Where in the World is Wonder Woman?

I have always loved superheroes- the powers, the gadgets, the ability to save others. All of it! As the new movie Batman vs. Superman was about to open, I began to ponder about all superheroes. My mind wandered back to moments when I dressed like a superhero; for Halloween, theme days at camp or just a random t-shirt. As I recalled these moments, I realized that I have never dressed as Wonder Woman. I have been batman, superman, teenage mutant ninja turtles and spider man. I thought back to why that might be. I came to realize that Wonder Woman is hidden. Wonder Woman products are never on the shelves waiting for a young girl to rip her shirt off the store shelf and embrace her inner Wonder Woman. Why do Wonder Woman products never stand out in a store? Where is her Lasso of Truth, her headband, her bracelets?
I began to google to see if I could find Wonder Woman products, and I did. One would think that the selling of Wonder Woman products is great, correct? Wrong! As I scrolled through the items that appeared, every costume demonstrated a form of sexual objectification  through the outfits accentuation of certain female characteristics. They emphasize her breast  instead of her brain, her legs instead of her strength. Such objectification of Wonder Woman takes away from all her power. Women, in general, face objectification through media whether through magazines, politicians, laws about our bodies, etc. The style of dress created for Wonder Woman does not look to Wonder Woman as a great superhero but as a sexual being.

I began to dig further into the mystery that is Wonder Woman. I had never been interested in Wonder Woman as a child, but as an adult my fascination was suddenly turning into an obsession! I researched Wonder Woman and her history to learn more about who Wonder Woman is. In her comic strip, Wonder Woman lived a life similar to Superman. She had her own secret identity, nurse by day and crime fighter by night. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941 as an example of empowered women. Marston got the idea to create Wonder Woman from his wife Elizabeth, according to an article published by Boston University. Marston had a passion for comic books and believed they had the potential to be powerful educational tools. Upon making the decision to create his own superhero wife Elizabeth nudged him to create a female superhero. At the time of Marston’s decision to create this super-female he was living with three women, his wife Elizabeth Hollaway Marston, a young girl Olivia Byrne and an unamed third person. The three became his inspiration for Wonder Woman.
Jill Lepore, professor at Harvard and New York Magazine author, was fascinated with Wonder Woman and began her own research into this courageous female hero. Lepore wrote the book, “The Strange History of Wonder Woman,” which examined how Wonder Woman came to be. In a recent interview, Lepore discusses her process of how she came across information for her book. She stumbled upon Wonder Woman when her fascination of the lie detector appeared from her interest in privacy. Since William Marston created the lie detector test, Lepore began to look into Marston. As she was conducting that research she was also involved in writing a piece about Planned Parenthood. When looking at information for Planned Parenthood she came across the name, Margret Sanger. Margret Sanger was the cofounder of Planned Parenthood along with her sister Ethyl Byrne. As Lepore examined the letters, notes, archives she began to think back to research on Marston. Olive Byrne was the daughter of Ethyl Byrne and niece of Margret Sanger. Lepore states in the interview, “so it would be gvery difficult if you were just reading Margaret Sanger papers or interviewing Olive Byrne to make the connection to Wonder Woman, but I knew a little about Olive Byrne because I knew about Marston. Then I talked to the family and the family eventually let me look at the family papers and it turns out Wonder Woman is based on Margaret Sanger, which, when you think about that, explains a lot about the 20th century and the history of feminism and that seemed to me really important to tell, in spite of the fact that I really never otherwise would’ve chosen to write about a superhero” (“5 Questions for Jill Lepore” Article).
Margret Sanger was a writer, sex educator, birth control activist and a nurse. Clearly there exist many similarities between Margret and Wonder Woman. During Sanger’s fight for reproductive rights, she was persecuted and fled to England only to return to US when it was safe. She even faced obstacles for her books and speeches from the 1914 Comstock Act.  The act was created to suppress the trade and circulation of obscene literature and articles deemed of immoral use. Items considered obscene included contraceptives, sex toys, erotic topics, and abortions. Sanger was silenced through these laws to keep women from obtaining important information pertinent to gaining control over their lives and bodies. Unfortunately in this early 21st century world, Wonder Woman has been silenced.  Marston’s and Sanger’s goals through their works were meant to empower women to claim a place in society, but the patriarchy has a strong chokehold on the ideology of society.

I started to understand the history of where Wonder Woman all began. As I sat with my new-found knowledge, more questions started to arise. I started to realize all that Wonder Woman stands for. Wonder Women demonstrates the honest truth that women are capable to fight crime and present their strength and power in the world. Women display so much strength and courage when navigating through all the oppression we face daily. To me Wonder Woman embodies the achievements that women can and have accomplished regardless of who and what has stood in their path. Why is the message that women and young girls should embrace their strength not plastered everywhere? People are afraid of feminism. It’s a big taboo word, but why? Why do people look at the strength and power that women have as a negative?
I find myself looking into my life and thinking about my experiences. In classes where I speak my mind I find that some male students try to speak over me. Teachers, mainly male, ignore or move away from a point I make. My hand could be raised for twenty minutes until I am chosen. Why is my voice constantly silenced even though my thoughts and opinions matter? Why do men feel the need to “put women in their places?” I recalled a time where a “friend” of the family told my father that he must find a way to “control my mother.” My mother was speaking her mind and expressing her thoughts when a man interjected. His attitude and approach to the situation demonstrated the fact that he did not respect my mother’s opinion.

Gloria Steinem writes about “Wonder Woman” in the edited book The Superhero Reader. She states, “Wonder Woman’s family of Amazons on Paradise Island, her band of college girls in America, and her efforts to save individual women are all welcome examples of women working together and caring about each other’s welfare. [….] Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of “masculine” aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts” (205). Wonder Woman’s message creates an image of empowerment because she symbolizes that women are capable of achieving anything they desire regardless of their gender.

Margret Sanger, the real life Wonder Woman, faced a life where she was silenced because her opinions went against what was seen as the norm. People think that women have come a long way but,strong intelligent women like Sanger are still silenced today. Wonder Women do exist in this world; they are the women who fought for the Equal Rights Amendment; they are the woman who risk their lives everyday as police, firefighter or members of the army, they are women who struggle in the work force with unequal pay, the Black Women who were at the forefront of the Black Sisterhood United. A Wonder Woman is anyone who stands up for the truth that women hold strength, beauty, power and great intelligence.
I began to ask myself: have I represented Wonder Woman? Have I done that? The real life Wonder Woman was silenced through her ability to fight for Women’s bodies. I have personally experienced my voice being silenced, ignored and overlooked. I never thought anything of it or questioned why that might be. Over my four years at William Smith, I gained knowledge, skills, tools and strength that allow me to express my ideas and make people listen. I found my passion for policy and laws bloomed from interest to anger.The anger I felt stemmed from the fact that my life and the lives of others are dictated by wealthy white men sitting in Washington attempting to understand the life of a women, African-American, Latino, Lesbian, etc. We have been dubbed second class citizens; I want to reclaim my status. My desire to enter a male dominated profession, law, and provide a voice to those who are silenced  due to class, gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality. As I thought about all my education has given me, I wondered: do I have the ability to be a Wonder Women? Immediately and with no hesitation I said, Yes I Am!!
Everyone has experienced the act of silence or objectification. We all demonstrate Wonder Woman in our heart, body and mind. Where are the Wonder Women of today? What can you do to take the power and strength you encompass and take back your life, your body and your mind? Where lies your inner Wonder Woman? As said by Susan B Anthony during suffrage, “Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry.”

Sara Elkerm 16′

Jones, Gerard Men of Tomorrow New York: Basic Books 2004, p. 210

Continue reading “Where in the World is Wonder Woman?”

Juliet Holme (WS ’16)

I am a female college student who never truly understood sexism until I learned more about Women’s Studies during my first year at HWS, and began to observe acts of sexism for myself. As my four years come to an end, I have observed multiple ways that sexism operates in the college classroom. In one of my classes this semester, I learned first-hand, what it is like to be silenced and rendered invisible by a well-respected, popular and tenured professor:

It was 1:15pm—five minutes before my class ended. My time had come and gone. I had my hand raised into the air for a full 20 minutes. Time after time he called on students to share their opinions and comments about the book we had just read. As he called on students I felt my hand slowly start to lower. What was I doing wrong? Why wouldn’t he pick me?

After 13 students got to speak (some students twice or three times, might I add) I realized that even if he did call on me, what I wanted to say had already been said by other students—in a few different ways. I realized that another class had come and gone, and I missed my chance to make a contribution.

I did not know for sure that my Professor’s selection of students was sexist, but I did suspect that something strange, under the surface, was happening. For the next three classes, I decided to keep track of the number of female students that he called on compared to the number of male students who received a chance to speak. In tracking these numbers, I noticed something interesting. While my Professor called on the same number of male and female students, he interrupted his female students at 3x the rate he did with his male students.

Sexism can be mysterious sometimes—it often goes over my head until I think about it after-the-fact…until I really investigate it. The fact that it often goes unrecognized shows how it is so embedded into our culture.

It can be as subtle as my Professor saying to an extremely intelligent, female classmate of mine, “With that pretty smile, how could you not get the job?”

What he really meant by that was, “In your future you will get jobs because of your looks, not because of your abilities.”

Walking away from class, I thought about how these subtle comments teach us not to be as assertive as our male counterparts. We learn that our looks will be valued more than our intellect and that our voices are not as worthy. We get used to being interrupted, talked-over and talked down to by men.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man…” (We Should All Be Feminists).

I am deeply saddened by this. For example, women that are sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace—for women who work hard to get to where they are…who have so much to lose…with student loans and families to take care of. It sickens me that we have to deal with these things. I hate that we are silenced and belittled because of our sex. Mechelle Vinson’s story, from “Because of Sex” by Gillian Thomas, illustrates the disastrous outcomes of these seemingly subtle abuses. Here is her story of being sexually abused in her workplace:

Vinson felt powerless to escape. She needed her job. It was all she had to stay afloat financially. Moreover, she feared for her physical safety. Ever since that first night at the motel, Taylor had continued to threaten to kill her if she wasn’t perfectly cooperative…”I had blinders on, I didn’t see an outlet, I didn’t have any support groups or anyone I could talk to about what I was going through. That’s the reason I stayed in it so long. Out of fear.” And not surprisingly, after years of abuse by the men in her life, Vinson had begun doubting that there could be any other way to live. “You begin to accept what’s happening to you,” she reflected, “even though you know in your heart it’s not right.”


explain feminism (re its just a joke)

We need to spread the word about sexism…how small comments contribute to the larger picture of violence against women. We need to continue to speak-up and share our stories. It is important that we raise other women’s stories up. We need to take charge and speak out for women that have been so beaten down, that they cannot speak for themselves. And we need to raise awareness about how sexist dialogue, like the comment my Professor made, contributes to a sexist social climate and the larger culture of violence against women.

Vinson discovered that the abuses she endured violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees on the, “basis of sex.” Vinson argued that she had been forced to work in a “hostile environment” and ended up winning her case. Vinson put her time, and her reputation on the line; she changed our “professional reality,” and illustrated that we do have the power to create change. 

Juliet Holme WS ‘16