Wonder Woman and the Problem of Having it All

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Wonder Woman and the Problem of Having It AllEditor’s note: This post can originally be found at Michelle’s blog, Robots in the Crosswalk, and republished with permission.

— Kelly

I picked up Glamour’s September issue for one reason, and that was because Rinko Kikuchi had a photo spread. I’ve been a little in love with Kikuchi since I saw her in Pacific Rim this summer, but I have not been able to read the (incredibly short!) article attached to her shoot. Why? Because Glamour has some problems with superheroes and it is too painful for me to leave alone.

On page 300 of their September issue, they dedicate 3/4ths of a page to the men of recent superhero movies. The article, “If Spider-Man Were Your Boyfriend”, delightfully objectifies many of the male characters from recent superhero movies, such as Captain America (“a keeper”), Superman (“Debbie Downer” – Supes’ section reads like it’s about Batman, which boggles my mind, but I blame Man of Steel more than the article’s author), and Thor (“commitment-phobe”). Though cheesy, it’s refreshing to see male superheroes talked about in a way female heroes are usually discussed – i.e., rated by bang-ability. The advice given for dating Superman? Shag him and move on. (Spider-Man, if you were wondering, came in second to last with the title “clingy creeper.” Accurate.)

But while I don’t agree with everything in that article (Why would you want Thor to cut his hair???), it’s much easier to digest than the Wonder Woman-related article that proceeds it. Entitled “Stop That Woman!” and serving as a mouthpiece for author Debora L. Spar to promote her new book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, it is one of the many tireless articles about “having it all.” You know the ones: “Women, how do we balance work, life and family? Isn’t it hard??? It’s so hard! But we have to do all of it! Stupid men, why don’t they help??? Oh well, they’re dumb! Actually, we should be more like them! Only Wonder Woman can do it all, and all at once!!! And she isn’t real!!!”

The article is accompanied by two photos of a model dressed as Wondy. The first photo shows the model running away from a mob of angry women dressed in professional attire. Clearly these women are not happy that Wonder Woman “has it all”. But what that “all” is, I don’t know. Nice hair? A perfect model pout? The ability to run in heels? A lack of embarrassment at wearing a shitty WW costume in broad daylight? Okay, that last one is probably the cosplay snob in me talking, but seriously – since when does Wondy “have it all”? She’s a superhero sure, and her power roster is impressive: flight, super strength, bullet-deflecting bracelets, and a lasso of truth. But does she have a family? She has her mother and Amazonian sisters on Themyscira, and if you believe current canon, her dad Zeus, but Diana Prince has not exactly found a prince of her own. Steve Trevor pops up occasionally, but I’m not sure a woman like Wondy would be interested in settling down. And as far as I know, she has never had any children. Though with over 70 years of comic backlog to sift through, I could be mistaken, but that doesn’t change the fact that “family” is never an area she’s had to worry about in the way women who want to “have it all” supposedly do.

“Stop! We want to give you some shoulder straps! H&M was having a sale on them!”

“Stop! We want to give you some shoulder straps! H&M was having a sale on them!”

And though Diana has worked high-profile jobs as a diplomat, she’s also worked at – wait for it – Taco Bell. Well, Taco Whiz, but you get my point. Yes, there was a story arc where Wondy worked in fast food. And she rather liked it, too!

And let’s not forget her job as a superhero, which means at times Wonder Woman has been a single woman working two jobs despite her many talents. Does that sound like “having it all” to you?

The second photo that accompanies the article is either really self-aware or quite a coincidence, as it depicts Wondy tied to a poll by her own lasso. I suppose the idea is that the angry women from the first photo have caught her and tied her to the light pole in protest, but considering Wonder Woman’s history with bondage, the image is a little cheeky: she is yelling in protest, but with a smile on her face, which is rather reminiscent of the multiple times in the golden age comics she was subjected to bondage, spanking and other kinky acts, but with a wink and a nod to the audience that implied she was enjoying herself. For comparison:

Courtesy of GlamourWonder Woman BoundWonder Woman Binding

I'd just like to point out she’s literally winking at the audience here.

I’d just like to point out she’s literally winking at the audience here.

And we can’t ignore the fact that this article is more than a little painful when it comes to Wonder Woman’s feminist icon status. She has graced the cover of multiple issues of Ms. Magazine, including the first ever cover and its various anniversary issues. She’s also a known activist within the comic universe, using her status as an ambassador to further causes aligned with real world concerns of feminists, anti-racists and other equalist movements. If working woman fed up with the “having it all” conundrum were looking for a symbol to represent themselves, Wonder Woman would be one of the first characters in line for the role. Or at the very least, they could identify with her struggle as a strong, smart woman trying to make it in a world of men, who is often confused and disappointed at the casual sexism, et al. she experiences in the workplace and elsewhere.

And this is to say nothing of the current struggle to see Wondy represented on both the big and small screens. As one of comic’s most recognizable female heroes, Wonder Woman has been conspicuously absent from movies and CW dramas since the comic book adaptation craze started ten years ago. Talk and rumors abound, but still nothing has come to fruition, including a failed NBC pilot (which, let’s be real, looked terrible) and Joss Wheadon’s attachment to a movie version. Another hurdle comes in the form of a recent article by Brian Truitt in USA Today, where he quotes Jeff Bock, a box office analyst, saying that  compared to their male counterparts, female heroes appear “crazy.” You know, because calling anything “crazy” makes people just flock to the idea, never mind the ableist insinuations. Kelly over at Princess vs. Peril has plenty to say about the article, as well.

I have very little regard for the problem of “having at all,” as it is an impossible dream women are still meant to chase and then feel guilty about when they do not catch it. I believe Deborah L. Spar would agree with me on that. But using Wonder Woman as the face of this ridiculous goal is at best annoying, and at worst a fallacy. Wonder Woman would stand with the working women of the world and fight back against the sexist notion that they have to “have it all.” She would call out people who force this tired stereotype down women’s throats, and she would never be caught dead claiming she “had it all,” or that women should just try to be more like her. Wonder Woman would not abide this tired notion, and she would not appreciate anyone demonizing her for being its supposed embodiment.

You can read Spar’s article here on

Michelle, 25, European mutt. Likes: Fiction, children's media, low brow art, small dogs, endless shopping trips, bad photography, animation, personal assistance, other assorted nerdy.

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