Ms. Magazine and Wonder Woman

-By Gabrielle Friesen, student staff

The cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine, featuring a towering Wonder Woman striding across a city, knocking planes out of the sky.

I love Wonder Woman. She’s my favorite superhero, and one of my favorite literary figures in general. She’s super important to me in what she stands for and is at her very best: compassionate, brave, forgiving, and self-sacrificing (she once gave up her eye-sight to save a young child’s life). But she resonates for me in a way that other superheroes (like Batman, Superman, and Captain America) simply do not, because she is so much more than just those qualities. She is an icon for women and for women’s rights. She literally stands for the downtrodden in a way that all those straight white dude superheroes do not. Her importance lies in the way she resonates with and empowers women. Even if a single reader does not personally view her as a feminist figure, she still has the cultural currency of one. She wasn’t on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine for nothing, little girls don’t dress up as her for no reason. Her creator, William Marston, created her as a feminist character, meant to empower women and girls. She’s more than just a regular fictional character, she’s taken on a life of her own, as something bigger than just the run-of-the-mill superhero. Her presence is a saving grace in a media wasteland of invisibility (much like her jet).

Being a fan of Wonder Woman is hard. First there’s just navigating the nebulous world of comics. Deciphering what stories are still count and are still in continuity (the DC Universe has recently “rebooted,” effectively resetting everything at zero in an attempt to make comics more accessible to new readers, which I personally think just makes it harder. It throws out decades of character development and stories, and old readers are often left wondering what stories still count as informing the “new and rebooted” version of the character. Writers also change fairly frequently, and while attempts are made to keep characters in-character, there’s always differences, leaving readers to pick and choose which aspects of the character they want, or consider canon (official).

On top of the difficulties inherent to the genre, Wonder Woman fans then have to deal with a whole other level of difficulties. Over the years Wonder Woman has been misrepresented, underrepresented, ignored, forgotten, mocked, and generally treated like shit. Since the Wonder Woman TV series in the 70s with Lynda Carter as the superheroine, she has yet to return to the small or big screen. Batman keeps getting movies thrown at him, but Wonder Woman has yet to receive a single movie. Last year, there was an attempt at a Wonder Woman pilot, but the character was definitively not Wonder Woman. She cried over men not noticing her, and was flaky and weak in the way that TV execs seem to think women are- their lives constantly out of control (like their hormones), and their main issue being a hot dude not noticing them. Thankfully, NBC opted not to buy David E. Kelley’s version, in part because of fan-outcry about the unrecognizability of the titular character. There’s potentially another pilot in the works by another writer, but the jury’s still out on if it will even be made, let alone be made well.

In comics, she’s also frequently mishandled, with writers often not understanding the core concepts of her character. I have this issue with her current writer Brian Azzarello. His current run features a lot of Greek myth, which I was initially thrilled about; I think one of the frequent flaws in Wonder Woman’s writing is the under-use of the Greek pantheon and the mythological side of the DC universe. However, he also re-wrote the Amazons origin story to fit in with his re-imagining of the Greek pantheon. In his Wonder Woman, the Amazons seduce shipfulls of sailors, have sex with them, and then kill the sailors and any boy children.

Fantastic.

While some versions of the Amazonian myth did feature similar themes, this was because of the Greek world’s misogyny. The Amazons were a cautionary myth about the evils of women who disobeyed men. Azzarello is basically playing into this, and could easily have chosen to go with the myth where Amazons had sex with the neighboring Gargarean tribe (all men) and then gave them the boy children. But no, he went for the man-hating, murderous feminists. Literally. Wonder Woman is then the progeny of mass-murders.

I’ve since stopped reading the new Wonder Woman issues. So, while he may be doing other great things with the title, I am no longer up to date on what they may be. Azzarello’s re-figuring of the Amazons is unforgiveable to me for a few reasons.

  1. It goes back to that misuse bit. Wonder Woman is one of DC’s Big Three, along with Batman and Superman, who should not be undergoing such drastic character change because they’re whom the populace at large recognizes. But Wonder Woman is always undergoing drastic character change, this is just the newest. Batman would never have his origin story re-written so that his parents used their philanthropy to hide their child kidnapping and labor-ring, their millions made on the backs of child-slaves. Superman’s origins would never be re-written so that his parents are at the head of a genocidal alien army intent on blowing up earth, with the destruction of multiple inhabited planets already under their belts. But Wonder Woman is not seen as being as important a character by DC, so her origin story can be fucked to hell and back, even if it wrecks the core tenants of her character. Y’know, that empowering women bit, but its fine, literally echoing conservatives stereotypes of feminism as an “anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children” that’s not super harmful at all.
  2. Which brings me to my next reason why this is unforgiveable. That whole war on women thing that’s actually happening in the real world? If women do anything to protect their own rights, we’re harkened back to this scary image of the baby-killing feminist. Cultural icons are important. Wonder Woman is one of the most well-known and important pop culture icon in the U.S. And Azzarello has linked her to misogyny’s favorite fears about women with any sort of rights. The same fears that are being employed to silence real world women. Good Job. Even though Wonder Woman still goes about being kickass, and spends most of her time protecting another woman, this removal of the Amazons from the sphere of feminist, or even just non-politically aligned women, and displacement into the sphere of “crazy, child-murdering women who were left to their own devices” has made the character unrecognizable to me.

These are reasons why Ms. Magazine’s 40th Anniversary cover has made me so very, very happy.

Ms. Magazine cover 2012

A giant Wonder Woman once again striding across a cityscape. Underneath and in front of her are multiple women holding pink signs protesting the war on women.

This refiguring of the first issue’s cover is everything Wonder Woman is to me. She’s powerful, purposeful, and look at that! Helping Women. Helping Feminists, Womanists, and women who don’t hold a label, but just want the right to exist, keep those rights in the face of political powers who want women to just shut up and stop asking for the privilege to exist as human beings

That’s who Wonder Woman is to me. A feminist figure who who’ll fight to the last when rights are threatened, whether it be with her invisible jet, her Lasso of Truth, or just the mere fact of her existence as a character.

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One thought on “Ms. Magazine and Wonder Woman

  1. Pingback: An Open Letter to DC Comics | cuwomensresourcecenter

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