On 21st October 2016 the U.N. officially named the comic book heroine Wonder Woman to be the new honorary ambassador for the United Nations to support the 5th U.N. Sustainable Development Goal which aspires to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls“ by 2030.
The character of Wonder Woman first appeared in December 1941 in All Star Comics #8. She is the female answer to Superman who opened the era of comic superheroes in 1938.
One months after her appointment googling for Wonder Women reveals mainly the fact that she will hit the screen again in summer 2017 – but there is nothing notable to be found about her advocating for gender equality. After all, her nomination seems to be part of a successful advertising campaign.
First things first: I like comics and to cross the sky side by side with Superman, climb skyscrapers with Spiderman and spend the nights out with Catwomen in Gotham City … BUT. We should get clear about what it means to link Wonder Woman with the message of gender equality and empowerment. As to my observations, there are at least five alarming topics we should be aware of when it comes to the critical reflection of the new U.N. gender equality champion:
1. Gender inequality is not a fairy tale. – The Global gender gap is a sad reality and one in three women worldwide experiences physical or sexual violence. As such the topic is too real to be represented by a fictive character – where there are numerous real female characters in the world who could make a honorable incumbent.
2. Gender is more than about women. – Addressing gender equality through a solely female representative is an outdated message. Gender is a complex topic and involves a broad range of characteristics and values we associate with women, intersex, men, masculine, feminine, transgender etc. As to my opinion, a contemporary means to advocate for gender equality would involve at least two representatives, a male and a female ambassador.
3. Objectification at its purest. – To be honest, I cannot follow the nominators’ motivation to elect a women’s right campaigner who is packed with sexual attributes and on top of that glorifies the force of arms. Through her sexualized imagery in conjunction with weapons she embodies both, sexualization and violence and thus, Wonder Woman conveys a message which is totally contra productive to tell us the story of peace, justice and equality.
4. Out of touch with women’s reality. – Women can be strong and yes, work wonders. But the vast majority of women is far away from feeling like a superheroine. Women belong to the most vulnerable groups on this planet, are hard workers, bear the major responsibility to raise children and are more likely small sized and roundish than tall and well-toned. Wonder Women is a phantasm and for most women too implausible as a guide to empowerment.
5. She is white. – In fact, I doubt that any woman from another civilization than the Western world would identify herself with this character. Wonder Woman makes us easily believe that the 5th SDG is a means to spread Western values. Gender and diversity (and age) are coupled principles – and it is surprising that at U.N. level such core message escaped.
In the 21st century it is my personal expectation to address gender inequality with the integrity and sincerity it deserves. We need tangible characters able to advocate for a better world with a voice to be heard and a heart to be felt. In fact, I am wondering what Wonder Women herself would say about her new role? But yet, we are not able to call the good fairy of Pinocchio to bring her to life, and if we could, we may be careful not to invoke Ms. Frankenstein.
ANNOTATION by the author (13 December 2016): Two months after her appointment Wonder Woman was dropped as UN equality champion.