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Yikes! Has the UN Really Named Wonder Woman an Honorary Ambassador?


Can Wonder Woman, an avatar who wears a bustier and heels and never ages, embody the empowerment of women and girls? The United Nations seems to think so. 

The United Nations has appointed two public figures to large roles in the organization. The most recent high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, was tapped this month to be the next secretary-general, ending an eight-month campaign that included — and rejected — seven capable female candidates. The UN also named Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador (or mascot, as some media are calling her) for the empowerment of women and girls.

Guterres has extensive credentials, is well liked and just chose three women and two men to his new cabinet.

Wonder Woman is truly amazing, but there are many baffling issues in her history that raise some questions. First the pros:

• According to Smithsonian Magazine, Wonder Woman is the most popular female comic-book superhero and one of the longest-lasting superheroes, ranking third after Batman and Superman.

• Fighting Axis military forces, fascists, communists, terrorists and supervilians since 1941 has given Wonder Woman deep foreign policy knowledge, making her more experienced than the UN in international affairs, having been at it longer.

• As she is regularly beaten up, tortured and imprisoned during her fight to preserve democracy, Wonder Woman’s got firsthand experience with UN Security Council resolutions on women and peace and security (WPS), or UNSCR #1325, #1820, #1888 and #2242.

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• She’s an entrepreneur in her spare time, having started a chain of fitness centers. Look girls, you can do it all!

• Her jewelry is better than Mary Robinson’s pearls, Madeleine Albright’s brooches, the many shades of Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits combined. None of those repel bullets.

• She’s well read and well versed in the classics. Her catch-phrase is Suffering Sappho.

• The latest Wonder Woman movie comes out in June 2017, so she will be everywhere early next year. BBC reports that the campaign is being sponsored by Warner Bros and DC Entertainment, the companies behind the movie.

Wonder Woman fights crime and hatred in heels and bustier while carrying a lasso of truth, yet she never undergoes a wardrobe malfunction. Clearly, she has a great tailor and even better dry-cleaner, not to mention hair stylist.

• She never ages.

• She’s a woman, kind of.

• Looking up from the ground through her invisible jet, even while seated at the controls, her thighs never look fat.

Wonder Woman
Suffering Sappho: Wonder Woman is well read.

But are we sure Wonder Woman is the image we want to use as an emblem of women’s and girls’ empowerment? Let’s take a look at some reasons people might object to this particular honorary ambassador, as good as she might look as an avatar.

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• Just slightly less than 25 percent of the world’s population is Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center. Islam is also the fastest-growing world religion in terms of share of the global population. Roughly extrapolating data, that means that about a quarter of the girls and women who Wonder Woman is supposed to represent may not identify at all with her and may be insulted by her appearance.

• Islam is not the only culture that has strictures on what constitutes decorous clothing for women and girls. What about the Amish, Yazidis, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Zoroastrians, Sikhs? Even the Kardashians covered their heads when attending church in Armenia.

• What does choosing Wonder Woman as a symbol of women’s empowerment say to the tomboys who don’t want to wear a bustier and heels?

• She has unrealistic proportions.

• She may have been a refugee from Greece, but she’s clearly partisan. Just look at her clothes. It’s baffling; as the author Caro Carson points out: “Wonder Woman is an overtly American, super patriotic, World War Two cartoon character. I’m surprised the UN wants to promote her when she wears the American flag in bathing suit form.”

• While, as noted above, Wonder Woman is really expert in WPS, she has no position on the record regarding: food security, climate change, female genital mutilation, child marriage, girls and education, women and STE(A)M or increasing women’s access to and participation in technology industries, just to name a few of the issues facing women in the 21st century.

• Given that her creator, Dr. William Marston, is on the record saying, “Women enjoy submission — being bound” (“The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” by Jill Lepore), are we confident that Wonder Woman’s platform will include addressing violence against women and domestic violence universally and unequivocally?

• Especially since, according to Maher Nasser, the outreach director for the UN Department of Public Information, Wonder Woman’s avatar will be used on social media to promote messages against gender-based violence.

• Wonder Woman is an anthropomorphic rendering of women, a cartoon. How can that seem like an adequate representation for half the world’s population?

The Telegraph names five real women that could easily fill this honorary ambassadorship (brilliant: Tina Fey). The New York Times suggests that the seven women who were considered for the secretary-general post and their advocates may find this appointment “jaw-dropping” and offensive.

And the rest of us are left scratching our heads.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Laura E. Kirkpatrick is an editor, writer and researcher who has covered international, national and civic social enterprise and development, women’s issues and the media for Gannett Publications, ESPN and other media outlets. Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Kirkpatrick wrote PassBlue’s most popular article in 2015, “In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way”; in 2017, her story on sexual harassment at the UN was also among the top 5 for the year. Kirkpatrick also manages social media and audience development for PassBlue. She received a New Media Editorial Fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in English from Hamilton College.

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Yikes! Has the UN Really Named Wonder Woman an Honorary Ambassador?
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Stefan S Huddleston
Stefan S Huddleston
6 years ago

While this was voted down, it seems you are suggesting there is a right way to do feminism? Sure Wonder Woman is problematic, so do we exclude “problematic” women. I get what you are saying and don’t disagree on the negatives when it comes to her and global cultural differences, but if a woman wants to wear a bustier and heels and act as a symbol of empowerment should that not be allowed? Can only in a pants suit or jeans and a T-shirt empower other women? I just don’t think those things should automatically be in the negative column?

Also, while Marston said some very inappropriate things about women he also said some very empowering things about women and allowed Wonder Womon to do and say some things few women in media were doing or saying in the 40s. Maybe, not a great pick for the UN but an important figure in women’s history and the rise of send and 3rd wave feminism pointed to in part by appearances on the 2nd issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972 and again 40 years later.

You have some good points, and as I said there are valid issues for her not to have been chosen but I think other things you note are very superficial and show a lack of knowledge of some of the women’s issues Wonder Woman has addressed in comic over her nearly 8 decades as a character.

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