Wonder Woman: The OG Feminist Icon

Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.
— Dr. William Moulton Marston, internationally famous psychologist and author of Wonder Woman
Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

In 1941, a strong and powerful woman, reminiscent of the Amazonia women of Greek mythology, became the first female comic-book superhero. Debuting in ALL-STAR COMICS #8, Wonder Woman was the master of her very own universe. She wasn’t the ‘girlfriend’ or ‘sidekick’ - she was the protagonist and hero, whose storyline wasn’t contingent on any man (even ‘supermen’ in the DC comic realm such as Batman or Superman). Wonder Woman was the first incarnation of a woman liberated in popular culture from the (gendered) ‘domestic sphere’ and, put simply, she was revolutionary.

Independent, wise, and emotionally intelligent, Wonder Woman is a force to be reckoned with. She also happens to be telepathic, super-speedy, and able to speak every language in existence. Add in some killer accessories, say a golden ‘truth’ lasso and a tiara that doubles as a razor-sharp weapon, and you’ve got yourself one badass woman.

It comes as no surprise then that Wonder Woman was an instant hit with audiences. After all, girls do make up a considerable part of the world’s population... Her image has not only been plastered on the cover of countless comics, but also adorned many T-shirts, lunch boxes, and was made into her very own action figure.

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Since her inception, Wonder Woman has inspired and encouraged young girls around the world to be independent and take no chauvinistic bullshit. She was a leader who demanded respect and knew her worth. She even ran for President - twice. Once in 1943 and again in 1972 in Ms. Magazine. Gloria Steinem, herself a famed feminist icon, put her favorite childhood icon on the very first cover of her magazine Ms. with the caption “Wonder Woman for President”.

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In 1975 she made her television debut in the self-titled, Wonder Woman, with Lynda Carter donning the star-spangled costume. Besides being referenced in popular culture and making countless appearances every Halloween, in the years that followed Wonder Woman faded into the background. While she may have been overshadowed by Batman and Superman on the big screen, Wonder Woman has nevertheless remained a stalwart of DC comics. Aside from the aforementioned caped crusaders, no other character has lasted as long.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Now, more than 70 years after she made her comic book debut, and 40 years after she was given the silver screen treatment, a new generation of young girls will get to know Wonder Woman. Next month, the first feature length Wonder Woman film will be released and it’s helmed by a female director (a feat in and of itself in Hollywood). It couldn't have come at a more pressing time.

With the Women’s March earlier this year, and women becoming more and more vocal in demanding equal rights, and a nearly-elected female president, the arrival of Wonder Woman this summer seems like the next logical step in the equation.

Gadot (left) and Jenkins on the 'Wonder Woman' set in Leavesden, England. Photo: Warner Bros.

Gadot (left) and Jenkins on the 'Wonder Woman' set in Leavesden, England. Photo: Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman is a welcome relief to the male-driven stories that saturate the film industry. Perhaps no more so than within the superhero genre. Indeed, if Hollywood is a boys club (which it is) then superhero franchises are at the top of the testosterone-fueled agenda. It’s a trend that has irked many women, especially female directors. (Sofia Coppola, tired of seeing male superheroes take center stage, recently mentioned that she had considered bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen.)

The importance of Wonder Woman receiving the “blockbuster” treatment that her male counterparts have been enjoying for years (Hello, Hollywood? Enough with the sequels!), mustn't be overlooked. Blockbuster film = wider audience. This means that Wonder Woman has the power to influence a new generation of audiences across the globe, specifically regarding the strength of women and their capabilities. It also helps pave the way for more female action heroes, and female driven stories being produced onscreen. Patty Jenkins, acknowledged the importance of this visibility, noting that The Hunger Games has helped to open doors for films such as Wonder Woman.

In both her physical and emotional strength, Wonder Woman offers what superhero films thus far have failed to do - provide audiences with a more accurate representation of women. That is, the multifaceted nature of women. Wonder Woman director, Patty Jenkins, reinforced this importance, citing it as one of her aims in bringing the comic book character to the big screen. (Besides the fact that she herself has been a fan of Wonder Woman since she was a young girl.) Wonder Woman can be “badass” but not in lieu of other, more human characteristics.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Photo: Warner Bros. 

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Photo: Warner Bros. 

Gal Gadot, herself a mother of two young girls, has also spoken about the positive impact of Wonder Woman for girls. She sees the film as a vehicle to not only inspire girls, but to empower audiences - male and female - to recognize the strength of women.

For generations of women, Wonder Woman has been an important figure. They may not have known it (with the exception of Gloria Steinem), but she was most likely their first image of feminism. Today, we wouldn’t hesitate to say: “This is what a feminist looks like.”

The story of Wonder Woman is, sadly, still a novelty. Unlike the plethora of male superheroes that exist, such as Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, there are no other female superheroes that are on par with Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman’s story not only deserves, but needs to be told and retold. We cannot let such a formidable hero, slip between the cracks, cloaked in the shadows of Batman and Superman’s outlandish capes. Talk about overcompensating.

Be sure to catch Wonder Woman in cinemas June 2. After all, seeing is believing.

Words: Emily Freedman