Recently I attended an event with Ph.D.s from around the country. As we shared our research interests I said, “Wonder Woman.” Some snickered. Some nodded. Some turned away. Wonder Woman? How is that a research interest? Some of them share my enthusiasm and ask me questions including, “Why doesn’t she ever get her own movie!?” To which I must awkwardly reply, “She did. It came out two months ago…”
Fast forward five days where I stood in a comic shop behind a stack of Wonder Woman issues that I could barely see over. I rent a subscription from the man behind the counter, and I spent the last half an hour searching a stack of half-priced comic issues. He chats amiably about my purchases and having met a local author. What we don’t talk about is my research. To him, I’m a reader like any other. I have mentioned my research, but he wasn’t interested. He never inquires. Somehow I know better than to mention it again.
A handful of people have asked me, “Why Wonder Woman? Why not working class students and education? Why not online education? Why not anything else?” The answer is: Wonder Woman means something to me. I like Wonder Woman. The longer answer is: Fiction changes the world, feminism matters, and Wonder Woman reaches more people than feminist theory. Wonder Woman is feminism in action.
Wonder Woman is feminism in action.
Not long ago I had a debate with a former student about the feminist value of another pop culture figure. He relied on a previous professor. I relied on being a woman. We had to agree to disagree because for me any female character who is shaped by the heterosexual relationships fails at feminism, and this is why, for me, Wonder Woman succeeds. Her romantic life can be taken or left. It isn’t a central story point. I have been knee-deep in Marston-era Wonder Woman for months now and Steve Trevor pops up in plot after plot to woo Wonder Woman, and she wonders what Diana Prince sees in him. She marvels at being her own competition. In the Superman and Wonder Woman issues I have read, Wonder Woman’s romantic relationship with Clark Kent is central (and, yes, I find that annoying for the same reason that Batman readers would be annoyed if his love interest was central to his plots), but she argues from her Amazonian point-of-view. It’s almost as if, despite herself, she cannot sink into a submissive role. Maybe she would like to, but it just isn’t happening. Why do I know this? Because I have committed to reading page after page of her 75-year-old (and counting) story. Why Wonder Woman? Because so few characters (so few anything really) endure like she has endured.
Why not Wonder Woman?
The question that people should be asking is: Why not Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman is so culturally ubiquitous that people seem born knowing her. I have yet to meet a person of any age, culture, or gender who doesn’t recognize her in some incarnation though try discussing Furiosa or Red Sonja or Valkyrie or even Jason Aaron’s Thor (or Lady Thor if you prefer). Often the answer is a shrug. But Wonder Woman? She is omnipresent. She is strong, powerful, empathetic, and compassionate. She is a balance of conscience and power. Who doesn’t admire that?
As shocking as I find it, some people don’t. After my adventure in academics I recounted the story to someone I know who recoiled in horror and spat at me, “No! You didn’t actually tell them Wonder Woman!? Why would you?” Better question: Why wouldn’t I? If people lived by Amazonian principles (as Marston predicted) we would be better off. So, for all of us who admire any fictional character, continue on. The world may not understand us, but let’s remember that sometimes that is a relief. Most importantly, let’s educate them by sharing our stories and our interests and our passion. As Wonder Woman has taught us, “Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” Here’s to extending our hands to those outside of the geek realm and welcome them in.