Wonder Woman may not be the best choice for the UN, but may help spread the message
The honorary post of ambassador for women’s empowerment could have gone to a real person; it is to be hoped that a cartoon character can reach new audiences
A conventional job description for the honorary post of UN ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls would have targeted a real-life role model. One UN woman staff member articulated it with unconscious irony. She said the world body needed someone who could speak, travel, be able to have an opinion and be interviewed, and stand up in front of 192 member states and champion women’s rights.
Wonder Woman can do none of these things. But she got the job. The “appointment” of the comic superhero, from the same stable as Superman and Batman, is not the first time a fictional honorary ambassador has been chosen to represent the UN.
But the choice, as part of a UN campaign to “achieve greater gender equality and empower all women and girls”, prompted some UN staff members to petition the secretary general to reconsider because of Wonder Woman’s “overtly sexualised image”. Moreover, her American flag costume was akin to “pop-culture imperialism”.
The ceremony brought together actors Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the 1970s TV series and said she embodied the inner strength of every woman, and Gal Gadot, who plays the role in a coming film. Gadot nodded to protesters’ concerns by saying she tried to look at the glass half full.
The Wonder Woman comic character, an Amazon from an all-female paradise, was launched to test her appeal at a time when female superheroes were rare. The character quickly caught on and headlined her own title. Her early-1940s debut coincided with the influx of women into workforces depleted by the recruitment of men for war, a false dawn of equality that the character still fights for along with justice and peace.
She may not be a real person when ideal role models for women and girls abound, but if she can help reach new audiences with messages about empowerment and equality, that is an arguable trade-off. As for the political incorrectness, 21st century women and girls are more than capable of filtering it out.