Back in college, a classmate asked me what I thought of Isabel Preysler. I shrugged my shoulders in response. I mean, for sure the lady’s a fine one but she was simply outside the realm of my consciousness. I asked her why she asked me that and the answer I got was, “Well, seeing that you’re a Filipina you must be very proud that you have that kind of representation here in Spain”. I burst out laughing. And then snorted twice. My classmate looked offended so I tried to save the conversation by saying, “Sure, why not? I mean she’s not a serial killer, so I guess it’s not all bad”. Awkward.
One week ago, various online news sites reported that the United Nations (UN) have announced that their new Honorary Ambassador for Gender Equality is Wonder Woman. This might have easily been one of those hoaxes posted in Facebook or re-twitted by a friend. Unfortunately, the news is real. There was even an appointment ceremony held at the UN Headquarters in New York.
This is not the first time the organization has tapped fictional characters to raise awareness on different causes. Winnie the Pooh was appointed Ambassador of Friendship in 1998; Tinkerbell, as Ambassador of Green in 2009 and Angry Bird Red, as Honorary Ambassador for International Day of Happiness in 2016. The relevance of this one, however lies in the fact that gender equality is a complex issue and choosing a pop-culture icon, clearly tied to an economic super-power (Just look at her costume. What country comes to mind? certainly not Puerto Rico!) and with overly sexual image only makes things more difficult.
Several female staff of the UN staged a silent but very visible protest during the ceremony, attended by actresses Gal Gadot (star of the current Wonder Woman movie) and Lynda Carter (who played Wonder Woman in the 1970’s TV series). They stood up, turned their backs, raised their fists and then left halfway through the event. One of the protesters declared, “For something that is this important, you need a woman or a man who can speak, somebody who can travel, somebody who can champion these rights, somebody who is able to have an opinion, somebody that can be interviewed, somebody that can stand up in front of 192 member states and say this is what we would like you to do.”
Granted that honorary ambassadors simply had to be fictional characters (supposedly to be able to reach out to wider audiences such as children and adolescents), has this last appointment been a wise choice?
Without meaning to discredit Wonder Woman and the idea behind her, this post will briefly discuss why the said fictional comic book heroine is not really representative of every woman’s quest for equality.
Reasons to question Wonder Woman’s appointment as Ambassador for Gender Equality
1. Few women could look at Wonder Woman and be convinced that they have the power in them to change their situations for the better.
As an ambassador, she is tasked to raise awareness about the Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This particular Goal aims to: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Now, looking at Wonder Woman:
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia
Can you honestly say that you can relate with her and that she represents what is empowering to you? If she does, then congratulations! If she does not, then you are part of a larger group of females who feel the same way. Author included. In fact, there are plenty of women who wouldn’t be able to look at the above picture without feeling uncomfortable. So how would Wonder Woman be a voice to those who can’t even tolerate the sight of her?
Considering only her appearance, already an important part of the world’s female population seems to be excluded of her representation: women whose culture and religion do not allow them to dress similarly, girls who feel insecure about their bodies and those who live in societies where slut-shaming is awfully prevalent.
When it comes to the more thoughtful angle, a few arguments come to mind: she’s not a mother, she’s no head of household, she’s not a student, she does not live below the poverty threshold and she certainly does not seem to earn a living from rural livelihood. These are contexts where the majority women can be found immersed in constant battle.
She is bisexual, though. So that’s a point for UN’s decision, against the ten others that are in contra.
Does this not make one wonder: who does she actually represent? The 20-40 something yuppies living in big cities from first-world countries? Not that they don’t have real problems or that their struggles are less important, but they comprise only a small fraction of the entire female population.
2. Appointing Wonder Woman as an Ambassador for Gender Equality diminishes the integrity of the said cause.
Compared to other Honorary Ambassadors, Wonder Woman is officially representing a very sensitive and highly controversial topic: women’s centuries-old demand for equality. With this move, it is safe to say that the UN is currently putting their credibility at risk especially towards feminist groups and any number of young girls who will not be able to identify themselves with this new role model*.
According to the UN’s official announcement, “Wonder Woman’s strength and fight for justice and peace will help to focus the campaign’s attention in… Sharing examples of real life women and girls who are making a difference every day.”
Wonder Woman uses super powers to fight crime and bring justice to victims. Although this fact is- hopefully- being used to symbolize women’s empowerment, it actually is an insult (and a big one, at that!) to very real women who struggle every single day to keep their heads and spirits up while making sure to feed their families, keep them safe and to push their children to do good in life.
This is short of a spit on the face to every woman who is consistently being denied of tools (financial and professional, to say the least) to sustain themselves in this very biased world.
The bestowing of this title to the chosen symbol is an utter disrespect for girls and women who expose themselves to everyday risks of being sexually abused with nothing but their screams and their teeth and nails to defend themselves.
The UN must be aware of women’s situations around the planet. Don’t they create thousands of reports about the subject? So why such insensitivity?
Please excuse this humble servant for asking but, was the UN paid by DC Comics to promote a movie that didn’t seem to stand a chance to be a hit at the box office? because the organization have done some pretty amusing things in the past (such as setting a deadline to achieve the Millenium Development Goals). However, as entertaining as this appointment might be for some, FUNNY IT IS NOT.
3. It is not very clear how Wonder Woman would fight discrimination, or what type of discrimination she is going to help eradicate.
Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information Cristina Gallach mentions that, “While we have achieved progress towards gender equality in many parts of the world, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence. Gender equality is a fundamental human right and a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”
Oh, Miss Gallach! Did you not know that the said discrimination stems from deep-seated cultural and social factors in each context? Surely you do! Therefore, you should also know that turning a half-naked woman into a representative to raise awareness towards discrimination of all women is ironic. Because then, men and even our fellow women would say that once again, sex is being used to sell. It doesn’t matter whether an idea or a merchandise is being sold; it’s the means to sell that counts. The irony lies in the fact that women combat the way society objectifies females through sex, and then here comes the UN with this brilliant idea…
Accordingly, Wonder Woman does not seem very real and if she has been designated to set an example, then this just feeds the negative thoughts most women already have that we shall “never be enough”.
Thank you very much, United Nations’ Organization!
Apparently, Honorary Ambassadors have to be fictional characters. So without much further ado, here are a few suggestions** as to who could very well represent the United Nations’ Goal Number 5 (written in no particular order):
- O-Lan, the protagonist’s first wife in “The Good Earth”
- Scout Finch from the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
- Julie the protagonist of, “Julie and the Wolves” or Karana the protagonist of “Island of the Blue Dolphins”
- Ayla the protagonist of “The Clan of the Cave Bear”
- Alba from “The House of Spirits”
- Úrsula Iguarán from “100 Years of Solitude”
- Salome from the almost-forgotten chapter of “Noli Me Tangere” (Elias at Salome)
- Gayle and Cookie, protagonists of “Like Sisters on The Homefront”
- All of the members of “The Joy Luck Club”
- Kit from “The Witch of Blackbird Pond”
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia
The aforementioned names are also fictional characters, but from novels. They are all strong, smart and spirited women, each of them uniquely gifted and were able to stand up to what they believed was right for them. And is this not the idea behind gender equality? being free to grow, develop and reach our dreams without anyone saying (whether implicitly or explicitly), “You’re just a girl, you can’t do it”; or worse “You’re a girl, you do it!”.
(Besides, thinking about it: wouldn’t it be better to get a fictional heroine from a text which would encourage young girls to read?)
Should there be any specific rules that the ambassador for Goal 5 be a comic book character, here are a few suggestions:
- Turn the above mentioned materials into graphic novels.
- Ororo Munroe (Storm) from the X-Men
Finally, Missandei from “The Game of Thrones” comes to mind in case a TV-series character is to be handed this title in the future.
On the 21st of October, 2016 the UN Organization appointed Wonder Woman as its new Honorary Ambassador for Gender Equality. At the same time, it also launched a Wonder Woman campaign with the slogan: THINK OF ALL THE WONDERS WE CAN DO.
According to the website, “The campaign is about women and girls everywhere, who are wonder women in their own right, and the men and boys who support their struggle for gender equality, bringing about positive change in their homes, workplace, communities, countries and the world together.”
The problems are: i) Wonder Woman is not representative of women and girls everywhere, ii) more than half of the world’s female population is too engaged in their survival as well as their families’ that they ignore what qualifies as wondrous women; while others may simply be too busy making their way through this male-dominated society, and finally iii) the men and boys will find it hard to genuinely support this cause because its representative’s image distracts them to form other kinds of thoughts.
The fight for gender equality is one that is already long-established. Indeed, one can choose any woman’s biography from any part of the world, from any point in time and there will be a common denominator among all: the fact that each and every one of them had to face male chauvinism every day, and they were left to fight it with whatever weapon they might have in hand (beauty, non-beauty, wit, humor, piety, silence, perseverance, submission, etc…).
Wonder Woman may be inspiring to some. Without any doubt, she may even have paved way to a number of girls and women to take that first step towards changing their unwanted situation. However, she can never represent women and girls everywhere.
There are many other fictional characters who could perfectly fit the honorary title- female protagonists (and antagonists too, why not?) to whom girls and women could relate. Thus, in the light of the novelty and excitement, let us allow our fellowmen and women to have fun naming Wonder Woman as ambassador to inspire the fight for gender equality. However, let us never lose sight of the bigger picture: the desire for a more egalitarian society where all people- men, women and LGBTQ- are treated equally in their homes, workplace, communities, countries and the world together.
Image courtesy of: https://alifenotgrey.com
*How many girls and women in the whole world actually know of Wonder Woman? It might seem ridiculous, but technological gap is real and could be yawning wide open in many under-developed countries making it difficult to spread this campaign.
**Sadly, I have not read any Arabic literature to be able to cite an example from the said context.
- “Is Wonder Woman qualified to be a UN Ambassador?”, BBC US & Canada, available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37734623
- “Wonder Woman announced as UN ambassador amid staff protest”, The Guardian, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/21/wonder-woman-un-ambassador-staff-protest
- “Wonder Woman appointed UN honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls”, UN News Center, available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=55367#.WA5e4SSGnfY
- “Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, available at: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/
- “Stand Up for the Empowerment of Women and Girls Everywhere”, Wonder Woman Campaign webpage, availabe at: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wonderwoman/