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Wonder Woman a Feminist?
A Feminist Idol
Young women have issues identifying who they are as women in society. Some even get a little lost in the cracks and need icons to lead the way. One icon/idol for young women to admire is Wonder Woman. The character of Wonder Woman was created during a time when women were being encouraged to join the workforce and help in the war efforts during WWII. So you could say she has a feminist appeal to her, perhaps maybe the first of her kind. She is by far one of the most popular superhero among young women. Young girls and women find strength and a sense of power within her character and I feel it can help lead them to leading strong and powerful lives. She is a character who is actually on a level playing field of men. She can go toe to toe with the great Superman and defeat him (arguably) and still retaining her feminine features. She doesn’t have to be this buff, bulky chick, yet possess the power to take down the mighty Kryptonian. In fact, she is one of the few women characters of the comic book world that has her own successful book, with stories that are centered on her. Wonder Woman is a true feminist and an iconic character for women of all ages to look up to and admire.
Feminist or Sex Object?
When William Marston created Wonder Woman I bet he never envisioned her becoming a true feminist icon. She was originally created, “in the 1940s, her character’s focus was directed towards the resilience and charisma that women showed in the war effort during WWII. She was meant to be the start of an 'American matriarchy'," one ruled not by force as previous superheroes dictated, but with reason and compassion.” (Lafferty). Wonder Woman was created to represent the women who served as nurses to fallen men during WWII and who knew that she would develop into a feminist heroine for women everywhere. It was until the 1970s that her character went back to this feminist character, when “Gloria Steinem called for a revamping of Wonder Woman and a return to her more feminist roots” (Lafferty). Gloria Steinem is a feminist activist who co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972 and used Wonder Woman on the cover of her first issue. In that issue Steinem, “featured a critique of contemporary Wonder Woman comics that was partially responsible for urging DC to reconsider and revamp the character in keeping with the feminist movement.” (Cawley). After the WWII was over and women went back to their homely lives and allowed the men to get back to their jobs, the character of Wonder Woman followed suit. Gloria Steinem was a reader of the Wonder Woman comics and wanted her character to go back to her previous feminist role. In 1975, Wonder Woman was again a feminist, but not the kind of feminist that Steinem had envisioned her to portray. While she remained a strong and independent woman, she became an ugly image for the feminist movement. She turned into this anti-male character and painted the feminist movement as something negative. The negative stigma wasn’t lifted until the 1980s when a new writer took on her books. Her new writer was a “staunch feminist” who worked with Steinem in order to rebuild Wonder Woman into the iconic feminist that woman grew to love in the 1940s (Cawley).
Before the 1990 Wonder Woman wasn’t seen as a sex object. Instead she was viewed as a strong powerful woman who stood up for freedom and equality. She was a modest character for young women to look up to. However from the 1990s to today Wonder Woman turned into more of a sex symbol; while she still retained her moral qualities, her appearance changed. She became the curvaceous voluptuous woman and became “hypersexualized” to fulfill a male fantasy (Cawley). During this time all women comics were being portrayed this way and the new writer of Wonder Woman was keeping up with the times. The sexualizing of Wonder Woman creates a problem for many feminist because it creates an unrealistic image for young women to aspire to be. It’s the similar problem that many feminist have with supermodels or strippers. Yes, they are strong women who are taking charge and in many ways taking advantage of male sexuality, but they have to fit into this perfect image or take off their clothes in order to gain that power and independence. I feel it’s not the message that many feminist want portrayed in a strong heroine. It’s like telling our young girls, “yeah you can be strong, independent and make a difference, but if you don’t have a banging body it won’t make a difference because no one will pay attention.” I can see where many feminist have the issue with Wonder Woman after the 1990s, but the writers still retain her feminist qualities in what she stands up for. In the graphic novel, Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth, Wonder Woman is seen as a diplomat for the world. She goes around the world helping and making a difference and she goes to the Middle East to help free the women and rescue them from their cloaks, I suppose. She is liberating women who are being oppressed and abused and pretty much held hostage, and there is a part in the book where she removes her disguise to reveal this hypersexualized body. Cawley points out in her article that, “Wonder Woman presents American liberation through “feminism” as the route for freedom for Middle Eastern women but displays this liberation on her distorted, hypersexualized, exposed body.” My question would be why was it necessary for her to reveal her skimpy outfit in order to make a point, and what kind of message does that send.
Another interesting fact about Wonder Woman is that she is an Amazon princess who fights alongside men. Her characters real identity is Princess Diana of Themyscira, and her character is based on Greek mythology relating to the Amazons. Now in Greek mythology the Amazons where strong women and in their society they would never be caught fighting alongside men. I guess you could consider them extreme feminist, the kind that would have held the negative stigma. In some cases the Amazons would even capture men and kill them for sport. They saw men as less than equals and it’s said that they only used them once a year for breeding purposes. When the Amazons went to war with men they wouldn’t kill all of the men, some they would keep as slaves and thus use them for sex the way a man would do to a woman. This isn’t the character of the Wonder Woman that we know; instead she fights alongside men and is even a part of their organization, The Justice League. So I think it would be safe to say that her deeply rooted feminist nation would have shunned her character for what she has become. Yet she continues to hold that Amazon quality of standing up for women and fighting for the rights of women, so I don’t think you could completely classify her as an anti-feminist.
Wonder Woman is no doubt an iconic figure in the world of comics, but her history is a bit shaky for most feminists. From her birth up until now her character has changed and morphed into this sexualized creature for men to objectify. She was created in a world where women were being called upon to step up to the plate, but they weren’t allowed to remain there. So it’s ok for women to take the place of men in times of war, but when that war is over their efforts are almost ignored as they are asked to return to their domestic lives of preparing a home. Wonder Woman is a complicated character and should be examined with careful eyes. You have to be willing to look past her sexual appearance in order to fully take hold of her message, because ladies, until women write her story lines she will remain this strong heroine that is sexual eye candy for men.
More Useful Information on the Origin of Wonder Woman
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The video is discussing the new casting of Wonder Woman and if Gal Gadot is a good fit to portray this iconic character.
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Lynda Carter discussing her audition for Wonder Woman.