Wonder Woman: A Woman Among Men

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Two weeks before Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to alpha male Donald Trump, the United Nations named the feminist icon Wonder Woman honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.

“The objective was to reach out to Wonder Woman fans to raise awareness of UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 5” which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, according to UN spokesman Jeffrey Brez.

Unfortunately, Wonder Woman’s role as UN ambassador proved to be controversial and only lasted for less than two months. UN staff members started a petition against the appointment, saying that the character is “not culturally encompassing or sensitive.”

“Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent warrior woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots - the epitome of a pin-up girl.”

The UN decision to drop Wonder Woman upset many of her fans, including actors Lynda Carter, who played Wondy on television in the 1970s, and Gal Gadot, who will do so in this year’s “Wonder Woman” movie. It certainly upset me, a lifelong Wonder Woman fan who followed the character in various media. Though Wonder Woman’s “star-spangled bathing suit” has caused controversy ever since the character was created 75 years ago, it is unfair to describe her as “a pin-up girl,” large breasted or otherwise.

Creator William Moulton Marston, who wrote under the pen name “Charles Moulton,” and artist H.G. Peter created Wonder Woman to be a feminist symbol, albeit one Moulton sometimes used to indulge his fetishes, including bondage. (Wonder Woman was always being tied up.) Marston made his creation an Amazon, from the island of Themyscira where only women live, and the daughter of the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. Though there was always a spirit of sisterhood among the Amazons of Themyscira, only lately has DC Comics admitted what was always obvious: that the Amazons enjoyed romantic and sexual relationships with one another.

Though Wonder Woman’s feminism had its ups and downs, depending on whoever was writing or drawing her series, through the decades she retained her status as comics’ greatest female character, a woman among men. “Not content to be just a woman who could perform as incredibly as her male counterparts, her stories contained incidents and attitudes which suggested, and perhaps even embodied, militant feminism on a scale unprecedented in any mass medium,” comic historian Les Daniels wrote. “Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of ‘masculine’ aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts,” according to feminist writer Gloria Steinem.

Feminist or not, DC Comics saw fit to publish Wonder Woman’s comics for over seven decades, longer than any other character except Superman or Batman. Unfortunately, Wondy was never as popular or as lucrative as her two male counterparts. According to Carol A. Strickland, “she was a woman to stand among all those tightly-clad, over-muscled male heroes. . . But this Amazon princess, Wonder Woman, would always be the third-stringer of DC’s Top Three. Whereas entire generations of comics readers could follow the adventures of Superman or Batman without noticing any changes to speak of, fans of Wonder Woman had to deal with abrupt turnarounds that seemed to rock the character back on her heels every time a new editor or writer took charge.” In 1968 WW even lost her Amazon powers, though she regained them in 1972 after a campaign led by Steinem. More recently Wonder Woman is being portrayed as a fierce Amazon warrior, the daughter of Zeus, no doubt to attract the straight boys who make up the majority of comic book fans.

Though Wonder Woman was never very popular with straight boys, she was idolized by generations of gay and gender-questioning boys. Some of them grew up to write or draw Wonder Woman, as did the openly gay comic artist and writer Phil Jimenez. This year promises to be a good one for the Amazing Amazon, thanks to the upcoming Gal Gadot movie. (Gadot’s WW already stole the movie from the two title characters in last year’s overrated “Batman v Superman.”) Let us hope Wonder Woman succeeds, if only because we all need a strong woman, even if a fictional one, in this Age of Trump.


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