Wonder Woman tells us about slavery in 1918 England

Summary: Here is a wonderfully revealing clip from Wonder Woman about the oppression of woman. Audiences laughed! It is, however, quite mad. Let’s turn the clock back to 1918. We’ll know more about 2017 when we are done, and we will have a key to the political reform of America.

Wonder Woman in her first film

Hollywood provides a mirror in which we can better see ourselves. Even small scenes can reveal larger aspects of society, things that we would otherwise never learn. Look at this little scene from Wonder Woman.

Etta Candy:  “I’m at Steve Trevor’s secretary.”
Diana/Wonder Woman:  “What is a secretary?
Etta:  “I go where he tells me to go and I do what he tells me to do.
Diana:  “Well, where I’m from that’s called slavery.”
Etta:  “I really like her!”

Audiences laugh! In 1918 the lot of this young woman — well fed, well-dressed, doing light office work — is compared to slavery. A mere 125 miles to the west, men were working Wales’ coal mines. Working in great hardship, under horrific conditions, and for low pay.

Look 125 miles to the northeast to see the industrial city of Cradley Heath. It was the world’s capital of hand-hammered chain-making (the anchor chain of the Titanic was made there). Disraeli called it the “Hell Hole of England.” Robert Harborough Sherard describes it in his book The White Slaves of England: Being True Pictures of Certain Social Conditions in the Kingdom of England in the Year 1897 (1897). Where…

“in smoke and soot and mud, men and women raise their bread with the abundant sweat not of their brows alone ; a terrible ugly and depressing town …. If chains for slaves are not made here also it is doubtless because …hunger can bind tighter than any iron links. And chronic hunger is the experience of most of the workers in Cradley Heath, as anyone can learn who cares to converse with them.”

As Jonathan Raban said, Cradley Heath was where “men and women melted the iron rods that they hammered into chains and continually rehydrated themselves with beer at threepence a quart.” They knew not to drink the water. He describes how conditions there were worse in 1938 than in 1918. (Progress!)

Look 155 miles to the east to see Nieuwpoort, Belgium. Where the trenches began, extending across Europe. In them soldiers lived amidst conditions that no good farmer would subject his animals to. Plus the horrors of combat.

The writers of WW are as out of touch with life in 1918 England as was Wonder Woman herself. Or perhaps they just believe we are.

About feminism

Feminism has been a fantastic boost to the women of America’s middle and upper classes. We still hear about their oppression. This scene in WW is a reflection of those claims. The benefits feminism has brought to the women of America’s lower classes is less clear.

America’s influence in the world has often been harmful to women. We helped overthrow secular regimes in Afghanistan (Operation Cyclone), Iraq, and Libya. In all of those the women were dragged back centuries by the theocratic regimes that followed our intervention. Look at pictures of women in Afghanistan before and after we “helped.” We are now trying to do the same to Syria.


Race, feminism, non-conventional genders — they all have legitimate complaints. They have become focuses of the Democratic Party, and more so for the Left. The 1% laughs at the popularity of these divisive themes, preventing the broad political movements alone capable of challenging their power. There are broader themes that could unite us, such as social class and national prosperity.

That will not happen so long as groups — even among our most prosperous — put themselves and their grievances ahead of those with real problems. There are priorities that will work better for us.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about increasing income inequality and falling social mobility, about women, society, and the gender wars, especially these…

  1. Why Americans should love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – we live there,
  2. Our future will be Jupiter Ascending, unless we make it Star Trek.
  3. Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class.
  4. When marriage disappears: rising inequality as the threat to the family.
  5. An anthropologist looks at America’s growing proletariat.
  6. A picture of America, showing a path to political reform.
  7. Audi’s Superbowl advert reminds us that class is boss in America.
  8. Liz Bennett couldn’t marry Darcy. Nor can your daughter.
Wonder Woman
Available at Amazon.

About Wonder Woman (2017)

I have never see such ecstatic reviews as those for Wonder Women.  I have seldom seen reviews with such unrestrained sexism.

For a contrary note, see this by film critic Jeff Beck’s review, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause.

13 thoughts on “Wonder Woman tells us about slavery in 1918 England

  1. Hollywood provides a mirror in which we can better see ourselves? Oh, come now. Hollywood mirrors itself. That WW scene “reveals” the filmmakers, not our society.

    1. Sukietawdry,

      “That WW scene “reveals” the filmmakers, not our society.”

      Nope. That scene was quite popular, and resonated with many. People laughed in the theater when I was there. It was frequently and approvingly mentioned in most of the reviews I read. There are 400 thousand mentions of it on Google.

      More broadly, Hollywood (film and TV) is a hundred billion dollar biz. Vast sums can be lost in a single failed product. The survivor businesses make money by understanding how to appeal to us. That is why it is a mirror of America. Not a perfect one (they call it a “big” screen because it magnifies things), but still useful.

    1. P.A.T.,

      Me, too. I posted this because I didn’t feel up to writing anything serious. I’m surprised it is slightly above average in pageviews (600 after 12 hours up).

      Trivia question: are you associated with the N.C. website?

  2. As one of those pathetic lost souls who for some reason wants to criticize the historical accuracy of comic book spandex beat-em-up superhero movies, this scene was pretty grating. As were pretty much all of their attempts at wringing humor out of the fish-out-of-water scenario. Maybe too complicated to juggle the 3 viewpoints of a medieval-tech amazon encountering the world of 1918 from the perspective of 2017. So the screenwriters just made WW an audience proxy who seemed pretty blase about the (to-her) advanced technology and made social critiques from a modern feminist standpoint. Like most lazy “historical drama” the writers merely changed the costumes and failed to capture the differences in speech and thought of the prior era.

    But . . . (and this is a bit off-topic, but I had to throw it out there) the worst thing of all was the mustaches. Or lack thereof on the Germans. In the first scenes with Erich Ludendorff it took me a couple of takes to realize that strangely clean-shaven fellow was supposed to be him, and was puzzled by the likewise barren upper lips of the other German officers at the weapons factory. Anyone who’s seen photos of the WWI generation know that the officer class was mainly distinguished by their majestic bushy mustaches, which trailed behind them like battle flags as they valiantly rode to the attack. In fact, like Samson, that was the source of their power. To picture General Ludendorff in such a shamefully shorn condition is almost impossible.

    But then we get the scenes at the Palace of Westminster and the Brits were all properly puffy-mustachioed. Then I realized what was going on and inwardly groaned. The screenwriters were lazy and assumed the audience is ignorant, so the only thing they could figure out to do with Germans is to make them Nazis — since every American has seen a million WWII movies. It allows the movie to just tap in to the huge unconcious store of Nazi tropes we’ve been absorbing in movies forever and saves the work of establishing that villainy from scratch. Nazis were clean-shaven, so therefore, are these Germans. This carried over to all of the visual styling of the Germans which downplayed the distinctive WWI-era stuff like the the pickelhaube.

    Really too bad, because I was excited and ready for a different flavor of German villainy for once. But no, even during WWI, it’s still WWII in Hollywood, for ever and ever and ever . . .

    1. phageghost,

      “Like most lazy “historical drama” the writers merely changed the costumes and failed to capture the differences in speech and thought of the prior era.”

      That nails it. They bring in aliens — from our time into the past, or vice versa, or from another planet — but all we see are ourselves. This negates the big (potential) value of these situations, which should gives us different perspectives on ourselves and our history. Instead we get confirmation bias, that everybody always was just like us. Ignorance on steroids.

      ” the worst thing of all was the mustaches.”

      Now that’s a different perspective! Thanks, as these are always appreciated.

      “the only thing they could figure out to do with Germans is to make them Nazis”

      That bothered me too. The critics loved WW as one of the great artistic works of our age. I thought it was dumb on every level.

      On another level, you point to one of the great oddities of these superhero films. The motives for both sides are weak, nonsensical, or absent. Villains are increasingly all the Joker — mad, which relieves the writers of providing motivation. Superheroes just decide to be great, instead of rich and famous sports stars or whatever (WW, at least, had a motive — a slapdash effort by the writers, but better than nothing).

      This is fine for comic books written for children, but odd for material written for adults. Perhaps we have become child-like.

  3. Eh! You leave out one important detail. Wonder Woman knows nothing about our society. She doesn’t know what a secretary is. And when Etta Candy tells her a secretary does whatever someone else tells you to do, being a secretary sounds like slavery to her. As would every example you gave above. It is’t that one group works longer or harder or for lower pay or for no pay at all. All Wonder Woman knows is doing whatever someone else tell you to do sounds a lot like slavery. She also experiences a truer form of slavery that spurs her to action on the font lines. She crossed ‘No Man’s Land” after she heard children had been enslaved on the other side.

    I find it amazing (and a true testament to the influence of this character, movie, writer, and director) that no other superhero film has faced such scrutiny and criticism and praise for social messages and societal commentary.

    1. Joey,

      Yes, we all understand Wonder Woman’s reaction. The post is about our reaction. WW’s ignorance is understandable. Ours is less excusable.

      “I find it amazing (and a true testament to the influence of this character, movie, writer, and director) that no other superhero film has faced such scrutiny and criticism and praise for social messages and societal commentary.”

      That’s quite false. There is an ocean of commentary about the Batman films, to give one obvious example. Also, film criticism has become increasingly ideological during the past few years — so they are getting more scrutiny of their “social messages.”

      Also, WW got more comment about its social messages because it was designed to convey social messages — as everyone involved said for the year before and has since it came out.

    2. Joey,

      You raise an interesting question. Stepping into the film, we all understand WW’s reaction to Etta Candy’s statement. It’s Etta’s reaction that is a bit sad. WW doesn’t know about the life of lower class workers, men and women, in 1918 Britain. But Etta does. It would have been nice for Etta to have helped WW understand, also. Perhaps by saying something like “Others have much worse jobs.”

      Instead Etta praises WW’s description of her victimhood. “I really like her.” Her Etta is representing modern feminism, as described (gently) in this post.

  4. I saw this with my 13 year old daughter over the summer. What stuck with me more than this particular scene was the make-up of WW’s band of merry men. Steve the American love interest was a handsome, able, white knight type, but not really necessary to WW, The Jock/Brit sniper who was impotent as a sniper, the American Indian who took the time to tell of his people’s victim-hood, and the happy, friendly, always on our side Muslim guy. I read the whole movie as social propaganda, and (sigh) just wanted to go to see WW kick butt in an action film.

    1. Steve,

      “I read the whole movie as social propaganda”

      True. But then aren’t all superhero flicks social propaganda? They are just amped up children’s literature, and children’s literature is largely designed to teach moral lessons and values.

      This is especially true of Wonder Woman.In the words of her creator, William Marston: “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” See Wikipedia for details.

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