Amazonian princess. Superhero. Founding member of the Justice League. While already impressive, Wonder Woman just added another item to her resume: honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls for the United Nations.
In accordance with the 75th anniversary of the character’s debut back in 1941, the UN officially appointed Wonder Woman on Oct. 21.
Her job description? To embody the UN’s 5th of 17 goals to transform the world: the achievement of gender equality and empowerment all females. This involves such obvious measures as securing equal access to educational and economic resources and rights to more specific, cultural interventions like ending sexual exploitation and violence against women.
According to Variety, this new appointment will entail DC and Warner Bros. publishing media designed to raise awareness about issues related to women’s rights, including a special comic book and a PSA featuring Gal Gadot.
“Wonder Woman will be another valuable partner for us to achieve such a world by inspiring her millions of fans worldwide to stand up for gender equality,” said Cristina Gallach, U.N. under-secretary-general for communications and public information.
Maher Nasser, outreach director of the United Nations’ Department of Public Information, told NPR that the the choice is an attempt to capitalize all that the character has come to represent in the public consciousness.
“Wonder Woman’s character is the most iconic and well known female comic book superhero in the world, known for her strength, fairness and compassion, and her commitment to justice, peace and equality,” Nasser said.
But the appointment proved far from unanimous. Soon after the announcement, a protest petition started by UN staffers garnered over 1,200 in several hours. At the time of this writing, that number has almost doubled. These critics claimed Wonder Woman makes a poor, almost contradictory symbol for the feminine cause.
The petition’s indictment reads: “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.”
Anne Marie Goetz, former Chief Advisor on Peace and Security at UN Women and currently a Clinical Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, expressed similar concerns on Twitter, calling on the UN to find an ambassador who doesn’t represent the objectification of women or American power.
For Goetz, according to NPR, Wonder Woman’s appointment only exacerbates an existing frustration with the UN since it selected another man as secretary general instead of using the opportunity to appoint its first woman. She said feminist organizations across the globe campaigned for a year to get one of seven highly qualified women appointed to the role.
Goetz and her fellow critics aren’t wrong. Wonder Woman has long been cited as a chief example of the male exploitation of the female form in superhero comics – her busty appearance a testament to titillation above function.
While Nasser says the new Wonder Woman design for the UN eliminates any sense of hypersexualization or American symbology, the character comes with a history of such things that may prove difficult to transcend.
Even still, this appointment further indicates the cultural power of superheros and superhero iconography. To invoke Wonder Woman’s image is to invoke female power, simply by merit of her being a staple hero in the male-dominated DC lineup. Pragmatically, it’s a choice that maximizes recognizability across the globe. Ideologically, it’s a choice that clearly embodies the idea that the UN will actively struggle and fight for gender equality across the globe.
Or it’s all a brilliant marketing ploy by DC to promote the forthcoming Wonder Woman film.
Or both. What do you think? Is Wonder Woman the right choice for the role? Is it okay to choose a character who is famous largely for being a woman in a man’s world? Should the UN have selected a real woman as opposed to a fictional icon? Conversate in the comments below.
About the Author:
Travis Trombley is a high school English teacher who studies how superheros intersect with social, political and personal narratives. He and his wife Emily created HeroMonitor as a dedicated place where participants can engage in discussion about superheroes and other popular stories in terms of function – what they say about our anxieties, ideals, hopes and understandings of the world – without the messiness of fan predictions or clutter of trivial argument.