The UN recently appointed Wonder Woman as their honorary ambassador for gender equality and the empowerment of women, resulting in internal and external backlash. The online petition calling for reconsideration has close to 3,000 supporters.
The petition calls Wonder Woman a “large breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American motif” and criticises the appointment for not being “culturally encompassing or sensitive”, particularly when ‘sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls is at the top of the United Nation’s agenda’. Her fictitiousness sparked further complaint, and the petition argues the “role is too important to be championed by a “mascot”.
My first reaction was to side with the petitioners. However, discoveries made deep in nerdier realms of the internet where I have never been before complicated my response. Wonder Woman/Diana Prince’s creator, Marlson, supported matriarchy, and wanted to promote a message Amazon, Wonder Woman originates from a matriarchal society of warrior women based on Ancient Greek Mythology.
The character challenged many traditional gender roles, demonstrating physical and intellectual strength by repeatedly rescuing her romantic interest, Steve Trevor, and succeeding in male-dominated professions as a military intelligence officer, businesswoman, and astronaut. She also refused numerous marriage proposals: ‘if I married you, Steve, I’d have to pretend I’m weaker than you are to make you happy – and that, no woman should do!’ and focused on her commitment to justice ahead of relation- ships and child-rearing: ‘when are we going to be married?’, ‘when evil and injustice vanish from the earth!’ However, nerdier research still led to disturbing findings on the psyche of Wonder Woman’s creator. Theories drawing on Marlson’s belief in ‘female superiority’ in connection to Wonder Woman’s golden ‘lasso’ and pin-up fashion suggest her true origin may be in fetish. The design process also involved multiple re-drawings where each successor removed more clothing than the last to make the comic sell. Though she may be an icon of strength, she remains another product of patriarchy, exploiting a market which thrives off of objectifying women.
Her “impossible proportions” only make this worse. Though all male superheroes have these, too, (Superman’s physique is hardly that of the everyday man) their un-realistic muscularity at least demonstrates strength. What advantage do Wonder Woman’s large breasts lend to saving the world (besides at least getting people to read about a female superhero)? I don’t know. If anything, you’d think they’d only be a hindrance; back-pain, the inability to sleep on one’s front, and unwanted a ention would surely only serve as obstacles in the path of defeating evil.
Wonder Woman’s figure is not only damaging to a society which objectifies women, but also to one which promotes unachievable ideals for beauty. Not only is she another thin white woman– thus promoting a lack of diversity – her fictitiousness literally entails proportions which don’t exist. Though she does challenge the idea that all women should aspire to is beauty and someone to admire it, for the millions of women worldwide who suffer from poor body image and eating disorders, she is just one more example of unrealistic and exclusive Western standards of beauty.
Other issues called out in the petition that deem Ms. Prince unsuitable for the UN include the imperialistic implications of her American flag. Additionally, the fact that she is fictional will probably make participation somewhat difficult. Though Wonder Woman represents many powerful and positive things, she is probably best left in the world of comics. Fiction does need a female super hero, particularly in a medium targeted almost entirely at men. She is at least the only counter-example of the ‘damsel in distress’, and strong female protagonists in any ction. She is a rare finding, and one which we can celebrate.
In reality, though, and for the role of women’s ambassador, the pool of other candidates was vast. It is unfair that in the scope of the competition which included many real-life women, equally as strong and equally as dedicated, less sexualised, and more representative, she was chosen.