Rowing down the Styx: The history of Wonder Woman (not being) featured in the media

In We are on Earth-3 by Santiago ArciniegasLeave a Comment

2nd Isle

2. Wonder Woman is not generally thought of as a Character but mostly as a symbol

The thing with symbols is that they exist in context. Without it they mean nothing. Everyone thinks Wonder Woman represents women and feminism.

For years she has served as the prime example of “there are women superheroes’” but also has been the scape goat of everything that does not suit that agenda.

Feminism as a movement, can be thought as a waves as the set of ideas it represents has evolved. 

The first wave that represents the recognition of woman as citizens, is not exactly the cause wonder woman fights for, she is not leading the campaign for the right to vote, or to end household violence. In many aspects wonder woman gives this wave of feminist ideals as a given.

At the moment of her creation wonder woman,was in fact ahead of her time, she represented 2nd wave feminism ideals when women world wide had recently conquered the first. The second wave demands total equality in choices and opportunities, same salaries and cultural freedoms. Wonder woman was a pioneer of the second wave, She is equal to Superman, power wise, Amazons in her stories are a second wave feminist civilisation where all women are equal, they have all kids of jobs in society, the scientists, leaders and warriors.

Third wave of feminism, seeks now to eliminate differentiation of women in society, It proposes that the concepts and ideas of what constitutes feminine/girly/womanish are actually socially constructed… and apply to everyone regardless of gender or race. Everyone that identifies with this concepts should be treated equally.

The problem here is that Wonder Woman represented the ideals of the second wave feminism at her birth, but with the death of her creator she was pushed back to one wave; during the fifties she merely represents women as able to exist in this medium of superhero comics. She is being feminist still by being part of the community, member of the justice league and all, but definitely reverted.

In the 70’s Wonder Woman was re-imagine by Dennis O’Neil, who decided to change the character right to its foundations, and he decided to do with the character something that had not been done before, for this, he thought about what could be done that had not been done before. This resulted in him  working the character not only past the first wave feminism ideal s  but even past second wave, he saw the character as not superpower by nature, she had to fight on her own.

Dennis O’Neil wonder woman is more character focused than any wonder woman generation before him, he was not following a feminist agenda. She wasn’t making her statement as equal to the other super powered heroes. She was being a character that was dealing with a situation like any male or female character would.

This creative move, I would say, is  the first example of third wave generation feminism. The reasoning of Diana being no longer wonder woman, because she was made to be, but as a real person that made herself wonderful, regardless of her gender or birth condition, applies to everyone. In this series she was no longer a demigoddess, she had no amazon sisters and no super powers. She had to learn to fight again, and the fact that her mentor was a man was irrelevant, because she was as capable a woman as the next man. More importantly the story and the character of Wonder Woman had moved on for the first time in decades since its conception, Steve trevor died and anew state quo was embraced.


Unfortunately, this time being ahead of its time,  when the feminist second wave movement was taking place in the real world of the 60’s and 70’s was looking for symbols of female empowerment, and the original 2nd wave wonder woman was… well, nowhere to be found. There was criticism.

This emotional, hard working, independent, convoluted wonder woman was not what the feminist movement needed to symbolize equality at the time her stories were written. They saw a mopy non-powered boutique-owner secret spy… no matter how interesting the story might be,  the feminist movement very openly denounced that what was once a symbol of female empowerment and equality had been totally de-powered and made different.

Its clear now that the wonder woman they objected most was that of the 50s and 60s which while fully powered was submissive and relegated, she worked as a fashion model, movie star, and a “lonely hearts” columnist for a newspaper. And was content with just being recognised as existing. They should have protested that and not the 70’s version that while unpowered would look for a machine gun.

The truth is, if superman had lost his powers, closed his fortress, had Lois die in his arms, trained to be a super spy and opened a his own underground independent sports store,  it would have made one of the most interesting superman periods ever!

Things being, that after the outrage of the feminist movement at this de-powered wonder woman, that was not in tune with the current feminist move, lead to what I believe was one of the most hurting things that can happen to a media franchise. Wonder woman was restored to her status quo to prove to women that they could have an equally super heroine the ranks, a totally equal superhero like she was created to be.

The consequences of this restoration, that took place not because of an artistic decision, but because of an imposed ideological agenda, set the character not forward but back. The public’s demand for a static wonder woman marks a cornerstone in the way she is perceived and would be treated by the public on. This need for a 2nd wave symbol, stablished that, more than a character in a story, wonder woman could not deviate from the symbol she had been conceived to be.

Media franchise characters have highs and lows. Fans and people are free to point them out. Superman Musical TV special? Legends of the superheroes?  Superman and Batman have gone to really disappointing places, and susceptible because there is a need to play with their status quo. Either by having children out of wedlock or resigning a nationalities, having a mullet or losing their briefs. But their characters remain fascinating; Wonder woman doesn’t dare often to go there, because it might be offensive, demeaning, retrograde. Wonder woman is not a 3rd wave feminist often because there is a demand for her to be what she was created to be, but authors who actually treat the character and fans who read it do demand it.

Regularly during the years and specially since the rise of the internet people have looked every so often to Wonder Woman as representative of women in this overly manly populated medium of comics,  and come out often disappointed. She has become the scapegoat to many of the illnesses in the comic book industry to the point she nearly represents everything that wrong, rather than what’s right, to symbolize “the lack of” or “the abuse of” women in the medium rather than the presence of to women in it.

Putting it in pictures, here’s what people think wonder woman represents and what they hope to find. Completely out of any context of what the story might be.


and then when they look at what people reviewing in the media are complaining about  this is what in the media, they come across with this wonder woman, and leave shocked! again regardless of what the context for this might be.


The need to keep the character as a symbol, also applies to the fact she was created as part of a propaganda scheme. In fact the character is so associated in the minds of people as a symbol of patriotism  that during her 2010 reboot by J. Michael Straczynski when they changed the characters status quo and more importantly the outfit, this was the headline:

Fox News:

“Wonder Woman may have finally been given a pair of pants, but has she been stripped of her patriotism?The new and allegedly improved Wonder Woman (a.k.a Diana Prince), has been given a head-to-toe makeover by artist Jim Lee, replacing her signature American flag decorated briefs with skintight black pants and purging the super hero of all her trappings of Americana.”

Wonder woman was under the scope because she deviated from another symbol she was thought to be. A patriotic symbol.

Its hard for people  to accept that Wonder woman got her outfit because because its creator wanted to sell an idea of a powerful woman and exploited the patriotic sentimentalities of the time to accomplish it. That’s not to say Marston wasn’t a patriot, he surely was, but its clear his reason to create wonder woman weren’t directed towards the war efforts, he wanted powerful women in a new uncensored media. Nothing of the character besides its costume speaks to patriotic ideals.

First, there is the fact that Wonder Woman is a Greek demigoddess and not an American. Greek. That means that she probably even has an accent when she speaks. Then there’s the fact that the within the story she picks her costume more because Steve Trevor coincidentally was American than because she adhered to American ideals, one could argue had she arrived in Russia, her costume wouldn’t have changed much (the USSR flag also had a star) The fact remains that, unlike Superman, she was not created to uphold Midwest American values but instead to“bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality.”

Geekosystem was smart enough to name some of the reasons why Fox news SHOULD call the character unpatriotic.

  • She’s not American.  She’s from a small magical island utopia. She probably counts as an illegal immigrant.
  • She’s from the worst kind of hippie commune: an all female hippie commune that preaches free love and sexual equality.
  • She’s a polytheist.  The Greek gods breathed life into a clay form, and thus Diana was born.  She regularly calls on the strength of Greek goddesses in battle.
  • She’s pro-gay rights. Ok, so I don’t know if this has ever been confirmed by a comic, but I defy anyone to come up with a compelling reason why she wouldn’t be.  The Amazons are a race of all female immortals from ancient Greece.  You cannot convince me that they would have a taboo about such things.
  • She’s pro-the UN.  Her mission, ultimately, is to be an ambassador, bringing the Amazonian way of life to Man’s World.
  • She’s a pacifist.
  • And, perhaps the thing that sets her at odds with Fox News most of all, she reveres the truth, no matter its content.

By 2011 when the new 52 wonder woman rebooted once again, the controversial pants were removed and a more traditional costume was used, but the changes of the character where even more radical to those of the 70’s.

What also was motioned a lot during the time was an unnamed DC comics source that claimed the wonder woman costume was changed to market the movie over seas. While its true the way the world looks at The US since the 40’s has changed and that this characters were reflection of American culture of the 40’s these characters have been around… a lot. Hundreds of authors and millions of readers have appropriated the characters into their childhoods and cultures.

There’s that Korean wonder woman anime for instance. From a personal perspective I can say I love these characters and never in 13+ years of reading comics felt them “foreign” to my mindset. Unlike Marvel’s characters who are set in distinctive American cities I haven’t visited yet, places like Metropolis and Gotham are common abstractions of cities with buildings that can belong anywhere in the western world. Unlike superman and batman its true that we have seen her adventures set in actual cities of the US, but the fact that she is an illegal immigrant at odds with what she encounters always allowed for reader overseas like myself to find a way to identify.

Now in my own personal case, I grew up with a wonder woman that did not include star spangled briefs at all (Colombian toymakers must have thought it too time consuming to paint by hand) Still I never once doubted she was Wonder Woman. The high percentage of yellow (gold) in the design, makes it easy to distance yourself from the sole American flag wrapping her concept, to see it for what it really is, a golden armour: belt, bracelets, breast plate and tiara adorned.


The first animated wonder woman ever did not include the stars on the briefs either!

Finally one could naïvely think, that she is also a symbol of  “women who buy comics”, “”female geeks” or more realistically what we should call “girls” as in opposite to “boys”.

People think from a product / marketing point of view, that she is symbolises of  the character you sell to girls. That she represents a demographic. That everything made by companies, toymakers, animation studios that regards wonder woman is designed for girls.

But the truth is no one is really jumping at the young female market with wonder woman, there seem to be no attempts whatsoever to make her a “girly” appealing character. She was refused the treatment other female heroes have, like She-Ra or Sailor Moon, she doesn’t have a shojo series or a recognisable doll line.

There is an interesting theory here: FEMALE SUPERHEROES’ WORST ENEMY? TOY SALES

A reason for the lack of merchandise might be that boys buy more toys than girls. It was certainly true in my house, I was the only boy of 4 and still outnumbered my sisters toys a stretch. But then again there was not wonder woman on the media that could grab their attention. Its really just a matter of a  self fulfilling prophecy. I won’t do wonder woman toys, cos she is nowhere to be seen, and she is nowhere to be seen cos she does’ sell enough toys.

So the market for wonder woman is really men and boys, and while it might seem impossible there are known cases of female leads in media franchises directed at men. These merchandise can be sold to them in three ways. As an action figure, as a nostalgia item and as a mild erotic fantasy icon.

But as far as female superheroes go, the character isn’t really marketed to as an action figure.  Since the 70’s the only mainstream children toys and dolls released have been under an ensemble. Because she is part of “The justice league” action figures  or the “Supefriends”. Society might still be chauvinistic, and having boys play with a feminine toy is just not widely accepted.

In fact just google: “wonder woman toys and you’’l see most is not actually a toy, but statues. The words “collector” and “limited” editions heavily emphasised in whatever official licensed Wonder Woman product you can encounter.  Some are rather beautiful looking and it does come out at a decent regular basis. But its clearly not targeted at young boys.

Once we clear dolls toys and action figures what we are left with is the generic merchandise that features wonder woman art. shoes, shirts and accessories.


And all these accessories will show you that most feature that beautiful retro-looking art. Probably directed to long-time fan boys and girls who grew with the TV show and are making a nostalgia buy.

You would think that wonder woman, bad publicity as a befallen feminist icon would  leads to think she maybe is perceived as a teenage boy wet dream rather than a Barbie doll, but I wonder how many boys are actually fapping to wonder woman; but never mind what amount that might be, its clearly not massively marketed to young horny men either.

There have been recent attempts tho, like your ame comi wonder woman statue and comic, that plays with their characters with the classic over sexualised Lolita complex. But the sleep pillows, dating games, henry statues, that characters from japan have been subject too… i nowhere to be seen.  Can you imagine a wonder woman RPG dating game? This is way to forward thinking for a character everyone thinks is directed towards little girls.


Parents feel awkward buying the stuff for their sons, company don’t make stuff for the girls, young men are not sold the image they want to fall in love with, and older men are stuck  on pricy merchandise from the little stuff actually gets out based on things the character did long time go.

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