By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
Of all the organizations to give me material for this week, I didn’t expect it to be the United Nations. But here we go:
Last week, it was announced that on Oct. 21, the U.N. will swear in DC’s Wonder Woman as an “Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.” Elevating the Amazonian Princess will kick off a global campaign by the organization to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
I have mixed feelings on this.
On one hand, for choosing a symbol for female empowerment, who better than Wonder Woman. I know that’s a cliche to say, but the sudden resurgence of Diana Prince as her 75th anniversary has approached is a testament is largely due to her traditional, radical origins.
I’ve discussed this before, but for a quick refresher: Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston in 1941 as a means of expressing his views on gender through the emergent superhero medium. The Amazons were enslaved by the hyper-masculine and war-waging Hercules only to break out and form a man-free society. When pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island and warns them about the new global threat of the Nazis, who the Amazons see as the ultimate realization of the militaristic machismo they swore to fight against, they send their champion Diana Prince to fight for peace, taking on the heroic mantle of Wonder Woman.
Given the current political and gender based climate — I’d rather not elaborate lest I incur the internet’s wrath — it can be pretty clear that a hyper competent woman using empathy, strength and pragmatism to combat a series of mentally manipulative, hyper-masculine and frequently fascistic villains might be topical today.
But what makes it more exciting is that after decades of this radical core being whitewashed and forgotten, it is finally coming back. The comics have begun shrugging off the whole “Warrior Princess” angle with the character, while “The Legend of Wonder Woman” has been a rich return to her origin that captures the spirit of the character. While I have some qualms about the approach the films have taken, listening to the cast talk about their approach leads me to believe they’ve done their homework (the Wonder Woman film looks like it might be free from the stains of the wider DCEU). And DC recently dropped the bomb by finally committing to making Diana’s queerness cannon.
All of this feels like the natural build up to the U.N. announcement. In her 75th year, Wonder Woman has come back swinging, retaking her throne as the female superhero in an era where her subversive and strange subtext can be a much welcomed text, and once again become a symbol for women everywhere.
But unfortunately, this decision wasn’t made in a vacuum, and in the real world context of the U.N., this is a bit more complicated. The choice to grant this title to Wonder Woman comes at a time of intense scrutiny for the U.N., as people have been quick to point out that the United Nation’s efforts toward gender parity are woefully behind, as 9 out of 10 senior leader positions last year were given to men. Not to mention, in a year where there was immense campaign to have the first woman leader of the UN, and an unprecedented 7 different incredibly qualified women applied for the position, a man was chosen (no disrespect to Guterres, who himself is also immensely qualified).
The result is a personal dilemma for me. On one hand, it’s totally reasonable to be upset at the U.N. When the gross gender gap in employment as well as the double standard given to women in power have become two of the talking points across the globe, the choice to ignore the many qualified women of their organization while giving a title to a fictitious character feels a touch bit tone deaf.
But as someone who has watched one of their favorite characters be under-appreciated and forgotten for such a long time, it is genuinely empowering to see Wonder Woman see a renaissance. I’ve always argued for the importance of pop culture heroes, and in the current climate, there might be no better figure than Diana Prince, the peaceful, powerful and empathic fighter for a better world.
Ultimately though, I would point the U.N. to some of the very first Wonder Woman comics. Inside each issue, there was a section entitled “Wonder Woman of History,” where the writers would take the time to tell the story of a real life woman who did extraordinary things, such as Florence Nightingale, Sacajawea and Joan of Arc. Yes, it is awesome to see Wonder Woman become a symbol for powerful women across the world. But even her initial creators knew that Wonder Woman only exists thanks to the real world heroes who show us how the wonders women are capable of.