The Problem with Wonder Woman

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 04 December 2013

Imagine for a moment that we did away with 80% of the male super heroes. Across all media formats, we had just 2 or 3 male characters and any particular year you were lucky to get a movie that headlined just one of them. How would that change your relationship with the characters? Your views on how they were portrayed?
Cover for Wonder Woman #1 (1942): Art by Harry G. Peter.Cover for Wonder Woman #1 (1942): Art by Harry G. Peter.
Given the plethora of male characters, this scenario is hard to imagine. However, when it comes to female characters, it's pretty much the status quo. And that, is the problem with Wonder Woman and discussions of which actress is picked to represent her.

For women with geeky interests, Wonder Woman is often THE comic book hero you are taught to honor and revere. With the lack of choice, strong bonds form between many girls and women of all different bodies, interests, outlooks, wants, and desires. These various views on Wonder Women are often diametrically opposed to each other.

Now many of these diverse and divergent groups can find what they need in the myriad of representations of Wonder Woman on the pages of comic books. You can follow her adventures in her swimsuitesque outfit or you can read the books where she wears pants. Maybe she's thinner in some and more muscular in others. You often, but not always, find her presented in a way that matches your relationship with the character.

The same is not true with movies. It's been how long since Wonder Woman has appeared in a movie? (Try never.) So not only do we have the issue of many diverse groups having to agree on a singular representation of a fictional character, we don't have many alternatives to look forward to in order to sooth our souls when our representation of Wonder Woman isn't chosen. It is, for some, even harder when it feels like the woman chosen seems to reinforce certain messages that we receive all the time from Hollywood about which women are suitable to be represented (although in the case of this particular choice, it's even more complicated).

Normally we could just talk about our feelings but speaking about women's bodies is itself problematic. There's an awful lot of body policing out there. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish discussions about the lack of diversity in the representation of women's bodies with those that are intended to police those same bodies, decreasing diversity.

It's tempting to say that we shouldn't talk about women's bodies at all. I mean, isn't the writing and acting so much more important? But that lack of discussion is what allows the lack of diversity to continue.

Yes, I'm saying there are no easy answers. I'm also saying the problem isn't with Wonder Woman but rather the fact that we lack diversity and use her as a crutch. We don't let her be an individual. The lack of other female characters that can gain the same level of broad appeal means that she will continue to be an amalgam rather than a true character in her own right. And that makes me the saddest of all. We need to discuss these limits. We need to both discuss the representation of Wonder Woman for this movie, directly referencing the body of the actress. We also need to talk about how those discussions are also symptomatic of the issue. The complexity of the problem requires a complexity in approaching it.

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