James Cameron likes his women butch—but not too butch. This weekend, the Titanic and Avatar director told The Guardian that Wonder Woman is a “step backward” for women. His comments drew ire but what got little attention was another element of the interview: the true reason Wonder Woman isn’t feminist is that Cameron isn’t attracted to her. She’s independent but not in the right way. She’s tough but too femme.
As he told The Guardian, “She’s [Wonder Woman] an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing!” An ironic criticism, given that you can definitely see Sarah Connor’s nipples under her skimpy tank in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Nevertheless, according to Cameron, “Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon.” This despite the lascivious gaze of the camera on her ripped body; she was certainly a beauty icon to the director. “She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.”
Cameron’s feminism prioritizes the type of woman he’s sexually attracted to. Although Wonder Woman kills swaths of bad guys with her bare hands, she also has shiny hair and thinks babies are cute. These things don’t arouse James Cameron. Sarah Connor, however, wears dusty tank tops and shoots big guns. She’s one of the boys and Cameron likes it. The same can be said of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens.
Of course, there are drawbacks to what Cameron likes in a woman. Here is where Cameron’s feminism circles back around to good old sexism: “Being attracted to strong independent women,” he told The Guardian, in the same interview, “has the downside that they’re strong independent women—they inherently don’t need you! Fortunately, I’m married now to a strong independent woman who does believe she needs me,” he said. Unlike Wonder Woman, who hails from an island of lesbians.
Sarah Connor, meanwhile, wields big guns and was created by a man, like Athena from Zeus. Her worth is her male origin story and her familial attachment to an important man (her son). She’s the kind of feminist woman Cameron touts because all her strength is borne of, and centered around, the men in her orbit.
Cameron wasn’t the only male director struggling with faux feminism this month. In 2013, the now-disgraced Joss Whedon was awarded a super duper feminism trophy by Equality Now. One of the reasons he writes strong female characters is, as he said in his acceptance speech, “because they’re hot.” We now know Joss Whedon is a flaming pile of hypocrisy who serially cheated on his wife for a decade and a half before writing her a creepily graphic letter of apology. A letter in which he blamed his infidelity on the overpowering allure of the “beautiful, needy, aggressive young women” he always chooses to work with. Rather like the beautiful, aggressive women Cameron hopes are needy.
In response to Cameron’s comments, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins tweeted a note saying the movie’s “massive female audience… can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress.”
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) August 25, 2017
The movie’s female fans can decide if we’re being exploited or not, despite Cameron’s Cameron-centric feminism. Now he has more time to find the next hot actress he’ll digitally render into a giant, naked blue alien.