Just over a week ago the United Nations announced the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. Wonder Woman. That’s right. A fictitious superhero from DC Comics. And what attributes does she have to inspire us? Hmm, a magic lasso and an invisible plane.
I don’t know about you but no personal development course I’ve ever done offers that sort of personal empowerment. Our ambassador for women’s empowerment isn’t real. That doesn’t feel very empowering to me. It feels wrong. You’d think one of the key messages you’d want for empowerment would be someone who was flesh and blood.
A woman who had lived. Who had overcome adversity. A woman who had felt pain. A woman who had battled oppression. A woman who had cried. A woman who found her resilience and her strength. A woman who had a story that touched us.
Maybe Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who wouldn’t get up off her seat for a white passenger. Or Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the atlantic. Or Ann Frank who died at the hands of the Nazis but wrote in her diary, ‘In spite of everything I still believe people are good at heart’.
Or Aung Sang Suu Kyi who showed the most incredible civil courage in history when she lived under house arrest for 15 years for her democracy campaigning. Or the inspirational Michelle Obama?
My pick would be a young woman: Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate. A young woman shot on a bus by the Taliban after taking an exam, who continued to stand up for education even after she almost died. That young woman fills me with hope. With profound admiration. With an understanding of how privileged I am in comparison to my sisters around the world.
She reminds me about the importance of courage and sacrifice and belief and that true power can exist within a tiny young girl with no physical strength. Empowerment for women is not about physical strength. It is our tenacity. Our solidarity. Our ability to put beliefs before self-interest. Wonder Woman is pretend. Malala is flesh and blood.
How can we be inspired by make-believe? Is female power still so mythological that we must resort to role modelling cartoon characters? Must we show skin to be powerful? Must we be conventionally beautiful? Previous Miss World America Lynda Carter, who starred as Wonder Woman back in the 1970s, was there at the United Nations event to tell girls they could do and be anything. It was weird. Patronising. I would even say, stupid.
What would Lynda Carter know? She’s an actress who was playing the character of Wonder Woman. She’s not actually Wonder Woman. She never risked her life to fight for education. She got paid lots of money to be on TV. How is that a role model?
And why are we telling women they can do everything anyway? Isn’t this belief that we have to be so completely over the top in our achievement causing us harm? And shouldn’t the United Nations be choosing someone who represents, dare I say it, all nations? Or at the very least be avoiding dominant culture?
Wonder Woman is a white woman with big tits in a revealing bathing costume emblazoned with the American flag. It seems like a questionable choice for an honorary ambassador. They might as well have chosen Sabrina the teenage witch or Miss Piggy. For a start most of the world is brown, or at the very least not white. Why have we chosen a minority to represent the majority? The world’s largest ethnic group is Chinese.
And why isn’t she wearing pants? How does a fictitious American superhero appeal to Muslim girls in The Chad? Or Ethiopia? Or even Lakemba? Imagine if they’d chosen Kamala Khan, a fictional female Muslim superhero! There would be outrage. I guess it’s no surprise that Warner Brothers are releasing a new version of Wonder Woman into cinemas mid next year. It would seem that even the choice of our role models for empowerment are just culturally insensitive and over-sexualised product placements for corporations. And that doesn’t empower women one little bit.