How Wonder Woman, and feminism, has changed

Megan Roth discusses how Wonder Woman has changed, and the cultural implications of those changes.

Diana Prince, princess of Paradise Island (or Themyscira depending on what version you are going by), Amazonian, warrior, sometimes demigoddess and founding member of DC’s Justice League.

She was created in October 1941 by American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston – commonly known as the father of the lie detector test, which probably explains the Lasso of Truth – who wanted to see a female superhero who was strong and beautiful.

Since her earliest inception Wonder Woman has been the banner of feminism. Marston wanted to create a hero who didn’t always fight their way out of a situation, but instead used love.

She was modelled after the “unconventional and liberated” women on the 1930s and ‘40s.

“Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world,” Marston once wrote.

In a submission to The American Scholar in 1943, Marston wrote that young girls didn’t want to be girls. He believed it was because the feminine archetype lacked strength, and power.

Women, especially before the feminist movement in the 1970s, were often said to be tender, submissive and peace-loving. Any strength a woman may have was all but ignored in favour of femininity.

“The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman,” Marsten wrote in The American Scholar.

It really wasn’t until Gloria Steinem placed the character on the cover of Ms. Magazine in 1971 that she became a cover girl of feminism.

Wonder Woman stood for the equality of men and women. She was just as capable as any of her male counterparts, and is one of the “Golden Three” of the Justice League, that being herself, Batman and Superman.

However, over time Wonder Woman has changed, just as feminism has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

During the Modern Age of comics, 1985-2010, Diana’s personality took a change.

Wonder Woman was once the pinnacle of an Amazonian, and strictly adhered to the code which means helping any in need, even misogynistic people.

In the modern age, Diana became something else, and was almost seen as man-hating.

For a time, especially after killing the villain Maxwell Lord on live TV, she was seen as reckless and had the air of better-than-you to her.

This coincides with what is sometimes referred to as Tumblr Feminism. This form is a more extreme version of what people like Gloria Steinem fought for in the 1970s.

Tumblr Feminism has the outlook of women being better than men, all while masking it under the view of equality.

A typical argument with Tumblr Feminism is a woman should get a job over a man simply because she is a woman, and not because she is more qualified.

Thankfully, Wonder Woman has taken a turn away from her I’m-better-than-you-man-hater personality of the Modern Age.

With the New 52 of comics, and the recent silver screen introduction, the character is once again a strong female who will not discriminate based on gender.

In both the New 52 and Rebirth, which launched in 2016, Diana Prince is once again described as a confident, impulsive and good-hearted character with great compassion.

In 2011 Diana Prince was named an UN Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls by the United Nations. However, she was deemed an “unworthy” role model for girls, not because of her character, but because of her looks.

Critics deemed her overtly sexual with her “large breasts and impossible proportions,” being scantily clad and not culturally sensitive.

If Wonder Woman can stay away from the ideals of Tumblr Feminism there is no reason why she wouldn’t be a good role model for girls.

She is brave, noble, strong – emotionally and physically – not to mention accepting of everyone. Her physical appearance does not affect her character.

“My outfit makes me feel powerful,” Diana Prince, as Wonder Woman, said in the 2014 animated movie Justice League: War.

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