Happy Wonder Woman Day, everyone! Great Hera, it’s true. In this political season of gob-smacking sexism, no less than the United Nations has declared October 21 “Wonder Woman Day,” with a ceremony at the New York headquarters to declare Wonder Woman as its new Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Woman and Girls. This may be little consolation to the seven accomplished women who last week were considered and rejected as the new United Nations leader, after seven decades of men at the helm.
I certainly get the critiques of Wonder Woman as a feminist shero. Her outfit makes one wonder, indeed, how she manages to vanquish evil while keeping her eagle-encrusted bustier up and her spangled hot-pants tucked down. In the 75 years since she sprang from the imagination of psychologist William Marsden, her costume has morphed a little — first-draft strappy sandals sprouted into shiny red and white boots — but the concept of this first-ever female superhero remains true to her roots. In 1941, Marsden introduced her this way:
“At last, in a world torn by the hatred and wars of men, appears a woman to whom the problems and feats of men are mere child's play … With a hundred times the agility and strength of our best male athletes and strongest wrestlers, she appears as though from nowhere to avenge an injustice or right a wrong! As lovely as Aphrodite- as wise as Athena- with the speed of mercury and the strength of Hercules - She is known only as Wonder Woman, but who she is, or whence she came from, nobody knows!”
To learn more about the weird and wonderful (and a little warped) conception of the fictional Diana Prince, I recommend Jill Lepore’s book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman. In it, Lepore traces William Marsden’s infatuation with the empowered Progressive Era women who inspired him — women like birth control advocate Margaret Sanger and suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, who were unafraid to speak up, who faced down the police, and who would not be defeated by mere mortal men. Nasty women, unite!
Marsden hoped to inspire girls and women — and boys and men — to re-code femininity as a source of strength and wisdom. Wonder Woman is a lion in that leotard, with a warrior’s golden heart, made visible by gold bracelets. While in 2016, “broad shoulders” have reverted back to a euphemism for Trumped-up male leadership, in 1941, Wonder Woman shared broad shoulders with Rosie the Riveter … a reminder that women can do — and always have done — strength-bearing work.
Wonder Women’s later iteration — on 1970s television in the wondrous form of Lynda Carter — gave a pop-cultural face to second-wave feminism. Wonder Woman strode across the inaugural cover of Ms. Magazine in 1972, with the aspirational headline, “Wonder Woman for President,” while kids like me, in drooping knee socks and unraveling braids, carried sandwiches to school in Wonder Woman lunch boxes and re-enacted her empowering adventures on the playground monkey bars. That show made me believe women’s equality was inevitable. Sexism? Suffering Sappho! Bring on the lasso of truth! We Wonder Women would make everything right.
But here we are, observing yet another October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month — a reminder that in the mortal world, 1 in 3 women globally suffer violence at the hands of a partner. And talk about strength — truly, it takes superpowers, and the support of allies, to leave those relationships. These survivors truly are Wonder Women.
We are celebrating the many Wonder Women of Michiana at a free, all-ages event on October 30, at Vegetable Buddies in South Bend, from 4-8 pm, co-sponsored by the YWCA and the Family Justice Center. Costumes are welcome as we celebrate the power of every person’s voice — from little kids, to grownups who could use a little super-powered magic. We’ll have storytelling, music, a costume parade —a blanket cape will do!— and remind ourselves that saving the world starts by honoring the powers in all of us.
For Michiana Chronicles, zipping up my Wonder Woman boots, this is April Lidinsky