Wonder Woman, Feminism, and the Power of Women

Wednesday was Wonder Woman Day this week. A few wonderful women shared blog posts and documentaries about the American super heroines and the intersections with feminist activism and inspiration. I learned more about comic book heroine history in a short hour than an entire life of media exposure has given me. Why?

The PBS Wonder Woman documentary outlined the Princess, Amazon, Goddess that took the world by storm during a time of war and destruction and then the ongoing changes and meanings drawn from this character over the course of the 20th century. In the comics of the ‘40s women are always tied up or chained so that the hero can save them, but Wonder Woman saves herself, breaks her own chains. How cool! But then (dun dun dun!) we see a transition after the war when women were supposed to return to the homemaker role and make way for men returning. We see Wonder Woman switch to dainty, needy, and occupied by romance. This happened all over the place--Lois lane, Cat Woman, Batwoman—the world phased out or played down female characters. Thankfully, you just can’t keep a good woman down! Feminist icons like Gloria Steinem discussed changes, shifts, and advocacy for strong, inclusive female characters. This was so important because super heroines have elements of compassion, politics, equality in their stories and roles that other comic book heroes just didn’t have. Interviewees mused on the emerging feminist movement as a source of role models, of redemption! Strong women and girls were the central actors of their lives. In the 1970s TV series, Wonder Woman was interested in the community of women and building it strong!

How is it that the world never told me the story of these powerful super women and the imposing cultural influences that systematically stripped them of their powers? I love the notion that real life women struggled, pushed, and pulled back and forth with the safe, traditional conservatism to negotiate the power back into super heroines. I also adore that the documentary wrapped up by talking about the ways that women and girls have taken on the role of critical consciousness-raising about the presence of women in the media. Women make media, write their own stories, and do powerful, wonderful things every single day. Thank you to the wonder women who shared these stories with me.

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