Ensnared by the Lasso of Truth


I've had somewhat of a struggle with female superheroes. Although Batman, Iron Man, and Spider-Man have been featured in recent movies (a fact which makes them easy examples of heroic journeys and struggles), those heroes' cinematic appearances are not the only reasons that Building Heroes has featured only male superheroes, so far.

It is important, if not absolutely necessary, to give examples of strong, empowered female superheroes that women can look up to.

But, what to do with the objectification of women in the comic/superhero genre? As comic book artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) observes in Chasing Amy, it is a "spandex-clad, big pecs, big (breasts), big guns" world.

However, at the same time, college campuses and the fraternal movement are being besieged by self-inflicted wounds of gender-based discrimination and sexual violence. Two articles last week in the Daily Beast and the Wall Street Journal are just the most recent examples, with one describing the founding of sororities as footholds on "campuses that had once been all-male bastions," but now "infantilize" women rather than empower.

Enter Wonder Woman, a character who has undergone a similar struggle to the one described by Samantha Wishman in the Daily Beast.

Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who was involved in the development of the polygraph (lie detector). Through experiences with the polygraph, Marston became convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men. In 1941, he set out to create a super hero, who could serve as "psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world," a new feminine archetype that featured women's strongest qualities.

However, through the years, the character has been both an empowered woman and a stereotyped caricature. Early issues of Wonder Woman were accompanied by essays on the advancement of women. Later, the accompanying material consisted of bridal features, gossip stories, and romance stories. Then, of course, is the iconic "costume" popularized by Lynda Carter that is, ahem, less than functional.

In Wonder Woman, we discover that courage, integrity, intelligence, and strength, combined with the compassion to help any person in need, are the ingredients that created a hero stronger than many, if not all, of her male counterparts. Wonder Woman did not need "Man's World" to save her, but instead we needed her to save us.

On college campuses right now, it is not men's responsibility to rescue women. Instead, it is our responsibility to act for justice, and to save us from ourselves. Whenever a woman is threatened, objectified, or attacked, a culture of disrespect and fear is nurtured, a culture that affects each of us. Whenever those things happen and we fail to intervene, our ideals and values are sacrificed. We are then trapped by a dehumanizing, limiting definition of masculinity, one that does not permit us to be more than stereotypes that treat women as conquests, objects, and prey.

Author William Burroughs observed that there are "no innocent bystanders". As described by Three Characters and a Tragedy, the participants include:

  1. Bully/Bullies—planners, instigators, and perpetrators, i.e., genocidaires who plan, instigate, and/or take an active part in the genocide.
  2. Henchmen—who do the Bully’s bidding by taking an active part, but do not actually plan or instigate the genocide.
  3. Active Supporters—who cheer the Bully on and seek to reap the social, economic, political, and material gain resulting from the policy and procedures of the Bullies.
  4. Passive Supporters—who get pleasure from the pain inflicted on the Target by others.
  5. Disengaged Onlookers—who watch what happens and say, “It is not any of my business” or “It is a civil war,” or cite “ancient animosities”; or turn a blind eye and pretend they don’t see; or simply don’t take a stand.
  6. Potential Witnesses—who oppose the actions of the bullies and know they ought to help those targeted but, for a variety of reasons and excuses, do not act.

Although Wonder Woman was born a Princess of the Amazons of Greek mytholgy, which had been created by Aphrodite to be superior to men, her compassion led her to fight for justice in the Man's World. Despite any amount of privilege any of us may be born with, it is our compassion for others and our courage to fight for justice that will set us apart, and that also will set us free.