Womder Woman celebrated her 75th anniversary this year. The world celebrated her with a stamp. They added her and then removed her from a UN ambassadorship. Wonder Woman speaks to generations of women both young and old, but why?
Wonder Woman embeds herself in the cultural consciousness precisely because she is embedded in literary and societal history. She won women’s hearts because she upends these literary and historical representations by being every bit a woman and every bit a heroine.
Warrior women have been found throughout history. Warrior women like Wonder Woman have been found from ancient history all the way through to our modern day. However, in 1643, an English proclamation banned women from military enlistment. This established a new type of female militarized representation, one in which warrior women had to hide as men to be allowed to engage in warfare. During the Enlighment, science anatomically distanced the female body from the male body and led to deepening the entrenchment of the patriarchal aspects of society. Previously, people had assumed that the physical differences between men and women were simply location of genitals, not the purpose of the genitals. These scientific shifts created social shifts. Those social shifts created the hierarchical representations of men having power over women seen in both society and the media.
All of this means that warrior women were forced to hide their feminine selves because of a variety of social, scientific, and legal stuff that happened in the 1600’s through the 1900’s. The militarization of women during World War II, however, gave women options that had been denied them in recent history. Volunteering for the various women’s corps gave women a sense of agency during the war effort, yet their jobs were confined to non-battle positions.
What does all of this history have to do with Wonder Woman?
Wonder Woman went into battle as a woman. She did not hide that she was female. She did not cover herself to disguise her femininity. She was all woman. She was all warrior. In the 298 years since English law banned women from the military, she stood as one of the first, most clearly obvious female battle ready warriors.
298 years is a long time y’all.
Only 21 years earlier, women had finally been allowed to vote. Women acting indepedently in society was new. Women being shown to act independently in popular culture felt relatively unknown. Women being represented as something other than an accesssory to men was so rare as to feel nonexistent. Keep in mind that in 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives would win 7 Academy Awards.
This movie spent two hours and fifty-two minutes following the lives of men coming home from WWII and treating the women in their lives pretty terribly. They had a right to be damaged. 5 years after the introduction of Wonder Woman, this movie presented women as ancillary characters accepting the emotional abuse of men and acting as though their wartime experiences were less difficult instead of entirely different. The seven Acadamy Awards socially reinforced the power of this message by creating a hegemonic approval of the men’s emotionally abusive actions.
Society felt this was fine.
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman existed in comics. This incredibly strong, smart warrior llived in a counterculture, unrespected popular culture format.
And girls found her. They persisted.
Girls found Wonder Woman despite the ongoing assault against comics. Girls found Wonder Woman despite ongoing assaults from well-respected psychologists saying comics would corrupt them. Girls found Wonder Woman despit parents and government trying to stop them.
Girls found Wonder Woman. And yet, they persisted.
Girls finding Wonder Woman could be considered a proto-feminist act. To a certain extent, they had to fight for their right to read her. They had to be forward thinking. In fact, they had to be the girls that just didn’t care about social norms because, hell, it was the 1950’s and comics were for boys.
Yet girls found Wonder Woman. And yet, they (still) persisted.
After the 1960’s and the feminist revolution, society began to accept this mammoth representation of feminism. We got Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. She represented strength, love, ahonesty, and intelligence. From November 1975 to September 1979, women had their heroine on their screens. They could see her. She was tangible. She was everything they wanted.
Creating the Wonder Woman television show positioned Wonder Woman within the mainstream culture. This moved her from an underground counterculture position to a mainstream hegemonically accepted position.
Wonder Woman persisted. And yet, women persisted.
Yes, Wonder Woman is the representation of female power. However, to truly understand her as an icon, we have to place her within her cultural context. Wonder Woman persists not because she is badass (she is), not because she is a shining example of female strength (she is), but because she persisted.
Despite being a lone female character in a male dominated world, she persisted. Despite being presented in a demonized format, she persisted. Despite being located in a popular culture realm dominated by males, she persisted.
She gives us a warrior legacy because she created the new ideals of how women could be.
Wonder Woman gives women a warrior legacy because she persisted.