Wonder Woman has acted as a symbol of strength for girls for generations, starting back in the 1940’s. When the world gave them dolls and kitchen play sets, these girls found the radiating woman with the golden lasso like a beacon of light, the solitary female superhero among superheroes. I, too, have fond memories of watching the strong and beautiful Princess Diana on the cartoon, The Justice League when it aired on Cartoon Network when I was a kid. Forget Superman and Batman; I wanted to see more and more of Wonder Woman and sucked up every second of the rare episodes that focused solely on Wonder Woman like precious drops of water in a desert.
But as I grew older and more observant, the more I began to wonder if Wonder Woman was really such a great image of a strong female character. Somehow star-patterned mini-shorts and bosom didn’t scream powerful to me. Then again, grown men running around in spandex and capes isn’t too different. Even so, something wasn’t sitting quite right with Wonder Woman and me.
For those of you like me who are not as familiar with the ins and outs of comics, Wonder Woman was created in 1941 (almost 10 years after Superman) when DC Comics decided to try to bring in more female readers. For a comic symbolizing female empowerment for many, Wonder Woman was originally created by a man, a psychologist by the name of William Moulton Marston (he also created the systolic blood pressure test, a component for the modern polygraph). Supposedly a more modern thinking man (though I have begun to wonder), Marston has been described as having “feminist” notions by people as close to him as his wife. Perhaps he had some, given that he was writing the story of the first female superhero.
However, being the first female superhero certainly did not mean Wonder Woman escaped entirely from the restraints of society. Wonder Woman was bound literally and figuratively in ways her fellow male heroes were not. In an entry by Julie D. O’Reilly in the Journal of American Culture back in 2005 wrote, “many female superheroes have the privilege of demonstrating their abilities or defending their roles as heroes in a manner not afforded their male counterparts.” Unlike Superman, Spiderman, and many other male superheroes who decide on his own that he will use his powers to help, Wonder Woman had to first gain the approval of her family, the Amazons. Though Wonder Woman did make the decision that she wanted to began a superhero, in the end, the final decision is given to someone else, like some child who must ask permission. This is a pattern that has continued into more modern female characters as well.
Also, the Wonder Woman comic was veined with sadomasochist themes of bondage; in fact, Wonder Woman’s weakness is having her arm bracelets bound by a man. Below is an amusing comic discussing the issue perfectly which I found on Sociological Images.
Wonder Woman is not without her merits; she will still be idolized by girls as a strong female superhero and certainly, we could use that. Here’s some food for thought though; 70 years later, are the majority of our female superheroes any less bound?