Is Wonder Woman really that wonderful?

Is Wonder Woman really that wonderful? Blog by SI UN Representative Bette Levy.

“Everybody got really fired up following the startling announcement from the UN which came right on the heels of the appointment of Mr Guterres as Secretary-General, that Wonder Woman was to be named the Honorary Ambassador of the Empowerment for Women & Girls.

The New York Times on October 12th reported that the U.N. Picks Powerful Feminist (Wonder Woman) for Visible Job (Mascot) By SOMINI SENGUPTA. “The United Nations just rejected seven female candidates vying to lead the global organization. Now, to promote women and girls, it is picking a cartoon character as its mascot: Wonder Woman. Yes, the comic book figure”.

Dozens of countries pushed this year for a woman to be chosen as the next Secretary General, pointing out that the United Nations pledges to promote gender equality around the world and arguing that it needed to ‘lead by example’. After months of internal jockeying, the Security Council last week picked António Guterres to be the world’s top diplomat. Then on Wednesday, the United Nations announced that it would appoint Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador for “the empowerment of women and girls.”

On October 17th, The NY Times published a response from Susan O’Malley, (Chair of NGO CSW/NY & Main Rep for IFBPW) in the OP-ED section. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/opinion/an-insult-to-women-at-the-un.html).

When I first read ‘Skipped for Top U.N. Job, Women Get Mascot Role’ (news article, Oct. 13), I thought that it was a joke. The mascot of Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador for women’s empowerment felt demeaning to women. Was this a consolation prize for not having a woman named secretary general?

At the same time that the Security Council was appointing António Guterres, who does promise that there will be gender parity in senior appointments, women got hit with Wonder Woman, a male fantasy. We need real women in decision-making positions in the United Nations to empower women, not female cartoon characters who don’t talk back.

The timing of the ceremony on October 21st also marked the 75th anniversary of the creation of Wonder Woman as a cartoon character and it is important to note that the rights to the character are held by DC Comics (a for profit corporation). The Guardian reported that Cristina Gallach, UN under secretary general for communications and public information, attended the event on behalf of Ban Ki-moon, and explained the choice of Wonder Woman in her speech. “I don’t need to tell you Wonder Woman is an icon. She has been known for justice, peace and equality and we are very pleased that this character will help us reach new audiences with essential messages about empowerment and equality.”

According to the New Zealand Herald, the decision by the United Nations to make the fictional character Wonder Woman an honorary ambassador for empowerment of women and girls has not impressed Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, “I think there are plenty of real-life role models that they could have chosen,” she said during a brief visit to Auckland. “[There are] plenty of female global leaders that I think inspire others to achieve great things”.
This was even too much for UN staffers, who circulated on social media a petition asking the UN to reconsider this choice: (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/741/288/432/reconsider-the-choice-of-honorary-ambassador-for-the-empowerment-of-women-and-girls/?taf_id=29917362&cid=fb_na).

The staff petition however takes issue with the character: “Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent ‘warrior’ woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots – the epitome of a ‘pin-up’ girl….

The petition also says: “It is alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualized image at a time when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls.”

Even Jodi Picoult, the best-selling author who wrote several of the Wonder Woman issues (2007-2009) had issues about her attire and in an interview published in Playboy, 2009, she expressed her concerns:

“When DC Comics approached me to write several issues of the Wonder Woman comic book series, my first order of business was to get that poor girl a functional outfit. After all, any woman who is even marginally as well-endowed as Wonder Woman knows you can’t fight crime – much less go about more mundane daily activities – while you’re worried about your top falling off. I had visions of her off-panel, tugging up that glittery spandex corset. Could we just add some straps to her bustier? I asked, and I was politely told that the costume had been around for sixty-odd years for good reason”. To read the rest of the article: (http://www.jodipicoult.com/wonder-woman.html).

There has been much chatter about the appropriateness of selecting a cartoon character rather than an actual human being. There have been pros and cons to Wonder Woman from within the UN and from Civil Society. After all, Wonder Woman has fought for justice, fought against the Nazis and terrorist, she ran for President and she is a strong goddess… but that’s just it, she’s not a real person, she does not represent what much of the world’s population looks like. The UN talk about reaching the younger population, doesn’t start with a 75-year old cartoon that many in the global south have never even heard of.

If we are looking to achieve Gender Equality and all 17 of the SDGs, then the UN and the new Secretary General must be held to a higher standard than a cartoon figure!

Mr Guterres must live up to his promise of gender parity in the top leadership positions; he must be impartial and put his own religious beliefs aside and work for an equal and just world for all. The SDGs goal is to ‘Leave No One Behind’.

The UN Feminist Network (UNFN), is a group of feminists working in the UN, representing more than 20 agencies, departments, funds and programmes, and civil society partners working with the UN has this to say: “Antonio Guterres, the new Secretary-General, has a unique opportunity to act as a role model, set the example and be a champion for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. To meet the United Nations’ own commitments, our hope and expectation is that the world’s top diplomat will be a feminist in both words and deeds: an unswerving champion for women’s rights, demonstrating courage and commitment to gender equality, even when that becomes politically uncomfortable.

The Women of the World are watching closely!”

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