The Cliffs of Insanity: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman on the cover of the 40th Anniversary of Ms. Magazine

This week’s adventure climbing the cliffs of insanity is all about the Amazon Princess. It relates back to last week’s post about superhero movies, not so much as a call for a Wonder Woman movie, but a recognition that superheroes are icons and sources of inspiration beyond their basic storytelling purpose and, in this role, Wonder Woman is the premier superhero feminist icon.

Except, apparently, those that keep trying to make her otherwise.

Lo, those many years ago, before even my ancient memory kicks in, Wonder Woman was depowered as part of DC Comics’ attempt to revamp the character and make her more modern. This revamp included a break from the Amazons, ditching her previous costume, clothing her all in white, taking away much of her powers, and giving her a (male) martial arts mentor.

The idea was to model Diana after Emma Peel in the then-popular The Avengers rather than her previous Wonder Woman-self. Not a bad idea except, well, this was Wonder Woman. It was putting a square peg in a round hole. I can’t imagine, for example, revamping Superman and making him resemble Mr. Steed in an attempt to keep up with the times.

Feminists, particularly Gloria Steinem, were so disturbed by this revamp that they put classic Wonder Woman on the first cover of Ms. magazine. As a callback, Wonder Woman was also featured on the magazine’s 40th anniversary cover in 2012.

Why do I bring this up again?

Because it seems, once again, in an attempt to revitalize the character, DC is going in the wrong direction. And because these changes to a feminist icon don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in a world where women are still fighting for some basic rights, even to the point of having to listen to politicians talk about “legitimate rape.”

It’s in this environment that DC Comics announced this week a new Superman/Wonder Woman series that focuses on the romance between the two characters, a romance that thus far comic audiences have greeted with a shrug.

It’s part of a disturbing overall pattern with DC Comics, a pattern that saw nearly every marriage among DC heroes waved away, a pattern that includes a DC editor calling Lois Lane a “trophy wife,” and a pattern that completely wiped away the backstories of the female main characters of the long-running Birds of Prey series.

Let’s tackle the current problems with Wonder Woman.

Problem #1: Devaluation of the Amazons.

At this point, the Amazons are like Kenny on South Park or kid sidekicks in the DCU. Omigod, they killed them! If not killed, then turned them evil, with happened in Flashpoint, which reset the current DC Universe, or in the current DC Universe, where they’ve been turned into a batch of murderers and child slavers, with a lot of implications that their “seduction” of male sailors was coerced.

That an all-women society views men as useless save for sperm banks is, at the best, unfortunate, and, at the worst, misogynistic. And it also doesn’t make any sense as part of Wonder Woman’s backstory because she’s still presented in the same comic as an avatar of truth and protector of the innocent, the person specially chosen to help others live up to Amazonian ideals.

Except if the Amazons are murderers and slavers, how the heck did she absorb those qualities that her people were supposed to possess?

It makes no story sense whatsoever.

Problem #2: Superman is a boring romantic partner.

Why is this a problem? Well, the series itself seems to be a grab at the lowest common denominator, especially ones who  are waiting to see Superman and Wonder Woman “bone” as it was put during a Twitter exchange with the writer of the series, Charles Soule. (He seems like a very good guy but I’m talking about his story choices, not Soule as a person.)

There’s also the issue of putting Lois Lane yet further into the background, which I believe in a horrible story choice but it’s also horrible marketing synergy, given that the success of Man of Steel on the big screen, which features Lois.

But, most of all, it’s a problem because this book becomes “Superman’s girlfriend, Wonder Woman.” This relationship isn’t new, it was developed in the pages of Justice League, there was a story in the Valentine’s special about the pair. And aside from the initial announcement, which caused a minor stir, it’s been meet with indifference.

That’s because it’s dull.

I say this as a romance writer.

Superman and Wonder Woman is too much of the same. It’s similar to similar. Similar power structure, similar looks, even similar approaches to battle. They’re far more like siblings than they are romantic partners.

Problem #3: Wonder Woman Should Have Her Own Story

From the very start, Wonder Woman was created as a feminist counter to Superman. She was consciously created to be a role model for girls: a powerful, intelligent women that girls and women could emulate. Yes, there are also some other elements to her original creation that are tied into “loving submission” and bondage/domination but first and foremost, William Marston Moulton and the two women in his life, wanted Wonder Woman to be a beacon to women who aspired to be their very best.

Romance certainly doesn’t interfere with that. Steve Trevor is present very early in Wonder Woman’s backstory. But a romance with Superman does interfere with that, as it automatically puts her in a secondary position. Want evidence? Just look at the cover tease for Superman-Wonder Woman, in which he’s taller. She’s an Amazon. It’s been fully established she’s taller. And if you think that’s silly, just read the Valentine’s Special and some of their interactions. He’s the teacher, she’s the student, he’s the one that tells her stuff.

She’s in the secondary position. As Zack Smith, a writer for MTV Geek and Newsarama said on Twitter: “Wow, after 70+ years, Wonder Woman gets a title where she’s OFFICIALLY defined by a relationship.”

There’s a story problem too. By making Superman such a prominent part of Wonder Woman’s story, it prevents her own background and supporting cast from being developed. Think how the Daily Planet is such a part of the Superman mythos, as are Ma and Pa Kent and Smallville.

Wonder Woman deserves a fully developed cast and setting as well, one that belongs just to her. One of the reasons her comic hasn’t sold well is that because she keeps being constantly “rebooted” so the background and setting put together by one creative team vanishes, is replaced by another, and that vanishes again. Superman, even eventually as her ex, looms over all of this and basically becomes this huge part of her character.

But, most of all, the current storytelling choices at DC Comics seem to be blind to what they have in Wonder Woman. She’s quite possibly the most famous fictional women on the planet. Instead, they keep trying to put her in this box where she’s “more relatable” to men by giving her “daddy issues,” and making her younger and sexier, and having the uber-male of the DC universe sex her all up so her feminist cooties don’t show.

DC, this isn’t last year’s direct market. You have the power of digital. Via digital release, either Comixology or elsewhere, you could reach a huge potential audience of women by embracing what Wonder Woman is and telling great stories that embrace who she is.

The audience for The Avengers was 40 percent female. The audience for Man of Steel was 44 percent female. (This actually pleases the movie makers. Shocking, I know!) Last year, female and male moviegoers flocked to The Hunger Games.

DC is sitting on a potential gold mine with Wonder Woman and the female audience. To understand her potential impact, you have only to watch the Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

Instead, the powers that be at DC editorial seem bent on remaking her so the mostly male direct comic reading audience will like her better and won’t think of her as having female cooties.

My message to DC Comics:

She’s. Not. Just. Yours. She’s also ours.

Enough.

Wonder Woman and Superman in DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

 

 

 

 

 

Voting is for the Girls!

Lego Girls Vote – by Kay T. Holt

 

We raise our children to be the bosses of their own bodies. We teach them to dress and wash and feed themselves, and to keep their private parts private. But if our children happen to be daughters, there’s an oft-neglected aspect of self-care that we must impart: Voting. It may seem strange to count civic participation among the apparatus required for the care and protection of women’s bodies, but it may be the most important tool in our kit.

For those who’ve forgotten the suffragettes: The only reason women have the right to vote in this country — or in any country — is because women insisted and carried on insisting in creative, energetic, and above all incorrigible ways until they moved the law of the land. Which is why voting is “for the girls.”

Or else.

Left to their own devices, powerful men will relieve us of the right — but not the responsibility — of minding our own business. National and state legislatures have declared women’s health issues their top priority since 2010, making what happens between our legs more important than the economy, more important than war, and more important than climate change.

Maybe that’s as it should be; lady parts are pretty amazing, after all.

Self-Portrait by Del Dryden (used with permission)

 

The trouble is that lawmakers are doing it all wrong. Instead of proposing record numbers of laws to protect and improve women’s access to effective and affordable healthcare, the legislatures are doing everything they can to disenfranchise women short of repealing the 19th amendment.

From the Guttmacher Institute


“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me, but they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.” —Hillary Clinton

In spite of the progress our country made in recent generations, some people still believe that family planning and our sexual healthcare should NOT be left up to women; that they should be controlled by men. Unfortunately, many men elected to office are either ill-informed about how reproduction and contraception work, or are committed to social agendas which are at odds with the welfare of women. Because ignorance and prejudice in politics are vulnerable against informed and active voters, lawmakers with these conflicts of interest are bound do everything in their power to ensure that more of their like-minded citizens are able to vote than those of us likely to oppose regressive legislation.

“The dumbest thing I ever did was let you learn to read.” –My conservative father to me

I Did Not Raise My Girl To Be A Voter (public domain)

 

Abortion and other women’s rights are under heavy fire right now because it’s an election year and dividing the voting populace has always been an effective strategy for garnering more votes along one side or another of an issue. Voter suppression, in its various forms, is another effective and equally ugly strategy to manipulate electoral outcomes. Under the guise of preventing election theft (an offense more often linked to bumbling election officials and glitchy vote-counting machines than with individual voters), lawmakers in many states are advancing bills designed to reduce the number of eligible citizens who are able to register and vote.

“Seventy percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win in 2012 will now come from states with new restrictive voting laws.” —Brennan Center For Justice

Men, who love the Freedom which your Fathers won for You, Pay your Debt by Winning Freedom for your Daughters (public domain)

 

Like the original Jim Crow laws, these new anti-voting rules disproportionately affect minority groups. They also often make it too costly, complicated, and inconvenient for poor, student, and elderly voters to participate in elections. Because women are more likely than men to be poor, more women than men are students, and more than twice as many women as men live past the age of 85, voter suppression efforts also disproportionately affect women.

In other words: Regardless of our individual opinions around abortion, other forms of birth control, and healthcare reform at large, women must vote. If we don’t exercise that right, it could very well be taken from us.

“I have a right to nothing which another has a right to take away…” —Thomas Jefferson

Citizens United helps corporate puppets and other power-hungry zealots get elected in the first place, but they can only stay in office by our leave. And the regressive laws they pass will stand only if we stop resisting them. Fortunately, recent events remind us that public pressure scares the pants off politicians:

“Female authority is still associated with childhood. The last time a lot of powerful guys saw a powerful woman, they were 8, and they feel regressed to childhood by a powerful woman in a way that they don’t feel with a man.” —Gloria Steinem

Activism has always been key to overcoming suppression. In this age of social media, it is easier than ever to organize against disenfranchisement and other social ills. We can signal-boost for women’s rights on Twitter with just a few clicks and inveigh directly to our representatives on Facebook. It takes a little more effort to expand those conversations on our blogs, but it’s worthwhile for women to speak our minds. And while it’s vital that we support and maintain online efforts to expose and counter attacks on our rights, nothing beats direct action In Real Life.

We simply cannot afford to be passive. Fortunately, the internet also makes it easier to form new partnerships, locate existing groups, and join each other offline for some good old-fashioned peaceful protest.

Unite Against The War On Women 04-28-2012

 

We’re not the weaker sex, only the disempowered sex. But we have strength of numbers — more than half of the US population is female — we just need to put that strength to good use.

The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

In this era of the War on Women, perhaps we should interpret it to include the notion that our rights shall not be usurped on account of having sex.

It Doesn’t ‘Unsex’ Her… (public domain)

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