This is another in my series taking about superhero characters. In my kickoff post I explained how in some ways they are the modern Gods – created in our image to put into stories to help us understand ourselves better. This time I’m looking at Wonder Woman, the Amazon princess who was crafted from clay to become a symbol of freedom and female strength.
Wonder Woman has had a wide range of backstories, but what has remained consistent is her status as a princess of the Amazons, a group of warrior women with little or no need of Men. Diana is endowed with incredible strength, breathtaking beauty, and a deep compassion. She ventures into the world of Men to help them and further the cause of peace and equality. Her weapons are indestructible bracelets which she can use to deflect bullets, a lasso of Truth that no human can resist, and sometimes a quite silly invisible jet. Her sheer strength puts her on par with Superman, but she would much rather find a peaceful solution to a battle than resort to blows.
Why we love her
She’s a woman, she’s unapologetic, and she holds her own with the most testosterone laden of males in the world. She is dead sexy and supremely competent. She stands out in a crowd, and underestimate her (especially as a Her) at your own peril.
Yet she doesn’t work the same way as her contemporaries. Wonder Woman is more of a defender than an aggressor as she deflects bullets and subdues people with her lasso. She’s here to protect us, and keep us safe even in the face of our own stupidity.
Part of her different approach is because Wonder Woman fights for more than Justice. She fights for Truth. We love to see the villains wail as their plans collapse in on their heads, but having them face their own demons and hidden truths is a defeat even more basic. It’s a blow in support of the feeling we all have (or want to have) that there is an underlying Truth to the world that we can find if we just scratch deep enough.
As A Character
Wonder Woman is a woman, and unfortunately that aspect of her character overshadows everything else. William Moulton Marston was only considering a new hero that fought not with fists, but with love. The idea to make the hero a woman was tacked on the end of the process. As if being female was one of her super powers. An afterthought.
Unfortunately, the result was that Wonder Woman’s gender became not just a part of who she was, but her defining trait. It is easy for even casual fans to picture Superman’s or Batman’s personalities, but Wonder Woman? Sometime she is portrayed as curious and helpful, trying to learn about the world of mortals. Other times she is angry and scornful of males everywhere. There is little consistency, and what is there isn’t very crisp. Many young girls who cite Wonder Woman as a role model couldn’t tell you what she stood for, or know that this feminist icon’s original role in the Justice League of America was as its Secretary.
This is one of my key issues in discussions of equality – if people are truly equal should the traits in question really matter? If you point out someone’s race in trying to ensure they are treated equally, doesn’t the very discussion create a distinction that now dominates the conversation? If Wonder Woman is really “just as good” as a male super hero in ever respect, why does her gender ever get held up as a defining trait? She is just good at what she does, end of story.
Couple her over-emphasized gender with her history of not-so-subtle bondage references and her staggeringly patriotic bathing suit outfit and you have a legacy of issues that only super strength could shoulder. None of the other popular female heroes over the past 70 years have had anything even close. The superhero genre is still dominated by white, heterosexual, muscular males, but thanks to Wonder Woman that ultimate Boy’s Club was cracked open. The price she paid is that she will always be known, defined, and limited, but what – rather than who – she is.
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