Steve Trevor & Feminist Masculinity
Look! It’s a hero. It’s an icon. It’s…Wonder Woman.
After fighting evil and spreading love for 75 years, fans will finally get to see the Amazonian Princess Diana grace the silver screen in the summer of 2017, but her cinematic introduction will also have Steve Trevor by her side.
Now, the news of Steve Trevor being in Wonder Woman’s movie is certainly room for a collective sigh, but there are two ways to interpret Steve Trevor’s presence in the upcoming film. The first way looks at Steve Trevor as a main attractor for male audiences because there’s this prevalent belief that men won’t watch a movie centered on a woman.
The second way is to think of Steve Trevor’s presence as an opportunity for exploring a crucial aspect of gender politics. Make no mistake. I am not arguing that Steve Trevor is necessary to Wonder Woman’s tale. There are several other ways that can and have been used to explore gender politics in Wonder Woman stories.
However, I am arguing that Steve Trevor in the upcoming narrative is important because it’s an opportunity for mainstream audiences to see a representation of masculinity with feminist ideals at its core.
Who is Steve Trevor?
For those that don’t know, Steve Trevor is the oldest and one of the most prevalent male characters in the Wonder Woman mythos. He first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941 as an intelligence officer that landed on the isle of the Amazons during WWII.
Trevor has a history of helping Diana in her mission to spread the Amazonian philosophy of love to the world outside of Themyscira. During his time under creator William Marston, his relationship with Diana demonstrated progressive feminist ideas.
Wonder Woman was created by William Marston, along with Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne, to be an inversion of Superman. So, while Superman had Lois Lane, the ambitious journalist, Wonder Woman had Steve Trevor, the brave military soldier.
Both heroes had human companions in their narratives and this aspect led to an exploration of power dynamics, whether implicit or explicit. While Lois Lane spent her time and energy revealing Superman’s identity and occasionally being a damsel in distress, Steve Trevor took on a similar role for Wonder Woman.
Here we had (and will likely have) a male character that doesn’t have any powers or any means of being considered superhero, so he must play an assistive role to a female character. With all of this in mind, Steve Trevor is a character that can embody feminist masculinity as defined by feminist writer bell hooks.
What is Feminist Masculinity?
“What is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis of identity. Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others. To change this, males must critique and challenge male domination of the planet, of less powerful men, of women and children. But they must also have a clear vision of what feminist masculinity looks like. How can you become what you cannot imagine? And that vision has yet to be made fully clear by feminist thinkers male or female.” –bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody
Contrary to what some believe, feminism is not centered on men enduring the same oppression that women have endured for centuries. Feminism as a philosophy that aims to do away with behavioral patterns of domination and, as bell hooks states, the tendency to dominate is a core aspect of patriarchal systems.
The relationship between Steve Trevor and Diana works as a solid representation that can chip away at this system. Steve Trevor is a regular guy, yet his regular status in relation to Wonder Woman forces him to define his manhood and masculinity in a way that is often overlooked. He can’t overpower Wonder Woman for obvious reasons and there have been moments where Diana has rejected Steve’s advances due to his chauvinistic moments.
So the question to ask is how does a character like Steve Trevor fit into a culture that praises men for their ability to dominate physically and/or sexually? And the simple answer to the question is he doesn’t. He goes beyond it.
Consider this idea. The push for women being in positions of authority has grown in contemporary times thus redefining femininity sometimes, and this development ought to pique the attention of men because it will force them to re-examine how they’ve defined masculinity.
Male superheroes like Batman and Superman have attracted the attention of male comic book readers to the point where they want to be like them but how many men want to be like Steve Trevor? How many male comic book readers and film viewers will appreciate the idea of a man being in a supportive role to a woman?
A Man in a Woman’s World
Wonder Woman as a character and a narrative shouldn’t just inspire women. Men should also look at Wonder Woman and be inspired. They should be inspired to rethink what constitutes their manhood and masculinity. They should be inspired to see a figure who can physically overpower many people yet pushes solutions based in love and compassion.
Steve Trevor could show millions of men and boys that they don’t have to base their manhood on them dominating other people. Trevor can be a guy in awe of Wonder Woman’s physical and social power as a superhero and not be threatened by it because he’s developed a masculine identity based on a sturdy foundation of self-love.
When the Wonder Woman film premieres, they should see how Steve Trevor’s self-esteem and agency isn’t based in the physical aggression or sexual prowess that we’ve typically seen with male characters in action and superhero films. Instead, they should see that Steve Trevor’s self-esteem and agency is based in the message of love and compassion that Wonder Woman represents.