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Posted in: Arts, Film & Culture, Islam, Women

Published on Jul 05, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for NewsRealBlog

Wonder Woman the Non-American: How Soon Will She Be Wearing A Burqa?


Once, back in the 1960s and 1970s, multiculturalism and globalization seemed like the best way forward. How could one culture, one country, speak for the entire world? Why not absorb and embrace all cultures, many cultures?

Or so we thought back in the day.

But back in the 1940s, no one challenged the fact that the amazing Amazon comic book figure, Wonder Woman, (Diana Prince), was an American girl. Wonder Woman's costume was red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag. America's golden eagle was emblazoned on her bodice. William Moulton-Marston, her creator, was a psychologist who portrayed his female action figure as royal, strong, fearless, sisterly, and in possession of special weapons such as invisible flying planes, telepathy, and magic lassos. At a time when mainly male warriors were fighting World War II, Wonder Woman fought evil in fabulous female form.

Indeed, she was half-naked, dressed in a low cut bodice, high, sexy boots, and a short ice-skater's skirt. There was, as yet, no feminist movement to critique this.

Wonder Woman, before and after DC Comics made her more palatable to "global audiences"

Wonder Woman stops bullets with magic bracelets. She lifts evil men, who are twice her size right off the ground, ties them up, and escorts them to jail and justice; she saves Planet America many times over, and in any number of centuries. (She time-travels too).

Fear not: This Amazon is no man-hater. In fact, she's in love with Steve, an earthling America soldier, with whom she works and whom she repeatedly rescues.

Some of the lines in the strip include:

  • "No woman can be trusted with freedom."
  • "Will greed and lust for power always control mankind?"
  • "There's no better life than one of service to others."
  • "This man's world of yours will never be without pain and suffering until it learns love and respect for human rights."

How do I have these lines at my fingertips? Easy—in 1972 I published an Interpretive Essay about Amazon culture which accompanied a new edition of Wonder Woman comics. Gloria Steinem wrote the Introduction and yes, we worked on choosing which comic strips would be reissued. My essay was slightly lyrical, slightly academic, and examined the history and mythology of Amazons—horse-rider warrior women who allegedly lived in an all-female society and whose figures may be found on many a Grecian urn.

I wrote:

The stories stress the need for women to be strong, physically, morally, and scientifically…Wonder Woman was conceived as a counter to the bloody 'masculinity' of most American comic books, and the strip's use of force is tempered accordingly. (Marston's) women are seen as natural leaders who could rule the world…As futuristic as the comic strip is, it is nonetheless grounded in reality. It clearly portrays the fact that women have to be better and stronger than men to be given a chance in a man's world. The comic also underlines the importance of successful female role models in teaching women strength and confidence.

So, what do I think of Wonder Woman's new outfit—envisioned as better for the international market for a Wonder Woman film series? Yes, of course, a film is in the works for 2013.

Well, I like the new Wonder Woman's long pants—out with the ice-skater's skirt, in with the long, black action-leggings! But, post-9/11, I do not like her non-American, and therefore her anti-American costume.

There was a time when Americans were at their most American by absorbing immigrants from every country and culture in the world; when Americans gloried in traveling everywhere (I certainly did). This presupposed a strong American currency and a world which either feared or loved America; sometimes, both sentiments applied.

Now, the world—well tutored by propagandists both here and abroad—despises America. And, many Americans are ashamed of their own country.

We are seen—our intelligentsia see us–as capitalist fatcats, living at the expense of downtrodden others—not as generous and altruistic. America is criticized for trying to free people from torture chambers all over the Islamic world. We are criticized by American politicians for wanting to keep Ground Zero mosque-free—or at least free from a mosque with terrorist ties. The probable future governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, is in favor of this mosque, as is NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The world is no longer safe for American travelers—actually, it is no longer safe for civilian travelers. Woe unto the Jewish or Israeli traveler: Think Daniel Pearl, think Nicholas Berg, think Chabad House in Mumbai. Think July 4th—the anniversary of the heroic Israeli raid on Entebbe to free Israeli hostages from their Palestinian and German airplane-hijacking terrorist captors.

The idea that Wonder Woman will not "sell," internationally if she is presented as an American comic-book warrior may make sense, but it also makes me very sad.

I don't see Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Afghanistan forcing its women to give up their native, imprisoning clothing for the sake of becoming more pleasing "global" actors. Indeed, when Maureen Dowd recently visited Saudi Arabia, she took a great many photos of herself, an American woman, in neo-Saudi dress. (Glamorized slumming is what I think about this photo shoot).

I do not oppose hijab in America; I have said so many times. And yet: In 2007, when Nancy Pelosi visited Syrian strongman Bashir Assad, she donned hijab. In 2009, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accompanied President Obama to Cairo, she wore hijab as well. (The President did not don native Egyptian dress.)

Which civilization is far too eager to please? And which civilization not only demands more for itself—in terms of women wearing burqas and niqab in the West, but demands that Western women, American women, who visit the Middle East dress as if they are Middle Eastern women?

Wonder Woman's change of costume is but a small part in this real-life drama: The sunset of the West. It is not a comic book.


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