Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wonder Woman Wore Booty Shorts

This is what awesome looks like.
Someday, I want to be able to introduce my hypothetical daughter to comics.  My first choice of feminist icon should be Wonder Woman.  She is Wonder Woman, after all.  Actually created to be a feminist icon by the creative team of William and Elizabeth Marston in 1941, their stated goal was to give young girls strong female archetype.  Marston was quoted in The American Scholar, 1943 as saying, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.”  All well and good.  Wonder Woman was to fight the Nazis, represent patriotic America, and always remain a good woman.

This goal, however, was not generally followed through with in the comics.  Certainly Wonder Woman is powerful, but perhaps a little too powerful.  She’s not only an Amazonian Princess from a mystical island of warrior women, she also runs a Fortune 500 company under the name Diana Prince, and is one of the spearheads of the Justice League.  She was a goddess for a while.  She has the strength of 100 men, can run 80 mph, and she does all of this in a patriotic bathing-suit that only barely manages to cover her rippling abs.  Talk about hard to live up to.  In addition, she has a set of unbreakable gauntlets that can deflect bullets, a lasso of truth, and an invisible jet.  Oh and a crown.

Nice heels.
If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll see that Wonder Woman’s problems are even more than just being wicked intimidating.  A foundational member of the Justice League written to equal Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman was originally the League’s secretary.  And far from being the superpowered action hero that the Marston’s intended, Wonder Woman’s early years were spent mostly being tied up.  It was such a common trope that there is now an entire online archive of old comics demarcating the bondage in old issues of Wonder Woman ( Suffering Sappho!). 

Aside from the problematic sexualization inherent in having a female character who is continually scantily clad and tied up, there is the fact of her powers to consider.  According to Aphrodite’s Law, an obscure piece of her comics backstory, when Wonder Woman is tied up by a man, which happened rather frequently, she loses her powers.  Consider this.  Wonder Woman’s powers, which are only an extension of herself like a hand or foot for us, are continually being taken away from her.  Imagine having a hand regularly amputated and reattached.  But these are comics, and removal of powers is not unusual.  What is unusual is the remarkably high level of fetishization attached to it.

Unfortunately, there’s a good reason for that.  As I said before, Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941.  In 2007, the first woman was employed as an ongoing-writer for the comic (Gail Simone, also, incidentally, creator of the Women In Refrigerators list) .  From 1941 to 2007, the primary comic about a feminist character was creatively controlled by men, and written almost exclusively by them.  While I do not doubt that William and Elizabeth Marston had good intentions upon creating her, one can only assume that Wonder Woman would have turned out differently if Elizabeth had stayed a bit more involved.  How we expect Wonder Woman to speak for women, if she’s not speaking with a woman’s voice? 

No, seriously?  I don’t have any answers here, and it’s a big problem.  Comics is and has always been a boys club.  Every once in a while they raise the point that they need more girls to read in order to get their numbers up, but that’s just jaw-wagging when there’s stuff like this to consider.  Think about it this way.  In the new Wonder Woman tv series (the one that got canceled, which was to star Adrianne Palicki), did you notice how her costume got more fetishized in each revision?  It started off with pants. Then they were latex pants.  Then they were back to being normal pants, but with a higher heel and a firmer bustier.  When the final reports came in, she was in booty shorts. 

Sorry, you can't make them cool.
Wonder Woman.  In booty shorts.  Shudder.

But it’s part of the problem.  We can’t imagine a Wonder Woman that wears pants.  We can’t imagine a Wonder Woman who actually is as feminist as she’s supposed to be.

So we need more women writing comics, and we need more women reading comics.  But we also need more men giving a fuck about this problem.  Because there are two halves of the population here, and one of them has a bit more power in the situation at the moment.  Perhaps that side could deign to make some changes.

For more about Wonder Woman, check out the links above or Wonder Woman on wikipedia and Wonder Woman Online!