After hearing that Wonder Woman’s television program wasn’t picked up, and in light of the DC universes total reboot, I started thinking about the amazing Amazon. Wonder Woman is a character conceived with noble intentions but has had horrible execution. Its always irritated me. I respect her as a comic book icon, and her place in the DC universe, but something about her character has always seemed off. Uninspiring or underdeveloped might be the word. The character’s mythos tries too hard to be feminist. In doing so subvert its own message, and alienates her appeal to a broader audience.
When she was created, Wonder Woman was intentionally designed to be feminist hero for girls to look up to. I have always maintained that the world would be a better place if more girls read comics. Superheroes, at least the ones in good stories, usually teach a moral lesson about good and evil. The heroes are strong emotionally as well as physically. They use their talents to help the world. Spider-Man’s mantra “with great power comes great responsibility” is a universal idea. A good portion of entertainment geared towards girls has the heroine as a shallow, self absorbed, entitled princess, who is reactive not proactive, and is only validated through romance. Look at Twilight, which has earned somewhere in the bazillion dollar range. Ignoring the weird changes to vampire mythology, it teaches young girls that finding love is the most important thing in the universe. Education, friends, family, an independent identity, and being a decent person are all unimportant in comparison. If the boyfriend happens to be physically and emotionally domineering, a stalker, is dangerous, or creepily older than the girl, its okay. It just means he loves her even more. Girls who come to believe this is the way the world should work grow up to be have a flawed world view. So if given the the choice for my hypothetical non existent daughter to read about Bella Swan or Dianna of Themiscara, I say whip out your golden lasso and silver bracelets and fight crime. But that doesn’t mean that Wonder Woman doesn’t have some woefully underused potential and unfortunate implications.
Wonder Woman has stated numerous times that she is a superhero because she wants to journey to “Man’s World” to teach us the Amazonian ways of peace. This really irritates me on multiple levels. As a writer this bothers me because it is a crappy motivation for a hero. This makes Wonder Woman sound like a self righteous, holier than thou, jerk, not an elemental paragon in the same category as Superman. If I were one of residents of Metropolis or Gotham and I heard this, my response would be “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Wonder Woman comes from an isolated island with a few thousand people on it. What do you understand about peace in the world. Come down from your Ivory Tower and live amongst us mere mortals. As a man this bothers me because it implies that a society of only women wouldn’t be violent. Though stereotypically men are more aggressive than women, violence and hate are part of the human condition regardless of gender. As an idealist I particularly resent referring to our society as “Man’s World”. I’ve always viewed men and women as two complimentary halves of the same whole. Each is incomplete without the other. Last time I checked our population is about evenly divided between male and female. I’m not so naive to assume sexism doesn’t exist in the world. There are parts of the world were women have absolutely no rights. Amazons are simply the inversion of that difference. The bifurcation of our species along gender lines underscore sexism, it doesn’t fight it. Imagine how insulting it would be if instead of being about gender it was about race: “Wonder Woman is going to the “Black’s World” to teach them the White ways of peace.” (How aweful does that sound?!) Feminism should be about promoting male/female equality, not female superiority. For a young girl reading a comic book this rhetoric would be either confusing or enraging, not empowering.
Wonder Woman comes from Themyscira, (aka Paradise Island) as an emissary of peace. Of course this is based off of the Greek myth. Amazons were fierce warriors and dangerous foes, favored by Ares in war. Depending on the myth you read the Amazons would either maintain their populations by having sex with the men from their neighboring village, and killing the male children, or raping their prisoners of war. The most PG version of the myth I’ve ever read was that Amazon society was a gender reversal of the Grecian norm, where men took care of the children, and the woman became soldiers. Though the DC universe doesn’t have the Amazons raping their POWs or reproduction of any kind, they are still warriors. The mythological basis has a very violent background for our heroine. How is Wonder Woman supposed to represent peace when her entire life has been about training for war. I hear a bit of hypocrisy here. What if instead of being a peace ambassador, she was an emissary of “bad ass”. The character was intended to show girls they can be strong, what if Dianna herself came out and said that. She’s showing the Bella Swan princesses of the world to toughen up and be strong. Sure that’s probably too edgy for the time she was created but how many modern reboots have there been? She doesn’t just have to be an ambassador to women. She could use those values of strength and courage, as a lesson to the larger world and teach the world to confront evil.
The Amazon’s island is meant to be a no man’s land. I remember a Justice League episode where Themyscira is invaded by Felix Faust an evil sorceror. He defeats everyone on the island. When Wonder Woman arrives with reinforcements in the form of Superman, Batman, the Flash, and the other male members of the Justice League, she gets in trouble for bringing men there, rather than being praised for saving the day. No man has ever lived there save for maybe Steve Trevor briefly. The unfortunate implication with this, is that to be as strong as Wonder Woman, a girl would need to banish men from her life. Someone might even interpret this as the only reason Dianna is who she is is because she never had men to compete with. I feel that this subverts Wonder Woman’s whole feminist message to girls. The explanation the DC universe gives is the Amazons are resurrected souls of women killed by men in violent displays of misogyny. As long as they live on Themyscira they are immortal. It’s a form of heaven. This makes sense why they wouldn’t let men live there, they’re all traumatized. This further subverts the message of of feminism. Instead of allowing these abused woman to shed their lingering pain and grow beyond it. They cling to it and hide from the world or worse, irrationally hate all men. It can reinforces the stereotype of feminists being male hating feminazis.
So how is a child born on an isolated island populated by only one gender? The comics explain that Hyppolyta longed for a child and the Gods of Olympus decided to bless her with one. Later stories say that the woman who’s soul was reincarnated as Hyppolyta was pregnant when she died. She sculpted a statue from clay which was inhabited with the spirit of her unborn child. There are so many stories that can come from that origin. Essentially this Makes Dianna a magical artificial intelligence. What if she had an existential crisis and began to wonder if she was real or not? That could motivate her to want to leave the island and explore the world. She could be like Pinocchio, trying to discover what it is to be a real boy… er girl. That’s a story everyone could get behind. What if the story is fake. It sounds like kind of story a parent would tell a child when they don’t want to explain the birds and the bees. “Made of Clay” is tantamount to “a stork brought you”. In Greek Mythology Hyppolyta and Heracles were lovers. What if Herc knocked up Hyppolyta and she was too ashamed to admit it to her daugher. Diana could eventually find out her dad is the son of Zeus (which would explain her strength). A long lost father storyline practically writes itself. She could confront her dad for not being there in her child hood. Starting to bond with him would hurt Hyppolyta. Eventually she would kick Heracles out of her life, choosing her mother who was always there for her.
I don’t want this article to come off in any way that I am against strong female characters, but Wonder Woman as a character needs a revamp. We’re not dealing with an Adam West style camp Batman any more. If Wonder Woman weren’t written as a strictly as a feminist hero, but rather a female bad ass with positive character traits, she would become a feminist icon either way.