It has been over six months since I have discussed this character from comics/graphic novels, and I have had sufficient time to reflect on comments made by my readers back then. A mainstay of DC Comics, Wonder Woman is truly iconic and immediately recognizable. In trying to come to grips with her true significance, I have found the task more difficult than I originally imagined.
Her history is nuanced in that she has been given very admirable qualities along with what I consider some serious flaws. All of this, of course, indicates the mindsets of her original and subsequent creators. First conceived by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist with fetishes for bondage and spanking, she was often used to portray and legitimize his obsessions. Since then, I would have to say that her various representations have covered the range from heroic dignity to sexual exploitation. All image credits go to DC Comics.
Were she, in all her manifestations, a real woman, I would say that she has a history of repeated abuse. She has been spanked and debased, allegedly playfully.
She has been bound repeatedly. The following image particularly concerns me because it represents a real danger of asphyxiation for anyone foolish enough to participate in imitating it.
She has been physically assaulted as a matter of routine, although one could argue that this is an expected consequence of being a superhero who combats villains. Some of the more recent imagery, however, makes me wince despite the fact that the associated story lines attempt to justify it in context, especially in the case of superheroes fighting one another. By the way, I have noticed some disturbing comments on-line which indicate unquestioning approval of the violence portrayed in some of the following pictures. I know, I know… there are plenty of frames which show her dishing it out as well as taking it, but these images collectively show an underlying motive which I will address a little later in this post.
To date, she has not been sexually assaulted in any DC issues (although a story involving this very topic was once in the planning stages by one of their writers), but what do illustrations such as the following suggest nonetheless? Visuals can easily overpower accompanying words.
It is in no way inaccurate to say that all of the imagery to which I have objected was designed to arouse male readers. So, in a sense, those entrusted with the representation of this female character have repeatedly pimped her out for several decades. The use of feminist rhetoric to prop up this kind of imagery strikes me as rather flimsy.
A woman’s body is not a piece of candy. It sweats, bleeds, and eliminates. It suffers through sickness and injury. It gets pregnant and gives birth. But much of the imagery I have included in this post is the candy, a sugar-coated version of violence and exploitation which lessens the severity of such treatment in the minds of less discriminating readers by not adequately showing its consequences. We live in a society which has a widespread problem with the negative acculturation of boys and young men, and I see this as a driving factor in the rape culture which plagues college campuses and other settings as well.
I know I have said much of this before, but I don’t think that repetition of criticisms and warnings in this area is unjustified. In summary, I regard Wonder Woman as a character with a nuanced history of publication. As such, she has served as a lightning rod for discussions about feminism. Due to her importance in popular culture, I think she deserves better treatment than she often has received. I have included the panels by Alex Ross as evidence of how this can be done without mitigating the impact of this character. If anything, these examples have just the opposite effect.