Just her name alone conjures up the image of a towering Amazon, clad in red, white, and blue, ready to save the world with her golden lasso and silver bracelets. She is an ideal -- an All-American warrior goddess preaching for freedom and equality between all people. She is, in her own words, “a disciple of peace and love.”
Throughout her 75 years of existence, Wonder Woman has served to represent the role of women in American society -- she has been an ideal woman, one for others to look up to in a time of need. In the 1940s, she fought constantly for equality between men and women, fighting against Nazis and misogynistic criminals who posed a threat to those she chose to defend. Namely, she fought for women and for the citizens of the United States, the country whose morals she had sworn to protect upon leaving her Amazon paradise of Themyscira to, essentially, save the world from the wars of man. In the 1950s and 60s, she relapsed as women were pushed out of the workforce as World War II came to an end, eventually being pushed to the role of a plainclothes hero, working as a spy under her alterego of Diana Prince, longing for the affections of her companion Steve Trevor. In the 1970s, she made a comeback thanks to Gloria Steinem, who rebranded her once again as a feminist icon in Ms. magazine, publishing compilations of her 1940s adventures that had inspired Steinem as a child to become the feminist icon she is considered to be. And, within the past year, she was made an honorary UN ambassador.
But what is it that makes Wonder Woman so wonderful?
This answer, obviously, is different for everyone, and is influenced by different periods of Wonder Woman stories. Wonder Woman is one of, if not the only, independent female superheroes who is consistently marketed on regular basis to women and girls, and as such, is one of the only beacons of all that a female superhero can represent. When I asked my mother, who was born during Gloria Steinem’s feminist crusade, what Wonder Woman meant to her, she replied with, “She is special because she was the first female superhero that I really encountered. She made me realize that a woman didn’t need a man to save her.” When I asked Brooke Blumenstock, a sophomore Directing, Playwriting, and Production major at the University of the Arts, she told me that, to her, “[S]he represents the good old fashioned "We Can Do It!" mentality [that] women can do anything we set our mind to. And that we can do anything men can if not more, and we have the strength and stamina to do everything.” And when I asked Hannah Sayer, a freshman Animation major at Drexel University, she immediately said, “The Wonder Woman movie is going to save the world,” followed quickly by “All her morals are exactly what America needs right now -- the idea of a hero who knows it isn’t always best to jump forward and attack, but to see how you can make peace first. It’s a mature clarity we’ve lost a lot of, both in the media and in modern life. When she’s with Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman is so clearly the adult in the room.”
Although each of these answers is quite different from the others, each demonstrates a different aspect of what makes Wonder Woman such an important figure. As my mother stated, Wonder Woman doesn’t need saving - she is fully capable of saving herself, and she only calls for backup when she needs it. She doesn’t put her companions in danger, and she makes it clear from the get-go that she is in charge. As Brooke stated, Wonder Woman has become entrenched in the feminist movements of the past decades. This was the intent of her creator, William Moulton Marston, who was heavily influenced by the initial feminist movement through the actions of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway, romantic partner, Olive Byrne, and Byrne’s aunt and mother, Margaret Sanger and Ethel Byrne. Even in these early comics, Wonder Woman preached constantly of the importance of sisterhood between women, as well as for equal rights between men and women, regardless of whether she was fighting Nazis overseas or resolving conflicts on the campus of the fictional Holliday College. Her 1970s relaunch after decades of drifting away from these actions brought her back to her roots, rebranding her as an icon of the women’s liberation movement. And her 2016 induction as an honorary UN Ambassador was done to provide women and girls everywhere with a distinctive feminist icon to look up to.
However, as amazing as these messages of sisterhood and empowerment being spread by Wonder Woman are, it is perhaps Hannah’s message that touches most closely on the importance of Wonder Woman in the world right now - not only as a feminist icon but also as a diplomat. One of the most iconic Wonder Woman quotes is as follows:
“We have a saying, my people, ‘Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.'”
Something that is often forgotten, but is an essential part of Wonder Woman’s character, is that she was originally sent out of Themyscira not only to return officer Steve Trevor to the United States but also as an ambassador to the rest of the world from Themyscira, taking her Amazonian ideals of peace and love and spreading them throughout the world as much as she could manage. Additionally, part of the reasoning behind doing this was because the world was in chaos - Wonder Woman was introduced to the world just as the United States plunged into World War II, and as such, the world of man she was introduced to was, overall, an intensely divided place that had descended into war with no sign of stopping anytime soon.
Regardless of who you voted for in this year’s presidential election, or whose ideals match yours the closest, it cannot be denied that the United States is currently in a state of deep division. Mass groups of people march in the streets in protest of our president elect, and his election has been declared a victory by white supremacist groups. Older generations point fingers at the Millennial generation for not voting enough, while Millennials point to them declaring they voted for the wrong person. Families are divided right down the middle, some to the point that children do not speak to their parents simply because they feel that their parents’ votes were a declaration that they do not support their life choices. I have watched my friends and immediate family descend into mourning once they saw the results while I simultaneously watched distant relatives rejoice in their victory. The country has descended into another chaos, a chaos in which people on both sides of an argument spend so much time pointing fingers and fearmongering in order to turn the other side into the villain, resulting in a world where the people choose to live in blind hatred of others rather than taking the time to stop and listen to their complaints and analyze what has caused them to be raised in order to reach a better understanding. A world in which members of each side of the argument have painted the other in such a negative light that to engage with the opposing side in a positive manner is to ostracize oneself from one’s original allies. This is a world in which people who voted against Donald Trump have considered suicide to be a better option than to live in a country in which he wields the highest office.
This is a country that desperately needs Wonder Woman.
In the words of comic book writer Gail Simone, “When you need to stop an asteroid, you get Superman. When you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But when you need to end a war, you get Wonder Woman.” And that is exactly what has to be done.
As tempting as it is to point fingers and call names, or to stop your feet and scream at people with whom you disagree before promptly cutting them off from your life forever, this is not a productive action. This is an action that cuts off any chance of dialogue -- an action that essentially eliminates the possibility of an ally in the fight to protect the rights of American citizens who feel, and are, threatened by this upcoming presidency. And as satisfying as it might be to just shut the person down before they get the chance to respond, the only way that this battle against the discrimination that has been spread throughout this election cycle is to be willing to truly listen to their complaints and formulate a valid response.
This is exactly what Wonder Woman would do.
“If the prospect of living in a world where trying to respect the basic rights of those around you and valuing each other simply because we exist are such daunting, impossible tasks then what sort of world are we left with? And what sort of world do you want to live in?” With this statement, Wonder Woman encapsulates the central issue of this constant fight occurring at this moment in the United States -- if all we are capable of doing is to argue, then how are we ever going to make the world a better place?
Wonder Woman’s primary objective at all times is not to go smashing into battle, throwing all caution and conscience to the wind. On the contrary, Wonder Woman begins practically every exchange with an attempt to engage with whatever being or person is causing a problem for others and learn their reasoning behind their actions. She genuinely listens to them, she asks questions, and she builds a full personal picture of the other’s experience, attempting to talk them down and/or present a compromise before she takes any physical action. Wonder Woman brings with her a true sense of love and compassion for all of the people she encounters, regardless of how they feel about her or her beliefs. Wonder Woman is mature, direct, and respectful of everyone at all times, even when it is clear that their words and actions are making her angry. If there is anyone who is supremely qualified to solve the social problems of our society today, it is Wonder Woman. And I know that she will continue to do so in every story that I read.
Unfortunately, Wonder Woman is not real, and she’s not actually going to save us. But if each of us were to take to heart her principles of life, her sense of compassion for her fellow people, as well as her love for the world around her, then we could all, slowly, piece our country back together. And maybe, together, we can start to heal this country, and once again make it a safer place for all people to engage with each other, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. It will be a long time coming, but if we act as disciples of peace and love rather than anger and retaliation, we will be able to overcome anything, and then we will no longer be so desperate for Wonder Woman to swoop in and save us all.
Comic panels are written by Gail Simone and drawn by Colleen Doran. From the Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special #1, published in November 2016.