Wonder Woman turns 75 today with a high-wattage birthday party, a new job and, as usual, a whole heap o’ trouble.
The resilient DC Comics superhero will be feted at the United Nations today, where she will be named an honorary UN ambassador tasked with promoting empowerment for women and girls around the world. Sounds like an easy gig for someone who’s been a universal symbol of women’s self-determination and an inspirational role model for girls around the world for three-quarters of a century, right?
But Diana Prince’s new title comes with a ton of political baggage, and has quickly become a polarizing issue for feminists.
At the UN, nearly 1,000 staff members have signed a petition asking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to rescind the appointment, and are planning a silent, “non-disruptive” protest (dressed all in white) at noon today.
The petitioners’ principal argument? That “a large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring bodysuit” isn’t a suitable icon of womanhood or spokesperson for global gender equality.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg here. Petitioners also point to Wonder Woman’s American-flag-themed outfits as disrespecting the UN’s global mission, and they question the use of a licensed image from a profit-making corporation.
Inevitably, there’s Donald Trump tie-in here, too.
“It is alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualized image at a time when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls,” the petition states, adding that Wonder Woman — who has twice been on the cover of Ms. magazine — is “the epitome of a pin-up girl.”
And, while the petition doesn’t mention it, there’s an inescapable political subtext to this dispute as well. The UN faced aggressive lobbying in recent months to appoint (for the first time) a female successor to the outgoing Secretary-General, and its decision last week to name former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres to the post was profoundly discouraging to many feminists.
The failure to place “real” women in the UN’s most visible leadership roles is a theme that spills over into the Wonder Woman recall petition.
“The bottom line appears to be that the United Nations was unable to find a real life woman that would be able to champion the rights of ALL women on the issue of gender equality and the fight for their empowerment,” the petition states, offering to provide the Secretary-General with a lengthy list of qualified “real” women from around the world.
The group implies that Wonder Woman’s appointment trivializes gender equity rights, and likens the move to the UN’s previous use of Tinkerbell and Winnie the Pooh in promotional “ambassadorial” roles.
“This role is too important to be championed by a ‘mascot’,” the petition states. “While Wonder Woman can of course be part of the conversation, an animated character surely cannot be charged with what it is a very important role.”
And as if the controversy surrounding today’s ceremony wasn’t stirred up enough already, the New York Times piled on yesterday with a column (“Is It Time For Wonder Woman To Hang Up Her Bathing Suit?“) that revives a longtime complaint many people have with Wonder Woman — her sexed-up outfits.
The character has undergone numerous style makeovers over the years — the new movie iteration seems to favour the badass faux medieval warrior look — but never strays too far from it core aesthetic of sexually provocative athleticism.
In the end, the UN staffers’ petition probably won’t dislodge Wonder Women from her new role. But it addresses a valid question: Can’t our public institutions find female role models who are smart, independent and courageous and who aren’t cartoons? Can’t a woman inspire the world without showing off her legs and cleavage?
We’ll leave it to Hillary to answer.