Wonder Woman: A Feminist Icon? // Jessica Johnston, M.A.
I have been watching a lot of superhero movies over the past few years. Every summer there’s always a new one to look forward to, whether it’s another Spiderman reboot or a more obscure character like Deadpool. And while these movies are great, I find myself holding out for a worthy female lead. I’m tired of fragile damsels in distress (I’m talking to you, Lois Lane), sidekicks that don’t get enough screen time, or oversexualized heroines. So when I saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) in theaters, I thought I might have caught a glimpse of the superhero I’ve been waiting for.
I’m referring of course to arguably the most famous female superhero of all time: Wonder Woman. I mean, look at her: she’s strong, confident, brave, and she holds her own in the boy’s club of the Justice League. Honestly, the introduction of Wonder Woman was the only redeemable part of Batman v Superman: she made Ben Affleck’s abnormally muscular Batman look incompetent, and she KICKED ASS. Granted, she was only a minor character, but it’s a start. However, not knowing much about the history of Wonder Woman, I’m cautious. Is she really a superhero feminist icon?
After reading a recent article in The Atlantic regarding the “ideal” male body image as depicted in male superheroes, I was curious how Wonder Woman’s figure impacts female readers. Clearly, her Barbie-esque narrow waist and large breasts are unrealistic. Here’s an artist’s rendition of a Wonder Woman with a more normative body type.
The Wonder Woman depicted by Gal Gadot in Batman v Superman isn’t perfect either. We still see a costume including a strapless top and exposed thighs that aren’t ideal for combat. However, I think this Wonder Woman looks more prepared. Her costume hails back to her Grecian heritage; it closely resembles armor, and she carries a sword and shield. She doesn’t appear comically thin, and I can actually see some muscles, which you’d expect in any superhero. When I saw her on screen, I wanted to learn more about Wonder Woman.
Here’s Wonder Woman’s costume in her 1941 debut comic. Clearly, American patriotism was an important theme at this time, as reflected in her red, white, and blue regalia. However, Wonder Woman’s costume lacks function—fighting crime in a skirt, heels, and strapless top must be hard enough without the impairment of only having bracelets as weapons. The Bracelets of Submission may be effective at blocking bullets, but their dual purpose as reminders of previous enslavement seem pretty questionable to me. If you’re curious about Wonder Woman’s other costumes, check out this awesome infographic.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman is a character. She can be whoever we want her to be. I can identify with her empowered sexuality and value her more respectable qualities while pining for a future version of Wonder Woman that young girls everywhere can look up to. She’s imperfect, but she’s closer to the feminist heroine I’ve been searching for than any female character I’ve seen so far, although I also have high hopes for Spider Gwen. So what do you think? Is Wonder Woman the feminist icon you’ve been dreaming of?