“Wonder Woman” Screening for Women Only Opens Theater to Lawsuit

The new Wonder Woman movie seems to be a big hit with crowds, but one theater in Austin is drawing sharp criticism.  Alamo Drafthouse unveiled “women only” screenings of the movie, to celebrate the “only woman superhero, directed by a woman, to hit theaters EVER.” Alamo Drafthouse also promised to staff only women at the event. The screenings were scheduled for June 6th and only women were admitted. The screenings sold out within hours of the announcement.

The announcement drew online criticism, mostly from men. One of those men, Stephen Clark, a law professor at Albany Law School and LGBT Rights Advocate, filed an administrative complaint with Austin’s Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office, alleging discrimination against male customers and male employees. The City has promised to investigate the complaints.

wonder womanWill the Complaints Be Successful?

There are two alleged complaints, discrimination against male customers and discrimination against male employees. The latter probably won’t get very far. In order to have a successful employment suit, there must be some injury or loss that the employee suffers, such as a pay cut, termination, or demotion. Although Alamo Drafthouse is only planning to have women serve the female only screenings, the men who would normally work at the Alamo Drafthouse were not removed. There are other movie screenings that the men can work at and they are still working at the same rate and for the same pay as their female counterparts at the women only Wonder Woman screenings. Without further evidence of injury on the part of the employees, the complaint on behalf of the men working at the theater probably won’t get too far.

The more controversial case would be the male customers who feel discriminated against. Alamo Drafthouse claims that there is no discrimination because there are other screenings going on at the same time in the same theater that do not have restrictions on gender. Men can see the same movie at the same time and it would be the same experience as the women only screening. The only difference is that they are held in separate locations.

The problem is that Alamo Drafthouse’s argument sounds too much like “separate but equal,” which was prohibited by the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board.  Of course, the difference is that the Court found that the segregated institutions of the south had discriminatory intent behind them; the purpose of that segregation was to exclude African Americans. Alamo Drafthouse can try to argue that their purpose is to celebrate and empower women, not to demean men. “This is a celebration of a character that has meant a lot to women since 1940.”

Where Do We Go from Here?

The biggest issue here is probably the marketing. Instead of “women-only” or “no men allowed,” the theater would be on better legal footing if this was sold as an event that celebrated women, but didn’t exclude men. We still live in a world where sex and gender are largely viewed as binary elements. An advantage for one group is often perceived as a disadvantage for the other. This is a big problem when each of the two groups make up half the human race. Like so many other discrimination issues, both sides have divergent understands of “equality and fairness.” One side strives for equality by treating both sides as equal from the present forward. The other believes that equality can be best achieved by acknowledging the past and trying best to correct those prior wrongs.

In this case, many of the men are willing to let women participate in events that once excluded women, but feel that women are not negotiating in good faith when some women demand events that exclude men. The women believe that the past cannot be over until women are not only allowed in to events that they were once excluded from, but also given a space where they feel they will not be discriminated against. Neither side is wrong, but the struggle will continue until both sides feel secure about everyone’s rights.

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