Wonder Woman is no longer a U.N. Ambassador and I Have Some Feelings
Back in October, a petition was started after the United Nations named Wonder Woman to be an honorary ambassador . The petitioners decried Wonder Woman as being overtly sexualized and brought up how it was inappropriate to honor her when there were so many real life women who could be named in her place.
As of two days ago, the petition had just under 45,000 signatures and appeared to have done its job: The United Nations confirmed that Wonder Woman’s ambassador status will end on Friday.
Now, a spokesperson from the U.N. denied that the campaign against Wonder Woman was responsible for the end of her ambassadorship as other fictional characters have spent far less time in the honorary role. However, it would be silly to not think that there was at least some connection between the petition and the announcement.
And while petition made some interesting points regarding whether or not Wonder Woman deserves a fake title at a real organization for promotional purposes (because, let’s be real, that’s what this is), it’s worth it to educate some people about why Diana Prince gets to be a feminist icon — scantily clad or not.
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…
There are more than a few problems with the complaint, so we’ll just pick the best ones.
First off — wearing a bustier and having bare legs? Does not preclude someone from being a feminist, nor does it mean that they aren’t worth looking up to. Any sort of uniform went out with first wave feminism. That notion has no place in 2016 so that argument needs to just go away.
The word “warrior” in quotations implies a snide attitude towards a perceived characteristic of a character. However, Wonder Woman is actually a warrior. She comes from a warrior tribe. She first leaves her paradise island of Themyscira for a mission after she is determined to be the strongest warrior of all the Amazons. In the world of man, Wonder Woman is as strong as, if not stronger than, Superman. She is a warrior. Full-stop. No quotation marks needed.
They seem to imply that Wonder Woman’s “current iteration” is less feminist than her original design. Wonder Woman was created in 1942. As such, her general design and tenet was bound by the times. She’s white. She was decked out in American colors even though she wasn’t at all American. She’s pretty and her boobs aren’t subject to the same laws of gravity that the rest of ours are. Sure, Wonder Woman no longer fights villains in an adorable skirt, but she’s always been dressed in the same impossible manner as most other female superheroes.
However, as time has gone on, Wonder Woman has stopped being drawn as simply pretty or sexy. For the past 20 or so years she has been drawn as more muscular than before. Every bit of skin she shows is defined in a way that says she could fold a car in half without breaking a sweat.
And before we get too deep into just what it is that makes Wonder Woman so inherently special, let’s take a moment to discuss the whole “fictional character” complaint. Since we learned to draw buffalo on cave walls, humanity has told stories. We told stories to entertain or to teach lessons or to impart wisdom. We wanted to make each other feel things — be they fear or love or empathy. We have looked up to fictional characters forever: ancient Greek heroes like Odysseus, every-men like Frodo Baggins, stalwart leaders like Captain Picard, ancient sages like Obi-wan Kenobi.
This goes double for anyone who is not a straight white male. Why do you think that a character like Luke Cage is so important? He’s a Black man who is literally impervious to bullets and focuses on protecting his neighborhood. Or Fa Mulan — a Chinese woman who risks everything to prove her own strength and save the life of her father. There’s Hermione Granger who is unapologetically smart and doesn’t conform to beauty standards (book Hermione does not at all look like Emma Watson).
Aside from the abysmally poor representation that minorities receive in fiction (you have 10 second to name as many bisexual characters as you can think of — good luck), finding someone to identify with in fiction is no different than finding someone to identify with in real life.
Which, of course, brings us back to Wonder Woman. Diana Prince is technically a standard of woman that no real woman can hope to live up to. She’s either sculpted from clay or a daughter of Zeus depending on which origin story you are going with, so that was never going to happen. Yeah she’s white and wears red, white, and blue — a product of the time she was created in. Yes — part of her original design was to make her appealing to the straight make readers of comic books.
But Wonder Woman has become bigger than all of that. For 75 years she’s fought villains and her fellow idiot heroes over the right for women to be considered equal. She’s taught little girls on and off the page about their own value. She’s had positive platonic and romantic relationships with both men and women (HEY there’s that bisexual character I was looking for). She’s a warrior that has always tried to discuss a problem before resorting to kicking ass. She values life in every form. She protects the innocent. She tries to better herself. She makes mistakes and admits when she isn’t right.
With all of that laid out for us, why isn’t it OK to want to look up to her?
In the most recent Wonder Woman trailer, there is a scene that shows Diana walk slowly out of a foxhole, directly into no man’s land, and casually deflect enemy fire with her wrist guards. When I saw that moment, I cried. When Supergirl premiered its 8 minute first look at the TCAs in 2015, I cried. When Rey picked up Anakin’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens, I cried. We all have a desperate need to see ourselves in the things we love, and many of us are missing from the fiction we consume. I didn’t realize how desperately I had been missing a female superhero on my screen until I saw Supergirl take flight — I was wholly shocked by my tears.
And I’m one of the lucky ones; all of the examples that made me cry were of white women. We can and should and must continue to do better with representation in the future. However, just because Wonder Woman isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean she isn’t good. Her sexiness. Her whiteness. Her fictional status. None of those things should stop her from being a role model. Look at how she interacts with a young superhero in a recent story by Gail Simone:
Even though she only got to be an ambassador for a couple months, she probably inspired more than a few women to do good. And no close-minded petition can take that away from her.