Please welcome to the site our newest ambassador, Katherine Olson. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute & University. She is currently interested in Wonder Woman, feminism, and culture. For The Geek Embassy, she will be writing about comics, looking especially at the Amazon princess and other powerful female characters. Please welcome her to the site and enjoy this glimpse into her transformations through comic book narrative. ~Regina
Transformations: From Betty and Veronica to Wonder Woman
I grew up in a Betty and Veronica world. The convenience store near the housing projects where I lived stocked only Archie comics, so I read them. Even as a kid I preferred bratty and demanding Veronica to kind and compassionate every-girl Betty because it occurred to me that Veronica had choices. She didn’t sit around waiting for Archie to choose her. She lived her life, made her demands, and forged a consistent identity. Beginning with the premiere of her own series Veronica in 1989, I traveled with her to Paris, Japan, Africa, and Australia while Betty stayed in Riverdale and did things to make others happy. Betty self-sacrificed. Raised to be a quiet good girl myself, I resent Betty Cooper.
My next interaction with comics came in my mid-twenties when I attended a creative writing seminar given by fiction writer Alexander Chee about narrative forms. Chee discussed the value in comic book narration styles, and interested, I ventured to Boston, Massachusetts and visited Newbury Comics. At the time, I was working on my Master’s thesis about female narrators and reliability and my novel about depression and a working class girl, so I explored a little and discovered characters such as Ruby Gloom and Lenore the Cute Little Dead Girl. Like my experience with the Riverdale girls the stories interested me and I learned from the material.
Women of Wonder
But I fell in love with Wonder Woman. After being diagnosed with an endocrine disorder, I searched for strong, capable women who could withstand having the foundations of their existence shaken. Fit celebrities hawking get-fit-quick schemes didn’t do it. Talking heads peddling supplements and miracle pills didn’t do it. I began spiraling into a gray place where I would be caged by my body because it is both female and it is sensitive. And then I found Wonder Woman. Like many women I didn’t know much about her except bits of what I learned from popular culture, but I bought myself a t-shirt to remind myself that women can be powerful. Soon I had collected a handful of Wonder Woman tchotchkes. My keychains, t-shirts, and Legos served as talismans that buoyed me on days when the physical pain otherwise overwhelmed me.
My quest to find physically powerful and resilient women meant researching every imaginable subject. Throughout my journey, I stumbled over Wonder Woman more often than I expected. As if matched by kismet, I saw her name in connection to everything. From the possibility of a human Amazon culture that excluded men, to the dress and behavior of female Viking warriors, to the importance of female empowerment. Also like a good friend, through her I met a cast of characters who offer valuable bits of inspiration. She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Spider Woman, Catwoman, Batwoman, Spider Gwen, Elektra, Valkyrie, and Red Sonja. These women are tough, muscled, certain, and self-assured. They don’t talk about their diets and whine about how hard life is. They serve justice.
These characters fascinate me but Wonder Woman is the touchpoint of womanness to me. This is confirmed by the number of debates she sparks. I feel outraged at the attention paid to her breasts and her male friends. This focus takes away from her abilities and active compassion. My articles will focus on how women are portrayed in comics. How they can transform the way girls and women understand the world. Any woman can change the world by changing the way women can be understood and can understand themselves. Our heroines and villainesses are busy working to change their worlds instead of sitting around waiting for men to choose and direct them. Right now Wonder Woman is busy working. Thanks to her, so am I.
Who are your favorite female comic book heroes? What transformations have you experienced through a powerful character? Let us know in the comments!