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.
In fact, more than two months after her appointment there is little if not to say nothing we heard from her about gender equality or women’s empowerment. Even so, googling for Wonder Women reveals not much more than the fact that she will hit the screen again in summer 2017. After all, her nomination seems to be part of a successful advertising campaign.
Just to put it clear: I like comics! Particularly, I love filmed comic books and crossing the sky side by side with Superman, climbing skyscrapers with Spiderman and spending the nights out with Catwomen in Gotham City … BUT. Let us be clear and serious 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. – Global gender gap is harsh reality. And one in three women worldwide experiences physical or sexual violence. As such it is too serious a topic 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 – Addressing gender equality through a solely female representative is an outdated message.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. As such, 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, deal with menstrual disorders (as if it were nothing) and are more likely small sized and roundish than tall and well-shaped. Wonder Women is a phantasm and for most women completely implausible as a guide to empowerment.
5. She is white. – Against the background, that gender inequality is particularly high in what we call developing countries it is purest cynicism to name a white representative to advocate for gender equality. In fact, I find it difficult to believe that a woman of another civilization than the Western world can identify herself with this character. To the contrary, Wonder Woman makes us easily believe that the 5th SDG is just a means to spread Western values. Gender and diversity (and age) are coupled principles – and ironically this message escaped the U.N.
From a society of the 21st century I expect to treat gender inequality not as a farce but to address it with the integrity and sincerity it deserves. We need tangible characters able to advocate for a better world with a voice to be heard, a heart to be felt and the spirit to reach out to the world. In fact, we don’t know what Wonder Women herself would say about her new role. Yet, we cannot call the good fairy of Pinocchio to bring Wonder People to life, and if we could, we should certainly make sure we are not invoking Dr. Frankenstein to awake another scary monster on our planet.
ANNOTATION by the author (13 December 2016): Less than two months after her appointment Wonder Woman was dropped as UN equality champion.