Toward the end of “Wonder Woman,” considered one of the better superhero films made in recent years, the title character is perplexed and frustrated.
She has just killed a diabolical German general who she is convinced is actually Ares, the Greek god of war, by plunging a sword through his chest. She expects his death will lead to an immediate laying down of arms by World War I combatants.
When it doesn’t, it’s not just because of a case of mistaken identity. It’s because, as Diana learns, good and evil both reside in mankind. Outside forces — Ares in Greek mythology, Satan in the Judeo-Christian tradition — might plant the seed of wickedness in human beings, but human nature also makes it receptive to that prodding.
“... I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves,” says Diana.
There is one female character in the story who chooses evil, but Diana’s observation about the potential wickedness inherent in mankind is mostly reserved for the males of the species. Most of the story’s “bad guys” are, in fact, guys.
If director Patty Jenkins’ desire was to mythologize male depravity, she has had a lot of support recently in real-life events for the suggestion that most of the bad actors in the world are male.
Consider the following American examples.
In the recent deluge of reports of sexual harassment by leading figures in Hollywood, politics and the news media, the perpetrators have been overwhelmingly men.
College hazings that have resulted in the fatal alcohol poisoning of pledges at campuses around the country have been almost solely at male-bonding fraternities.
Of all the mass shootings that have occurred in the United States, in nearly every case the shooter has been a male.
So, too, with most pedophiles.
This does not seem like coincidence. Rather, it underscores the belief that males are temperamentally more prone to confrontation than women, are more likely to prey on the weak, and will resort to physical or emotional violence, if necessary, to maintain the upperhand.
It’s possible that as women increasingly assume a greater presence in what had been male-dominated professions, these distinctions that we have attributed to testosterone and the male psyche will disappear.
Women have fought, for example, for the right to hold combat roles in the military. Most of the concerns about that change were whether women, given their slighter frame and smaller muscle build, could endure the physical hardships of being on the front lines. But there’s also the issue of whether they are temperamentally suited to kill at close quarters.
In order to kill someone, you have to be able to shut off empathy. You can no longer see that person across the trenches as a human being like yourself, but rather as a threat. It’s either kill or be killed. The security of a nation depends on effectively training young adults, usually males, to accept that choice without question.
This ability to turn off empathy, though essential on the battlefield, can bring awful consequences in civilian life, however.
What is baffling about some of the behavior that has gotten both famous men and little-known frat boys into trouble is that it doesn’t take much of a moral compass to know there are some things you just shouldn’t do.
You shouldn’t, for example, use your wealth, celebrity or power to try to take sexual advantage of subordinates. Nor should you pressure a college kid who’s trying to fit in with you to drink lots of alcohol very quickly.
Men don’t appear to be very good at policing such misbehavior among themselves, though, because of their tendency toward a pack mentality. When Donald Trump was bragging to Billy Bush about groping women, Bush yukked it up with the future president instead of discouraging the conversation. At Penn State University, more than two dozen fraternity members have been charged in the death of a 19-year-old pledge for either plying him with alcohol or failing to get him help after he fell and was knocked unconscious. Reportedly, just one fraternity member spoke up that the pledge needed medical attention, and he was quickly brushed off by his buddies.
Men need a civilizing force, and women have done a good job of handling that responsibility throughout history.
Maybe they will do so collectively now, at least as it pertains to sexual harassment. En masse they have signaled that the rules are changing as to what men can get away with. Woe to the man who is not paying attention.
In “Wonder Woman,” Diana is no man hater. She likes men just fine, at least those who act bravely and nobly. But she slays a lot of those who don’t.
Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.