Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

A lasso of truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets, a projectile moonlighting as a tiara and an invisible aeroplane; worthy albeit ethereal alternatives to the grenades, bazookas, tanks and that little atomic bomb that raped the world of any remaining innocence back in 1945. There were lots of junky things about World War II – Nazis, concentration camps, death, destruction and mayhem…you know – but Wonder Woman, with her fantastical arsenal, wasn’t one of them.

Born out of the horror that enveloped Hitler’s attack on morality, earth’s first ever female super-hero was created as an antithesis to the blood-curdling masculinity that characterised the man’s world it was back then. Champion of justice, love, peace and gender equality, Wonder Woman brought strength and power to a feminine archetype that was all too familiar with dismissal by inconsequentiality. The war reminded the world that women are as capable as men; while guys were off mowing down the enemy, gals were back home keeping shit together – wearing the pants and doing it damn well. Necessity invoked a gentler patriotism, testosterone-free but equally aggressive in its feverous infliction. Wonder Woman was a representation of the unconventional, liberated woman who darkened the door of a post-war world.

Feminist icon – yes; Wonder Woman wears the title with style. And she was intended this way. But as we remember our favourite heroine’s contribution to society this Woman’s History Month of March, we should also remember that as well intended as Wonder Woman was, when intention is let loose in the world, it becomes the property of an evolving society, which makes it subject to ambiguity and, most dangerous of all: interpretation. When famed psychologist William Moulton Marston (inventor of the polygraph) thought up Wonder Woman, he called her “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, [he believed], rule the world.” Inspired by his experience with polygraphs, which showed him that women were more honest, reliable and could work more efficiently than men, Moulton hoped to create a figure that woman could aspire to. Wonder Woman thus personifies the notions of success and prosperity – she is inspiration on legs; at least, she was meant to be. In an ironic twist of culture, Moulton’s heroine has become something else, something sinister; the ultimate obliterator of feminine impudence. In a new millennium, ‘wonder woman’ is an unattainable proverb; a bitter pressure that is not even mitigated by the heroine’s well-intended beginnings.

Wonder Woman was intended to empower, not belittle. Somewhere along the way we started taking the metaphor a little too literally

In a modern world, this equivocal she-devil, both brilliant and cataclysmic in the severity of her presence, has managed quite successfully to pickle the confidence of women the world over. The ‘anti’ that envelopes Wonder Woman, who was a reaction to the violence of war, is an extreme protest against the atrocities served up by history’s largest armed conflict and whilst her extremities served up hope in 1941 (when Wonder Woman was introduced to the world), more than 70 years later she has become a symbol of dismal impossibility. Wonder Woman (aka Princess Diana of Themyscira), with her Amazonian physique, superior strength, intelligence, generosity and unfailing love is the bane of womankind’s existence – simply put, who can match up? And in fact, we’re doomed before we even start to try; Queen Hippolyte, Wonder Woman’s mother and ruler of Themyscira, tells her child, “Go in peace my daughter. And remember that, in a world of ordinary mortals, you are a Wonder Woman” (The New Original Wonder Woman, 1975). The rest of us are not.

Anyone born not a princess is already excluded – so that’s, like, 99.9 per cent of the population; demoted by social order. And that’s just the start. You – woman of small breast and cellulite thigh, wispy hair, mediocre bicep and slight belly bulge; you’re OUT. So are you, one who has squandered love, spurned peace and looked upon injustice with blatant disregard. And woe to you, dear girl, who has repudiated goodness with harsh words, angry intent or scorn-filled malice. Honestly, we’ve not been left with much hope, and history speaks for itself; Moulton anticipated a modern world ruled by women. And that hasn’t really happened. A couple of leader/prime minister types, some business owners and a girls’ rugby team or two. That’s it. The condition of our existence, our humanness, the flaws in our faces and sins of our souls, prevent us from achieving the heroine’s symbolic perfectionism, which, according to the doctrine of Wonder Woman, is what it takes to lead and prosper; to succeed.

We’ve been sold an impracticability. And now ‘wonder-woman’ is a cuss word – the product of a malicious media and unscrupulous advertising.  But Wonder Woman was intended to empower, not belittle. Somewhere along the way we started taking the metaphor a little too literally. She was Moulton’s ideal; an example of what women could be. Is it wrong to strive for ‘perfection’ and to have examples that show what it can look like? Is it a cop out to say that it puts pressure on us? Don’t we need the pressure? Do we not risk succumbing to mediocrity without it? When Wonder Woman says to us, “Please take my hand. I give it to you as a gesture of friendship and love, and of faith freely given. I give you my hand and welcome you into my dream” (Wonder Woman #167), rather than freak out at the potentiality of our own impending failure, why not accept the challenge – on our own terms?  Wonder Woman, in all her superlative, is a mere figment of our imaginations; that real wonder of being a woman is living to fight another day; another stereotype; another war – feeling, bleeding and breathing. That is awesome.

More in Regulars

Writers Bloc #1 Val McDermid

By , 25th September 2018
Features, Regulars
From imposter syndrome to plotting, in a new series for Marie Claire authors give me chapter and verse on how the writing process works for them - starting with multi award-winning crime writer Val McDermid, who has written 32 books in as many years

The Lives of Others #6

By , 23rd July 2018
Education, Features, Regulars, Travel
Georgie Higginson moved from the UK to Uganda 14 years ago. After losing their daughter to stillbirth, she and her husband were inspired to build a lodge on the banks of the River Nile, overlooking Murchison Falls National Park - an area once occupied by LRA rebels

Global Village #6

By , 9th July 2018
Design, Features, Regulars, Travel
Designer Kate Pietrasik lived in London, Edinburgh, New York and Byron Bay before moving to a town near Biarritz when her daughter was four years old. She reflects on life as a 'blended family', running her own business, and the joy of being rootless

Global Village #5

By , 21st May 2018
Regulars, Travel
When Rosalind Miller's daughter was born, the medical student was determined having a child wouldn't stop her moving to India to carry out her PhD field work. She reflects on swapping London for a local community in Bangalore with a toddler in tow

Global Village #4

By , 14th May 2018
Education, Regulars, Travel
From Scotland to Costa Rica (via East London, New York and Mexico). Mother-of-four Abigail Pilcher talks multiple relocations, opening – and closing – a guesthouse, and how a holiday to Turkey inspired the move of a lifetime