Choosing a Halloween costume is the biggest decision a 6-year-old can make. Such matters are so important. Clown or princess? Fairy or vampire?
At the Halloween pop-up shop I doggedly worked my way to the front of the pack, stood on tiptoes so I could better see over the high counter and, wide-eyed, scanned the dozens of costumes on offer until I found what I was there for – Wonder Woman. I might have even squealed. The bagged costume contained a headband, cuffs and, of course, a golden lasso.
I was obsessed with Lynda Carter and her skinny-waisted version of Wonder Woman from the late-1970s TV series. In the months that followed, I would spend endless afternoons fighting evil in and around the block where we lived. It was me against the world, good versus evil, and I felt fierce. It was magic.
Fast forward to last year and the release of much-hyped blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The moment arrives when Batman knows he’s about to be defeated by Doomsday, the seemingly unconquerable behemoth created by Lex Luther. Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince), played by Israeli actor Gal Gadot, resplendent in her indestructible cuffs, magical Amazonian shield and wielding her famed god-killer sword appears just in time to save him. When Superman flies in to join the fray, he turns to Batman and asks: “Is she with you?” Batman looks perplexed. “I thought she was with you?” The 6-year-old in me nearly fainted.
Little do they know that Wonder Woman belongs to no one. She’s Princess Diana of Themyscira, warrior princess of the Amazons and a demigod with superhuman powers given to her by the Greek gods. Her exceptional skills include combat and hunting, and her arsenal features the Lasso of Truth and a headband that’s also a handy projectile.
For a girl raised on a steady diet of Superman and Batman, but hungry for more female superheroes, the wait has been long but surprisingly fruitful. Batgirl, Elektra, Black Widow, Jessica Jones, X-Men’s Mystique, Jean Grey and Storm, Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm the Invisible Woman and, perhaps the greatest of them all, Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Be still, my beating heart.
But now, finally, a year after she celebrated her 75th birthday, Wonder Woman doesn’t have to share the big screen with inferior men. She has a film all to herself, as it should be. Gal Gadot does not look in her '70s – she looks like the Wonder Woman we all know: beautiful, powerful, formidable, like someone no smart person would mess with.
Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by Harvard-educated psychologist and co-inventor of the polygraph Dr William Moulton Marston. He once said, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” He was inspired to create Wonder Woman by his wife, Elizabeth Holloway (who suggested he make his superhero female); and by Olive Byrne, a former student of Marston’s who joined him and Elizabeth in a polyamorous relationship. Olive wore bracelets very similar to those Wonder Woman would go on to wear. Another, perhaps more important, inspiration for Marston’s character was Olive’s aunt, the birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger, who launched anarchist newsletter The Woman Rebel.
The Wonder Woman backstory has been relaunched many times over and borrows heavily from ancient Greek mythology. The original Amazons were a clan of fierce female warriors. So fierce, legend has it they cut off their right breasts to better accommodate firing arrows at their enemies. Descendants of Ares, the Greek god of war and son of Zeus, they resided in Themyscira, an actual ancient Greek town now located in modern-day Turkey. Amazons founded cities, invented the cavalry and fought in notable battles such as the Trojan War. Basically, they kicked ass.
Wonder Woman’s own Amazon tribe was made from the souls of women slain by men over time and sent to the bottom of the Aegean Sea. They would go on to create their women-only city. Wonder Woman herself was made from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta, and gifted powers from the likes of Greek gods such as Artemis (the goddess of the hunt), Athena (the goddess of war) and Aphrodite (the goddess of beauty and love).
Originally, Diana was given the responsibility of returning US intelligence officer Steve Trevor back to “Man’s World” to fight the Nazis. This was 1941, after all. At one point she gives up her powers so she can stay in Man’s World, thus assuming the alias Diana Prince. Later she has her memory erased. More recently, the current writer for the comic declared that Wonder Woman was bisexual.
Feminism is a thread that runs throughout Wonder Woman’s story; Marston made no secret of this. Her roots are deeply embedded in the early suffragette movement and Marston’s own belief in a new age of love where women experienced, among other things, erotic equality. When Wonder Woman joined the Justice Society in 1942 and was promptly made secretary by the then male writer, Marston was livid. Even Marston’s adviser at Harvard got a look in. A vocal opponent of the suffragette movement, he inspired Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Psycho.
Wonder Woman went on to grace the first cover of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine and, more recently, was named a UN Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. A petition arguing against Wonder Woman’s overtly sexualized image eventually saw the ambassadorship revoked, to which Lynda Carter responded: “It’s the ultimate sexism to say because she has big breasts and a costume on, that is what you think represents her and who she is. Women do have breasts and women can defend themselves and fight back.”
Which brings us to why it has taken DC Comics and Hollywood so long to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen. There have been a few attempts, including George Miller’s ill-fated and eventually abandoned Justice League Mortal, starring Australian Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, as well as attempts by Buffy-creator Joss Whedon and Ghostbusters' Paul Feig.
Movie execs have long argued that their audience – predominantly teenage boys – wouldn’t be interested in a female superhero. Then Patty Jenkins came along. The director of Monster, which won Charlize Theron an Oscar, determined to get the film off the ground. Thanks to some healthy box-office competition between Marvel and DC, and a push for more diverse protagonists (and therefore more movies), Wonder Woman’s time finally arrived.
In an interview with Time magazine, Gal Gadot emphasized the importance of strong females in boys’ lives. “We need to educate boys, show boys strong women in powerful positions. It's all about expanding the possibilities of what women can be,” she said.
I plan on taking my young sons to see Wonder Woman. I may or may not wear my Wonder Woman costume beneath my clothes (yes, I still have one).
But one thing is for certain, I will be sitting front row, trying not to squeal. The 6-year-old in me will faint.
Illustration courtesy DC Entertainment.