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Wonder Woman Makeover: Death of a Feminist Icon?

Before they gave her pants, Wonder Woman had rippin' muscles and a real superhero luster. Now, she looks like a fashion model. What's so feminist about that?

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While it's yet to be seen whether this costume change signals an intent to again strip Wonder Woman of her super powers, it's disconcerting to learn that the writers are creating a new back story for the character that deprives her of her upbringing on Paradise Island with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, and her Amazon sisters in favor of being smuggled out of her homeland as a baby as it was destroyed. Wonder Woman's original feminist creator's intent in giving Diana the Paradise Island upbringing was to insinuate she knew gender equality existed because she'd lived it and that her powers were derived from living with and learning from her sisters. In effect, all women could become "Wonder Woman" if they tapped into the feminine power around them and strived for a gender just world that, we know from real live history, really did and can exist. Is this rewrite an attempt to impose the myth of "post-patriarchy" on the character, in which she no longer needs to dream of and fight for equality because she's achieved it?

If the folks at DC Comics weren't aware, 2010 America is far from a mythical Amazonian paradise. Take for example new statistics from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media pertaining to female role models for young girls. In G rated movies, just one in three speaking roles is female and in PG and R rated films, about 73 percent of the characters are male. While there are notable exceptions, like Dora the Explorer and the girl superheroes in The Invincibles, young women are still hard pressed to find pop culture role models that look and sound like themselves. If, as it seems, Wonder Woman is truly losing some of her characteristic fierceness, that's one fewer strong female role model for girls to aspire to be.

Jim Lee, the artist responsible for Wonder Woman's new design, claims he wanted her to look strong "without screaming, 'I'm a superhero.' "Even today, in this "modern era," it's still hard not to wonder, what's so wrong with screaming that?

Shelby Knox is nationally known as the subject of the Sundance award-winning film, The Education of Shelby Knox, a 2005 documentary chronicling her teenage activism for comprehensive sex education and gay rights in her Southern Baptist community. She is a proud 2010 alumna of the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices program and lives in New York City.

 
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