November 25, 2013
Wonder Woman: Feminist Icon
In a world where 90% of all violent acts are perpetrated against women, females
need a super hero who demonstrates strength and dominance (Flanagan). The origins,
characteristics and actions of the iconic comic book character Wonder Woman represent
feminist values. “Wonder Woman’s story is…a mixture of Greek mythology,…feminism,
and wartime patriotism” (Brewer 80). In the beginning Wonder Woman was fashioned
from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyte—an Amazonian queen who was given a magic
girdle by her father Ares, the god of war. “In Greek mythology Amazons are known as
women who don’t need men” (Flanagan). Then the “Greek gods gave life to the sculpture
…who became known as Wonder Woman” (Brewer 88). By ascribing divine origins to
Wonder Woman, her creators signaled that all that she stood for embodied the divine
intention for how women were meant to be in the world. Wonder Woman was raised on
Paradise Island-- an island of all Amazonian women warriors who were equal in power.
Wonder Woman’s origins as an Amazon princess in a peaceful society of female
solidarity and dominance clearly portray a feminist vision of an idealized existence.
Finally, as an adult, Wonder Woman was sent to America by the Goddess Aphrodite to
aid in the World War II effort, as well as to spread the Amazonian ideals of love, peace,
and sexual equality (Crawford 31). The Amazon values that informed Wonder Woman’s
creation and development show that she was a cradle-born feminist.
Wonder Woman’s approach to problem solving and fighting evil and injustice
also embody feminist principles. The original creator of the Wonder Woman comic book
series was a psychologist named Dr. William Marston, and as a “pacifist [and] seeker of
truth, [he] created Wonder Woman to be a role model for young girls,” (Brewer 79-80).
The Gods gave Wonder Woman all her powers and weapons. This shows that Wonder
Woman’s mission is divine. The heroine “has entered a ‘man’s world’ to seek peaceful
solutions for conflicts driven by violence and power fantasies” (Brewer 78). While other
super heroes are driven by justice and retribution, Wonder Woman’s powers are
grounded in the two pillars of freedom and truth. To go along with her commitment to
truth, Wonder Woman’s main weapon was her golden lasso, which if wrapped around a
villain would force him to obey her. However, Wonder Woman chose to “only use it to
make men tell the truth instead of subjugating them to carry out her every wish” (Brewer
One of the reasons Wonder Woman is able to reason so well with villains is that
the Goddess Athena gave her divine wisdom, allowing her critical thinking and reasoning
skills to be greater than most mortals (Comic Vine 2). This is important because while in
many stories women are portrayed as being emotional and unable to think rationally, the
Wonder Woman comic book series shows that women are just as capable of reason as
men. Wonder Woman’s “approach to crime fighting was different than [a man’s because]
she would try to reason with [the villain] and convince them to reform...Only if this tactic
failed would Wonder Woman resort to physical force” (Crawford 31).
Wonder Woman is also different than other super heroes because she truly cares
about the people she saves. Episodes frequently show Wonder Woman encouraging the
women she rescues and advising them to seek support within the broader community of
women (Flanagan). Wonder Woman’s approach to crime fighting represents how much
women have to offer-- whether it be more peaceful solutions or a commitment to seeking
the truth as a primary method for solving problems and combating evil.
Many of Wonder Woman’s main rivals were females who did not represent the
values of female solidarity and camaraderie. Also, “many of these woman controlled
female slaves” (Knight 309). These women prospered from controlling other women.
One of Wonder Woman’s most notorious rivals was The Cheetah-- her character evolved
out of her “intense jealousy over Wonder Woman…she relentlessly pursued [the
Amazon] and was intent on destroying her” (Knight 309). The Cheetah is a villain who
represents many of the women in society who seek to bring down other women out of
jealousy. However, Wonder Woman does not engage in this petty rivalry; instead she
seeks to lift The Cheetah up and praises her for her talent as a dancer. Wonder Woman
encouraged her to “pursue her dancing as a way for her to get the attention she desired”
Wonder Woman acts with maturity and grace when it comes to dealing with her
female rivals-- she seeks to lift women up, even when they try to tear her down. Wonder
Woman was even the target of resentment from her fellow Amazon Orana. Orana
believed that she deserved the title of Wonder Woman, so the two Amazons fought to the
death for the title. Initially Wonder Woman did not want to engage in this battle, but after
being coerced by her mother she gave in (Comic Vine 3). All in all, Wonder Woman
inspires woman not to sink to the base motivations of their adversaries, but instead to
raise up and inspire other women.
While Wonder Woman was the target of a few female haters in her comics, she
was also shown to have many close female relationships that were free of betrayal and
deception. One of Wonder Woman’s closest confidantes was her childhood friend and
fellow Amazon Mala, with whom she shared everything (Daniels 38). Another close
friend was a stocky woman named Etta Candy “who filled the standard role of the super
hero’s comedy sidekick” (Daniels 35). Wonder Woman and Etta remained close friends
throughout all the editions of the Wonder Woman comic book series. Wonder Woman is
very supportive of Etta when “she develops an eating disorder because she is insecure
about her weight” (Comic Vine 5). Being a supportive friend, Wonder Woman convinces
Etta to get help. Wonder Woman’s closest female relationship is with her sister Nubia--
“both were formed out of clay…[and] sent by the Goddess Aphrodite to spread Amazon
values” (Comic Vine 6). Wonder Woman served as both a mentor and a friend to her
Amazon sister Nubia. Wonder Woman is often a voice of reason for her friends and is
always seen supporting them throughout their various struggles. Wonder Woman’s close
female friendships show women that they too can have close female relationships that are
not infected with jealousy.
The Wonder Woman character was created during World War II and re-embraced
during the 1970s women’s liberation movement—two eras in history where women were
breaking traditional boundaries and seeking new roles and freedom. “Prior to Wonder
Woman there were very few female super heroes; more common was the depiction of the
female seductress, the hero’s girlfriend,…or the girl in the pinup pose in need of
rescuing” (Crawford 30). Wonder Woman came at a time when women were having to
do things that they had never done before; they were stepping out into the work force,
they were flying in planes and working in factories. She taught women that they did not
need men to take care of them. As a strong comic book heroine, Wonder Woman shows
people that women can be more than the side-kick or the damsel in distress that needs
rescuing-- they can be the main character of their own lives.
Along with the many weapons Wonder Woman had, she worse one bracelet on
each wrist to remind her of how the Amazons had escaped to Paradise Island to be free
from Hercules and his men (Brewer 81). In Greek mythology, as well as in the Wonder
Woman comics, the Amazons were once slaves to Hercules. In ancient times, any women
who rebelled against authority in a patriarchal society, which the Amazons did, were
made slaves and isolated from the rest of society. These women were forced to do manual
labor and also bore children for the men. In Greek mythology and in the Wonder Woman
comics, the oppressed women escaped from Hercules' rule and fled to an island they
came to call Paradise Island. The island was ruled by women and free from the rule of
men. This part of Amazonian history resonates with many women who also spend much
of their lives being subservient to men. However, the fact that the Amazons were able to
free themselves from this oppression inspires women with the vision that they too can be
more than a domesticated housewife.
The depiction of Wonder Woman in the comics changed during periods of history
where the expectations and roles of women in the broader society changed. For example:
As men started to come home from the war and women became home-
makers once more, Wonder Woman became more domesticated as well.
She was depicted as being saved by men in her own comics...[also, during
the] 1950’s an American psychologist Frederick Wertman believed that
women’s ambitions were a danger to society…Wonder Woman was
literally stripped of her powers during the 1950’s; she simply owned a
clothing boutique and fought crime on the side…Sadly, Wonder Woman
became more absorbed in her romance with Steven Trevor then with
saving the world…[as a result Wonder Woman was] downplayed as a
heroine [and] spent many years not representing feminist values at all.
During later issues, (2008-9)Wonder Woman and Superman were shown sharing a kiss.
She was then given the nickname “Superman’s Girlfriend” (Comic Vine 4). Also during
these later issues Wonder Woman’s status as a female super heroine was pushed aside,
and she too began to be seen as another super hero’s girlfriend. Then during the 1970’s
feminists successfully lobbied DC Comics to have Wonder Woman restored to her
original costume, weapons, philosophy and origins. When the feminist periodical Ms.
Magazine made its debut in July 1972, its cover featured a drawing of Wonder Woman.
A banner above the Amazon read, “Wonder Woman for President.” (Daniels 33). She
was depicted on the magazine as “stopping war with one hand, and distributing food with
the other” (Flanagan). Wonder Woman had been resurrected as a political figure,
embodying the humanistic feminist values of peace and helping people in need. It seemed
like the ageless Amazon again shared women’s struggle for freedom in an oppressive
Another inspiring aspect of Wonder Woman is that she works with men as an
equal. When World War II pilot Steve Trevor crashed on Paradise Island, Wonder
Woman was chosen to accompany him back to the US to promote the Amazon ideals and
aid in the war effort. (Brewer 80). Wonder Woman was Trevor’s equal partner in these
endeavors. Also, Wonder Woman is one of the few super heroes that is even close to
having the same level of strength as Superman (Comic Vine 4). Finally, Wonder Woman
was a member of the Justice League—a coalition made up of the world’s greatest
super heroes. Although to fight specific threats their membership may inflate or
contract, the core line-up (known as the Big Seven) includes Superman, Batman,
Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman. Together they
tackle the most serious threats to human existence and prosperity.
Wonder Woman has received a lot of criticism from people who not only
believe she is not a feminist icon, they have attacked everything from her costume
to her storyline. Noah Berlatsky is one of the most outspoken critics of Wonder
Woman. He claims that Wonder Woman’s creator Dr. William Marston was a
“kook” and that he created the Amazon as part of a fictitious world in which men
were submissive to women (Berlatsky 1). However, Dr. Marston said that he
created Wonder Woman because “in a world where girls hated being girls… [he
wanted] them to have a female super hero to look up to” (Brewer 88). Berlatsky
asserts that Wonder Woman is a “sex icon that parades around in a red, white, and
blue, swimsuit [and that] on almost every page she is tied up” (Berlatsky 3).
Berlatsky and other critics even go so far as to say that today’s comic books portray
Wonder Woman in a very sexualized way, and even though she is one of the few female
super heroes left, she is not a real feminine icon (Cawley 1).
The fact that Wonder Woman can be both attractive and still fight crime shows
women that they should not have to dress like a man to be powerful and effective.
Wonder Woman “brought to the comic book universe…a character that is both heroic
and unapologetically feminine” (Brewer 78). Part of feminism is women having the
right to wear whatever they want and Wonder Woman’s costume should not
distract people from the feminist message she is trying to convey.
Finally, Berlatsky and others complain about the lack of continuity in the
Wonder Woman comic book series. However “continuity problems are common in
most comic book series due to the fact that authors change [as well as] readers”
(Comic Vine 10). Why is Wonder Woman’s lack of continuity scrutinized more
than that of Batman or Superman? The feminist message that Wonder Woman is
trying to convey is timeless and the series’ continuity should not be a huge issue.
Narrow-minded thinkers also claim that Wonder Woman is “a man hating comic”
(Berlatsky 4). These critics draw this conclusion because “many of the villains
Wonder Woman faces are men” [and] her comics “are [about] an all female culture
that excludes men (Berlatsky 2). It is common for some men to misconstrue
women’s assertion of their rights as man hating. However, “feminism at its core is
about equal rights for all genders” (Killerman 2 ). As a matter of fact, most
feminists are not man haters at all and do not directly blame men for their
oppression. Part of what feminism and Wonder Woman are trying to promote is
“how to treat people equally” (Killerman 5). Finally, Berlatsky and other critics
purport that Wonder Woman is not “promoting feminism [but instead is] promoting
lesbianism” (Berlatsky 6). They draw this conclusion because Wonder Woman has
close and affectionate relationships with her Amazon sisters and other women.
Once again, this judgment of the Wonder Woman comics has most likely come
about because some people misconstrue the Amazons’ close female friendships. In
summary, I believe those who do not see Wonder Woman as a feminist symbol
have not delved deeply enough into her message.
While there are some who declare Wonder Woman is nothing more then a
sex symbol, her origins and timeless message prove otherwise. She shows women
that they can be more than just homemakers, and that they can be the heroes of
their own lives. Wonder Woman is a template for what women have the potential to
become. “In order to become real life super heroes—like the presidents and
scientists-- girls need to see imaginary super heroes first. They need to know that
they are strong, that they can take on the world, and that gender is not an obstacle”
(Flanagan). In summary, Wonder Woman is a feminist icon because she helps
women find the power within themselves to surmount obstacles and stereotypes and