October 21st is a big day for Wonder Woman. Not only is it her birthday, but this year she'll also be named Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Young Girls by the UN. This announcement kicks off a campaign that Wonder Woman will "lead", but no further details about this have been announced.
Many have celebrated that the cultural importance of an often overlooked icon has been recognized, with website The Mary Sue commenting that this will help stamp out the misogyny that still runs rampant in nerd culture.
Yet there are some who have spoken out against the UN's choice — and they're not the people you'd expect to have a problem with Wonder Woman.
Feminists Oppose Wonder Woman
Prominent feminist journalist and political activist Shazia Rafi criticized the UN's decision on her Twitter soon after the announcement was made.
Calling for the decision to be overturned (in favor of a real life woman and to be honest, she's got a point there), and calling the announcement "ridiculous", Rafi made this statement:
"Younger women no longer look at themselves and think they need to be dressed in cleavage and bustiers to be taken seriously."
Hoping to inspire young women and children, and increase political education, the UN's choice of Wonder Woman makes a lot of sense. Wonder Woman has always been a fascinating character, a champion of truth and justice in addition to being a formidable warrior. And in fact, her outfits aren't always skimpy — some recent comic artists have given her a few redesigns, and one strip from Sensation explored how Diana changes her outfits out of cultural sensitivity.
But Rafi does raise an interesting issue as she points out Wonder Woman's traditionally skimpy superhero outfit. And honestly, this is something that needs to change.
Impractical, Sexist, And Unnecessary
The way women are depicted in superhero comics has been critiqued and debated for decades. While male heroes are drawn with rippling muscles, their tight bodysuits showing off their power but covering most of their body, female heroes are typically drawn very differently. Although many — Wonder Woman included — also have super strength, they are drawn slim, scantily clad, and often in suggestive poses.
It's true that in recent years comic artists have started to stray from tradition, after pressure from critics and fans. But some artists — DC's especially — still draw women in a gratuitous fashion.
Even the movie adaptations have fallen prey to this trend: When the first promo image for 2017's Wonder Woman was revealed, there were multiple criticisms on the Amazons' outfits. Why would a warrior race wear heels, and armor that leaves areas of their body vulnerable?
Director Patty Jenkins responded to the controversy, claiming that their chief concern was making the Amazons "hot as hell" idols. This causes plenty of fresh issues, like why the Amazons — a matriarchal society — would have the same idea of beauty as a patriarchal society, but I digress.
Comics Culture Needs A Redesign
So why are women depicted in such a way in superhero comics? It's all to do with the target audience, which has always been young boys. While in the past the readers of superhero comics have been male, recent studies have proven that almost 50% of comic readers are female. Even back in the Golden Age (1930s-40s), girls were more likely to buy a comic book than boys, and there were plenty of female heroes for them to idolize before censorship stepped in.
With superhero movies dominating the box office, and comics sales rising in recent years, publishers would do well to readjust their projection of what their demographic is. Comics aren't just read by boys and men, they're read by women and young girls who don't deserve to be confronted with an objectified version of themselves.
Superheroes are meant to be empowering, and the design of male heroes has always reflected that. Male heroes are a power fantasy — tall, muscled, often rich with fantastic skills. If female heroes are drawn in outfits that leave little to the imagination, does this send the message of empowerment to younger female readers, or does it tell them that they exist to be sexualized? And what does this say to the male readers?
There are ways around this. The 2016 Captain Marvel comic is an excellent example of how to draw a female superhero outfit that doesn't cling to the character's figure. Batgirl's New 52 redesign was famously based on practicality, as was Spiderwoman's (the latter design didn't stick, and later artists returned to her traditional outfit).
Wonder Woman's appointment as an honorary UN ambassador proves that female superheroes are an important a symbol of hope and empowerment. With any luck, comic publishers and artists will consider that when deciding how to present their female heroes, that little girls will want to emulate them. And hopefully they'll include those female heroes in merchandise more, too.
Tell us in the comments: Do you think Wonder Woman should be a UN ambassador?