I have no doubt that the term Wonder Woman will evoke the iconic images of the comic book character that most of us of a certain age would have been brought up with. It was therefore with fascination that I discovered the United Nations appointing the 75-year-old heroine as its new honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.
However, the outrage with which the news was greeted would not have been the response the UN would have expected. An online petition, arguing that Wonder Woman was not an appropriate choice, attracted more than a 1000 signatures.
I quote from the petition, “a large breasted, white women of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring bodysuit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots – the epitome of a “pin-up” girl”, summed up the mood of the signatories. The general tone was one of anger that the UN could not find a real-life women able to represent the rights of all women in the fight for their empowerment.
The Amazonian princess created by the psychologist, William Moultan Marston in 1941 and inspired by leaders of the suffragist movement, has been seen as a feminist icon for many years. In defence of the UN she was seen as the first female superhero among an army of male superheroes and her purpose was always to fight for fairness, justice and peace.
The backlash reflects a discontentment with the fact that 9 out of 10 senior leadership roles in the UN went to men. The inspiration to choose wonder woman as representation of women’s rights was no doubt taken by men. Despite a global push for the UN to select its first female as secretary general, yet another man was appointed to this top diplomatic role.
The announcement further outraged women around the world given the fact that headlines in the United States reflect the objectification of women and girls. It is seen as alarming that an icon of an over sexualised image should be perceived as an acceptable representation of women’s rights. Needless to say there is a long list of women presented who is seen to embody the fight for gender equality.
From a practical point of view the role would require someone able to travel, promote and champion these rights. Someone to challenge the 192 member states in relation to their practices and support of the issues raised. It would be rather difficult to interview Wonder Woman and ascertain her opinion about issues of equality.
There are so many women and girls around the world that continue to suffer not only discrimination, but violence and abuse of the worst kind. In many instances such violence results in death. Where such violence occurs it often goes unpunished, hence the need for a strong ambassador. The purpose of the role is to raise awareness of these atrocities and act as a conscience to society to shame us into changing the circumstances of many of these women and girls.
It is therefore difficult to understand what message the UN is trying to send out about the representation of strong women. Given the many credible women able to represent the issues, why would the cartoon of a women seem to be appropriate in reflecting the importance of the new role?
Whether we agree or not, it seems a rather ill-informed choice that was bound to evoke strong feelings and rejection.