A month and a half ago, Wonder Woman was named an Honorary United Nations Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls in a special ceremony in New York City. The event tied in with the character’s 75th anniversary and was a big to-do all around; it marked the beginning of a great initiative to empower girls all over the world, and Lynda Carter, Gal Gadot, and Patty Jenkins were all on hand to celebrate Wonder Woman’s appointment. Current Wonder Woman artist Nicola Scott also drew a gorgeous piece that was used as a key part of the new campaign. It was all very lovely, and there was talk of big plans for Wonder Woman and the campaign throughout 2017. Then yesterday, news broke that Wonder Woman was out as an honorary ambassador.
Many have pointed out that honorary ambassadorships tend to have a short shelf life; a climate change campaign earlier this year that featured one of the Angry Birds barely lasted two days. But most articles seem to be placing the blame for Wonder Woman’s removal on a group of UN staffers who started a petition against her appointment. The October ceremony itself was protested, and the petition went on to gather nearly 45,000 signatures. The petition said in part:
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.
Now, I can see their point on certain issues. Superheroes are very much an American genre, and making a white woman bedecked in elements of American symbolism the face of a global initiative isn’t without its issues. She’s become a global symbol over the decades, with her upcoming film set to push that even further, but I understand that at first glance people might just see her star spangled outfit and white skin and decide she’s a poor fit for a global issue.
However, “at first glance” is the key phrase here. This is a petition written by some ill-informed folks who appear to have done little more than google image searched Wonder Woman and perhaps scanned her Wikipedia article for a second. Beyond the American imagery, Wonder Woman is very much a citizen of the world who represents the values of the United Nations. She’s not even American; she’s an immigrant. And her superhero domain is global. She’s not Spider-Man, swinging around New York City all the time. Wonder Woman’s adventures constantly take her all over the world. Moreover, she’s actually been a UN ambassador in the comics, making her an ideal icon for the organization.
And the “large breasted,” “thigh-baring,” “pin-up girl” angle is just foolishness. While there have been incarnations of Wonder Woman that depicted her in an exaggerated, overly sexualized manner, that is most definitely not the core of the character. Especially right now, with Bilquis Evely, Nicola Scott, and Liam Sharp drawing Wonder Woman. And as much as there have been occasional rough patches with the art, the public’s image of Wonder Woman is more based in adaptations. Lynda Carter brought grace and elegance to the character and her costume, while Gal Gadot brings a regal strength. These characters aren’t real; they are only what we make of them. And by choosing to focus on poor depictions of Wonder Woman and describing her in these terms, the authors of this petition are reducing the character solely to her physical appearance and completely missing who she is and what she means. It’s a disappointingly sexist angle and wholly uninformed.
(Also, Tinkerbell was named an honorary UN ambassador a few years back without protest and her costume covers the same amount of area as Wonder Woman’s, so come on).
The United Nations is currently in the midst of some controversy about female representation, with a man being named the next Secretary General yet again, and people there are understandably irked. But this is the wrong place to channel that frustration. Of all the stands to take in the face of real world sexism, taking down a fictional character who’s inspired fans for decades seems rather silly. Wonder Woman is THE female superhero. She’s an icon of feminism and female strength and power. Regardless of the degree that this petition affected the end of her ambassadorship, it’s sad that the petition exists in the first place and that it’s getting increased attention now. Wonder Woman is a great character and her honorary ambassadorship was a fitting, exciting appointment, and it’s just disappointing that it’s over so soon.