Tag Archives: Wonder Woman

Dr. Poison: Disfigurement as a Proxy for Villainy


Debbie says:

I saw Wonder Woman the week it came out, a month or two ago, and while I liked a lot about it, I also share a lot of the concerns that have been raised about the (almost non-)portrayal of people of color, centering the male protagonist, and more. I was also especially disappointed at how badly the film-makers trivialized Etta Candy.

I was, however, fascinated by the character of Dr. Poison, and I admit that her disfigurement was part of the fascination for me. As a long-time body image (and disability) activist, I am very aware that disfigurement is especially difficult for most people to learn to look at, and that facial disfigurement is especially unsettling. This may well be hard-wired into many or most of us, to varying degrees. And we can also learn to change/control that reaction.

I’ve done enough of my own work (always more to do!) that I preferred seeing Elena Anaya’s disfigurement (created in the make-up department; Anaya is not disfigured) to her prosthetic mask.  Perhaps predictably, given our fear of disfigurement, photos of Anaya in character after she takes off her mask don’t seem to be available.

At Bustle Ariel Henley writesAs A Woman With A Facial Disfigurement, This ‘Wonder Woman’ Villain Pisses Me Off.”

In the film, Maru/Dr. Poison is a chemist working to develop a deadly gas for the Germans to use during World War I. There’s some historical significance here: Facial injury and disfigurement were common casualties of the war, because of the advanced weaponry and trench warfare. In The Rhetoric of Disfigurement in First World War Britain, historian Suzannah Biernoff stated, “Unlike amputees, these men were never officially celebrated as wounded heroes. The wounded face … presents the trauma of mechanized warfare as a loss of identity and humanity.”

She went on to say that “the loss of one’s face — is perceived as a loss of humanity.” After the war, patients with disfigured faces were seen as monsters and treated as pariahs. Many committed suicide. As a result of the high suicide rates, damaging social stigma, and desire to give returning veterans a shot at living normal lives, the art of facial prosthetics — much like the one Dr. Poison wears — was developed. These prosthetics were an art form, and literally saved thousands of lives. Yet, these dark, painful, historic tragedies were never addressed in Wonder Woman, choosing instead, to perpetuate the damaging myth that disfigurement and evil go hand-in-hand. …

Instead of exploring the threads explaining who Dr. Poison is, and creating a villain with substance and depth, she is portrayed as nothing more than her evil, disfigured face  — a common character device that plays into a larger issue in the entertainment industry, including characters like Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street and Darth Vader in Star Wars, as well as numerous villains in the James Bond series. In an interview with Brendon Connelly of the pop culture website Bleeding Cool on why so many Bond villains have disfigurements, James Bond producer Michael G. Wilson stated, “it’s very much a Fleming device that he uses throughout the films, the idea that physical deformity and personality deformity go hand in hand in some of these villains.”

No wonder Henley is pissed off. In fact, she’s probably steamingly furious and being too polite. Not only is she facing a very successful film that perpetuates a stereotype that harms her, she’s also facing a very powerful film producer justifying the stereotype as a “device.” She lives with frequent and recurring social support for vilifying people like her; anger is both appropriate and sadly inevitable.


Photo used for illustrative purpose

Disfigured soldiers aren’t the only suicides in this story; Lucy Grealy, pictured above, the brilliant author of Autobiography of a Face, is a nonmiitary example. I followed Grealy’s work from Autobiography until she killed herself. I recommend Ann Patchett’s superb memoir of their friendship, Truth and Beauty (although I just learned by writing this that Grealy’s sister objected to Patchett’s book).

Let’s leave the closing words to Henley:

As someone with a facial difference, I know many people with facial disfigurements and scarring, and not one of them is, or has become evil, because of the appearance of their face. The only evil most of us have experienced has been at the hands of a society that refuses to accept us.

I found Henley through Alaina Leary’s related essay in Teen Vogue.

Debbie says:


Etta Candy deserves an entire blog post of her own, but the only things I know about her come from Rob Bricken and James Whitbrook’s piece at io9:

Created by William Moulton Marston only an issue after Wonder Woman’s debut, Etta Candy appeared like she should be the heroine’s comic relief. She was a goofy cartoon character who loved candy (carrying it everywhere), and she shouted strange catchphrases like “Woo woo!” and “For the love of chocolate!” But if you thought for a second that Etta was merely a joke character, she would have quickly corrected you, probably by punching you in the face.

Lucy Davis will play Etta in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. If she’s portrayed one-half as bad-ass and radical as she is in the panels Bricken and Whitbrook show, she will completely eclipse Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman — and I’ll be in line to watch her do it.

Laurie and I both blogged about the 2008 Newsweek cover showing Sarah Palin’s real (or nearly real) skin, and it’s interesting to see that people are still talking about it in the context of women running for office. Julia Baird takes it on in the New York Times:

The real question here is about perfection: the standards by which women are judged, and the seemingly ever-present, imposed need to airbrush the images of women. Even vice-presidential candidates. This is something we must ask if we want to shrink the too-long list of things that distract people from what women actually say when we try to speak in public.

Perfection is also at issue in the discussion of Zoe Saldana’s casting as Nina Simone . Samantha Cowan at TakePart examines the controversy:

A new official poster and trailer for the movie shows Saldana wearing a prosthetic nose and dark face makeup, reigniting the controversy surrounding the decision to cast Saldana as the titular character in Nina. Saldana has faced criticism since news surfaced in 2012 that she would replace Mary J. Blige—who had to drop out owing to scheduling conflicts—to play the High Priestess of Soul. Saldana addressed the situation in 2013, telling Allure, “It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it, I will honor and respect my black community because that’s who I am.”

Saldana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, has alternated between saying that people of color don’t exist and identifying as a black and Latina woman. Regardless of how Saldana identifies, many believe the role should have gone to an African American woman—or at least a woman with a darker skin tone and features that more closely resembled Simone’s.

When everyone is talking about how people (but mostly men) use Tinder and its ilk for faceless sex, a completely different kind of anonymous sex designed for women is apparently a new craze in London. Dominique Sisley reports at Dazed:

The process is simple. You head to the class, strip off from the waist down, and lie across an unknown, fully-clothed man while he strokes your clitoris. The aim? A shared meditational experience, and “the deeply human, deeply felt, and connected experience of orgasm”. …

Although [orgasmic meditation] is mostly marketed towards “free, hip, powerful” women, TurnON Britain (the official UK branch of the movement) also offers classes to men who feel a “willingness and desire to know the feminine” – or in other words, guys who could do with a little more guidance in that area. As the course summary eloquently puts it, “learning how to handle her pussy is equally important as learning how to handle the rest of her. Imagine what would be possible if you learned to do both?”

Leaving aside the unfortunate choice of “handle” in that quotation, this sounds like something from the 1970s, come back in a new guise. The article says that tens of thousands of young Londoners are participating; I hope they’re having fun!

In a completely different aspect of human sexuality,  uterus transplants are now a thing, and a good thing.  The procedure is designed for women with uterine factor infertility (UFI). I can’t help but wonder if and when it will become part of the suite of trans surgeries, and change the landscape of how pregnancy relates to gender.


We have, of course, been railing about BMI for decades. I’m still fond of my description of it as “braindead, meaningless, insidious” from 2007. Premiere statistics and data site fivethirtyeight.com is jumping on the bandwagon with this article by Katherine Hobson. Hobson is  too focused on “waist circumference” for my money, and I think she’s still deep in the belief that fat is bad for you, however it’s measured. Nonetheless, she goes against the grain of journalists everywhere by ending with a fat-positive quotation:

There’s another camp that doesn’t care about finding a better measure of excess body fat at all but would prefer to move beyond metrics of extra fat. “Sure, waist circumference is better than BMI, but the focus on fat and on body size has done us a disservice,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, a psychologist at UCLA and first author of the recent International Journal of Obesity study on BMI and health indicators. “It’s thrown off the focus on actual health markers.” And, she said, it has contributed to a stigma against the overweight.

She’d prefer to see a strategy that focuses instead on changing behavior. “If you’re eating healthy, exercising and sleeping well, I don’t care how much fat you have,” Tomiyama said.

And in that context,  Hobson should read Linda Bacon on fat ambassadors, allies, and detractors. Sadly, Bacon wrote this column because of how hard Sarai Walker, author of Dietland, is finding her new life as a fat ambassador.  Bacon has nothing new to say about allies and trolls: she just tells the truth well and clearly.

… a message to those who persist in “concern trolling” about health: Recognize this: respect should not be contingent on health or health habits. Educate yourself. Weight stigma and discrimination are much more health-damaging than fat tissue can ever be. If you are truly concerned about the health ramifications of someone’s large body, be part of the solution, not the problem: show others respect and compassion, rather than shaming and blaming people for their weight or suggesting they change it.

Lisa Hirsch sent us the Sarah Palin link. Otherwise, all are links from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, Sociological Images,, Feministing, io9, and TakePart, along with other sources. No, I don’t know why the background of this post is black; it happened during drafting, and my html skills don’t seem good enough to fix it.