 languages.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.