Today, on the 75th anniversary of her creation, Wonder Woman is being appointed as an honorary ambassador to the United Nations for the empowerment of women and girls. Since her inception, Wonder Woman has come to represent many things that women’s rights advocates have been trying to incorporate into mainstream society: sisterhood, self-reliance, strength, among other things. You would think that appointing a character that has become so esteemed in the eyes of many women – young and old – wouldn’t be much of an issue.
Unfortunately, we can’t have nice things.
Within the past week, a growing group of women’s rights advocates have started to complain about Wonder Woman being appointed as a UN ambassador. The most prominent reason is due to her appearance, as mentioned by the petition that has been posted to recall Wonder Woman from being an ambassador. The petition says “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” is not an appropriate spokeswoman for gender equity at the United Nations.
Yes, I said it. Women’s right advocates are complaining about how Wonder Woman‘s appearance is the reason why she is not qualified as a role model to young women and girls and how, by electing her as an ambassador, she is perpetuating the societal notion that women must have a certain appearance in order to obtain power.
According to NPR, one such advocate takes it even further and says the selection of Wonder Woman is demeaning to women:
“It’s frivolous, it’s fatuous and it reduces an extremely serious human rights problem experienced by half of the world to a cartoon,” she says.
And not just any cartoon, adds [Anna Marie] Goetz. Wonder Woman in her view looks like a Barbie/Playboy pinup. Like most female comic action figures, she has big breasts bursting out of a skimpy outfit and an impossibly tiny waist.
“The message to girls is that you are expected to meet a male standard in which your significance is reduced to your role as a sexual object,” says Goetz.
Look. I’m going to share an opinion that some people will not like. The reasoning why these particular women’s rights advocates are protesting Wonder Woman is wrong, despite them “meaning well” and trying to advocate for women and young girls everywhere. By protesting a character’s worth based off of her appearance, as these women have done, they are a part of the problem that they are trying to combat. In fact, I could even argue that by focusing on how attractive Wonder Woman is, they encourage the process of body shaming and worries about whether or not one is qualified for a job based off of appearance. I know many women who’ve been shamed because they are too attractive or distracting in a position. Is this what we want to convey to girls by recalling Wonder Woman because, despite her qualifications, she is too attractive?
Mind you, based off of the comments made by these advocates, I really do not think they know who Wonder Woman is outside of her appearance. If they actually knew who she is and what she has come to represent to women and girls everywhere, they’d understand.
I’m going to throw it back to acclaimed feminist Gloria Steinem, who was responsible for bringing back Wonder Woman’s abilities in the early 1970’s after the famous superhero lost her powers:
“Wonder Woman’s family of Amazons on Paradise Island, her band of college girls in America, and her efforts to save individual women are all welcome examples of women working together and caring about each other’s welfare. The idea of such cooperation may not seem particularly revolutionary to the male reader. Men are routinely depicted as working well together, but women know how rare and therefore exhilarating the idea of sisterhood really is. Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyte, offers yet another welcome example to young girls in search of a strong identity. Queen Hippolyte founds nations, wages war to protect Paradise Island, and sends her daughter off to fight the forces of evil in the world… 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.”
via Feitler, Introd. by Gloria Steinem. Interpretive essay by Phyllis Chesler. Designed by Bea (1972). Wonder Woman. ([1st ed.] ed.)
This is the Wonder Woman we all know. This is the Wonder Woman who is being celebrated today by the United Nations as an ambassador of empowerment. She represents so many things for us. She has taught us not to shame others for their appearance. She has taught us self-love and self-reliance as we navigate this cluster of a world we live in. She has taught us how to be supportive of our fellow women and to value human life.
Wonder Woman is not just a “Playboy Pinup” as Professor Anna Goetz has so wonderfully dubbed her. She is a symbol of empowerment. She is a representative of all that is female in a relatively male-filled world i.e. the DC Universe. To diminish her to just her body’s proportions and her looks isn’t just a slap in the face against her. It is a slap in the face of women and young girls everywhere.
Today we celebrate Wonder Woman. We celebrate all she has come to represent and all that she will do even after her 75th anniversary. With time, hopefully, more people will see beyond the external of her character and focus on what the main focus of her character should be – her accomplishments.