Friday, November 24, 2006

Just Not Feminist Enough: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #3

It's Black Friday, Gentle Reader, and that means shopping, shopping, shopping. Like all good college students, I used to work retail (and food service, and I answered phones, and filed) so the Friday after Thanksgiving still fills me with a sort of anticipatory dread: I know something Is Going On, but I know that I don't want to be there.

Shopping always has been viewed as a quintessential feminine endeavor, no? The association of women with shopping, and therefore the willful spending of money, the capriciousness of material desire, and the fluctuation of fashions all lend themselves not to *things*, but to *women*. Because fashion is ever-changing, so, too, must women be. Because the desire for material things is a common women's concern (many people say so, Friends, although I think it An Odd Stereotype), women, therefore, must be greedy.

But the truth of the matter is that shopping as we know it is part and parcel with the invention of the modern department store (gratitude, Ms. Rappaport) and women's so-called affinity for shopping is connected to, yes, it's true, Friends, advertising (gratitude, Ms. Bowlby, Ms. Loeb). And all of these things-—fashionability, shopping, the spending of money-—have been viewed by some as counter to the Feminist Agenda.

You see the problem already, don't you, Gentle Reader? There is, of course, no single Feminist Agenda, the same as there isn't a single definition of feminism. When Diane Herndl and Robyn Warhol edited their collection of feminist literary theory and criticism, they didn't call it Feminism, but rather, Feminisms. This is deliberate, no? Embrace the multiplicity of it all, and understand that if we all have different agendas, then it doesn't divide us but unite us: under us all, we can accomplish more.

But even further, it does seem significant that early feminists divorced themselves from stereotypically feminine concerns. Things like fashion (including corsets and later, bras) and heterosexual marriage were, for the First-Wavers or Suffragettes, controlled by masculine ideology. They were objects set forth by the patriarchy to distract women from their real goals: suffrage, education, raising educated and progressive children, marrying for love and equal partnership and marrying the spouse of one's choosing, regardless of gender. Strangely enough, the Second-Wavers also picked up the anti-fashion feminism, and burned their bras—and discarded makeup, and fashion trends—in protest.

***SPOILERS***

All of this preamble to say the following four things: 1) My academic work is on fashion, and by extension, shopping, so the two are always on my mind, 2) it is Black Friday, so shopping is on *everyone's* mind, whether you want it to be or not, 3) fashion and feminism have had such a troubled relationship for the past 150 years, and 4) Circe accuses Princess Diana of being a rotten feminist.

Diana struggles the entire episode to keep from pulling on her satin tights and fighting for the good ole red, white, and blue. The issue begins with Diana detailing the remarkable events of Wonder Woman's, and not Diana Prince's, birth. She notes that the child had the wisdom, grace, and swiftness of the gods, and was "a child who would become the gods' own champion in the world of men." And in the next panel, she reminds us, "For a time, I was their champion...." The gods are gone. They have left this plane and with them, Diana's true calling. But apparently in her stead they sent Hercules, the man who tricked, and most likely raped, Diana's mother.

Already on page two, we are presented with binaries: male/female in Hercules/Diana, good/evil in Diana/Giganta, and past/present with Diana and the gods then/Hercules and the gods now. We see Donna Troy, Cassie, Diana Prince, all incredibly strong women lose their footing when Hercules swoops in to save the day. His machismo says it all, as does his statement, "You've already caused enough trouble, Diana. Besides, I don't want to have to rescue you, too." In that scene, he is lifting Donna bodily, and pulling her away from Giganta.

Diana has had many disappointments to live up to the past few issues, since even before Crisis: Cassie's, Batman's, Superman's, the world's, her sisters', Donna's, and now, Hercules' and her gods'. After the fight scene is over, she's chastised by Hercules, the same as she will be chastised by Circe at the end of the issue.

Hercules tells Diana, "Spare me your excuses, Diana. You abandoned your role as Olympus' champion. You renounced your mission of peace--turned your back on your birthright-—and betrayed your gods. So the gods have sent me to replace you." And while Diana argues that she has "not renounced [her] mission—-just the means..." Hercules accuses her of "pretending to be someone else" and "dressing [her]self in lies."

Gentle Reader, I posed the following question to Mr. Reads earlier today: when does Diana get to be her own person? In my last review of Wonder Woman (oh so many months ago!), I pondered Diana's constant role-playing. She even said she wasn't sure who she really was, and that’s saying Something Indeed. Mr. Reads responded that the moment Diana did something that she believed in, she became Public—-and Superhero—-Enemy #1; the murder of Maxwell Lord, regardless of intentions, bespoke of a Diana no one wanted to see.

But Diana does what she believes to be right, at every turn: she hands the mantle over to Donna, shares the burden of Paradise Island with Hercules, as the flashback tells us, even accepts, to some extent, Hercules' role as the gods' new champion. Because if Diana seems to stand for anything, it's equality, no?

No?

Not according to Circe.

Nemesis and Hercules are turned to beasts. Seeing the men change, Diana suspects the cause. "Looks like it's just us girls then," she says, and turns to see Circe.

(A short sidebar here, Friends, in which I express my utter admiration for the art in this two-page spread. The gorgeous pinks and purples seem to wash everything, and it's truly magnificent.)

And indeed, it is "just us girls." When Circe mocks Diana with her former title, Diana reminds her that she never called herself Wonder Woman: "The press did. She's an idea. A symbol. She's not me." Circe, however, disagrees that Wonder Woman is just an idea or symbol, because she knows that "symbols have power, Diana, and you have wasted yours. Pursuing an agenda so personal."

What is this agenda, you ask? Why, being a superhero instead of a champion, according to Circe. Circe accuses Diana of fighting herself and squandering her power "battling cyborg centurions and psychic despots when every day, thousands of women are beaten, raped, and murdered, because they have no one to fight for them."

In this moment, Circe accuses Diana of valuing ideology over life, of pursuing philosophical answers rather than solving real-life issues. It seems that Circe accuses Diana of the worst of feminist crimes: of not being feminist enough. She declares Diana self-absorbed, concerned with glory and rank rather than the plight of those women who need her, of those women she declares she is there to help. Diana's ideals are well and good, but for Circe, Diana never gets her hands or feet dirty fighting the good fight, fighting for the humans, for the human women.

This issue intrigues me so very much because despite the fact that technically she's not even human, Wonder Woman has been a symbol of feminism for at least 35 years, if not more. Feminists have used Wonder Woman as an image of women's strength and power since Ms. Magazine put her on the cover, and possibly, even before then. And for Circe to accuse her of not being feminist enough? Of not concerning herself with the very real plight of women across the globe? Of upholding ideals rather than valuing life? Well, that's very intriguing indeed.

What does it mean to be "just not feminist enough"? It's something This Humble Author has heard across the board, from my Sister Feminists, from women who declare themselves Not-Feminists, from men who declare themselves Feminists, from people who Couldn't Be Bothered With Labels, Feminism, or Ideals, and yes, it's even something I've heard directed at myself. How is someone "just not feminist enough"? Are we taking score, Friends? Are we judging this action as worthy of five points on the feminist Richter scale, but this action worth only three? I have aligned myself with feminist theory, political agendas, philosophy, and personal choices for so many years I can't remember them all, and still, while no one has given me the checklist, everyone expects me to have it on hand, perhaps pocket-sized, easily fitted into a wallet.

When we trap ourselves in tit-for-tat, in ideology-for-ideology, we accomplish nothing. When we accomplish nothing, no one is saved. When no one is saved, we all lose. Is fashion "not feminist enough"? Is shopping "not feminist enough"? Is Circe correct? Is Wonder Woman "not feminist enough"? Are there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Amazonian philosophy? I don't have a definitive answer, Friends, but I have a suggestion.

Salvation comes from action and ideals, from deeds and words, from physicality and philosophy. And while I think the Amazon Princess may occasionally value one over the other, particularly on Earth, I think that we can certainly see the benefits of both.

At the end of the issue, it seems that all of This Humble Author's dreams for this new run have come true. The last panel reveals a change for the Amazon Princess, one I hope will hold true for a few issues, at least. I won't reveal Too Much, Gentle Reader, because I've spoiled the spoilers enough as is. But I think we're about to see a shift in Agent Prince/Wonder Woman/Princess Diana. I think we're about to see Diana, and that's almost Worth Waiting For.

Three issues in? I still adore this comic. I think Mr. Heinberg has done Wonders with the Wonder Woman. But I wish-—oh, how I wish!-—that this was issue #5.

12 Comments:

At 12:48 AM, Blogger Your Obedient Serpent said...

I haven't picked up this week's comics, and I'm not likely to do so before NEXT week (I fear the T-Day Weekend). I'm glad to know the latest issue of Wonder Woman Quarterly is waiting for me, though.

I just happened to re-read Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier this evening, which happens to be my all-time favorite portrayal of Diana, visually and otherwise. Her actions in that story definitely relate to Circe's accusations -- there, Cooke has her most assuredly coming to the aid of oppressed and degraded women. True to what I consider the character's core, she doesn't "defend" them so much as empower them to defend themselves.

You know, I've seen a lot of commentary about William Moulton Marston in the comics blogosphere of late, and the oddities of his work on the Golden Age Wonder Woman. Few if any have seen fit to remark upon what always struck me as the dominant, ahem, primary theme of those reprints I read in the '70s: Diana always insisted that the things she did were what any woman could do if she broke free of the constraints imposed on her by patriarchal society.

That's something that they lost sight of in the Silver Age. Had Perez returned to that idea, and made Diana a peer to her equally-gifted Amazon sisters instead of charging her up with Divine Superiority, he might have carried off his attempt to establish Wonder Woman as The Diplomat Leading By Example. Personally, I always felt that Perez amped her physical prowess at the expense of strength of character, and subsequent writers have always been hampered by that.

I have high hopes for the current series.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Serpent,
I haven't picked up this week's comics, and I'm not likely to do so before NEXT week (I fear the T-Day Weekend). I'm glad to know the latest issue of Wonder Woman Quarterly is waiting for me, though.

I had completely forgotten about it, given how long it's been since last issue, and then the delay from October to November (although it still says Oct on the cover!) so it was, as I called it somewhere else, The Thanksgiving Miracle to find it waiting for my at my local.

I just happened to re-read Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier this evening, which happens to be my all-time favorite portrayal of Diana, visually and otherwise. Her actions in that story definitely relate to Circe's accusations -- there, Cooke has her most assuredly coming to the aid of oppressed and degraded women. True to what I consider the character's core, she doesn't "defend" them so much as empower them to defend themselves.

I *adore* the New Frontier! Did you know they're doing a movie? I can't wait for it. The writing, the art, everything's just picture perfect there.
And you're absolutely right. Diana there is very much the Diana Circe expects. She comes to their aid by teaching them to defend themselves, not defending them.
You've made me want to reread that :)

You know, I've seen a lot of commentary about William Moulton Marston in the comics blogosphere of late, and the oddities of his work on the Golden Age Wonder Woman. Few if any have seen fit to remark upon what always struck me as the dominant, ahem, primary theme of those reprints I read in the '70s: Diana always insisted that the things she did were what any woman could do if she broke free of the constraints imposed on her by patriarchal society.

It's really true. It's very much a response to the Suffragettes, the Flappers, the "horde of scribbling women" (gratitude, Mr. Thackeray).

That's something that they lost sight of in the Silver Age. Had Perez returned to that idea, and made Diana a peer to her equally-gifted Amazon sisters instead of charging her up with Divine Superiority, he might have carried off his attempt to establish Wonder Woman as The Diplomat Leading By Example. Personally, I always felt that Perez amped her physical prowess at the expense of strength of character, and subsequent writers have always been hampered by that.

I think Rucka's run turned back to that, but I'm starry-eyed for All Things Rucka, so I may be biased. I felt that Rucka focused on the difference of her, the Amazonian qualities that other people just didn't get because they *weren't* Amazons. She did things a certain way because that was the right way.
I always point to two places in this discussion: the first, when she stops Flash from putting out the forest fire, and the second, the whole Medusa trial and blinding. It's just *smart* and really speaks to a sort of "leading by example" idea.

I have high hopes for the current series.

I do, too, except for the shuffle of writers we can expect over the next year. Heinberg's leaving, then Picoult's coming on to guest for only 3, and then, who knows?? I think WW needs stability, and they're not offering that to the run right now.
I keep saying that DC should hire some plucky unknown who has stars in her eyes and feet of clay, but I don't think they have my number...
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:40 AM, Blogger Loren said...

I thought this issue was fabulous as well because I think this is an exciting direction for Wonder Woman and one that I think would set her apart from Superman and Batman, yet solidify her part of DC's Big Three.

Another fantastic analysis, Amy Reads...you're a wonder yourself. ;)

 
At 12:43 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Loren,
I thought this issue was fabulous as well because I think this is an exciting direction for Wonder Woman and one that I think would set her apart from Superman and Batman, yet solidify her part of DC's Big Three.

I couldn't agree more. It pained me to lose Rucka, and I think it's going to pain me to lose Heinberg when he leaves.

Another fantastic analysis, Amy Reads...you're a wonder yourself. ;)

*blush* Honestly, Friend, flattery will get you everywhere...
:) Thanks, as always, for reading! This is no fun if no one listens, and no good if no one challenges and responds. Thanks for doing all of that!
Ciao,
Amy, off to sleep after the first night of Serenity RPGing!

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

This reminds me. Somewhere over the las 2 days I ran across a blogger who had done a post all about Etta. If you haven't seen it already, keep your eyes peeled.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Scipio said...

Totally with you on this one; great issue and analysis thereof!

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...

Very well said!

 
At 6:17 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Scipio,
Totally with you on this one; great issue and analysis thereof!

Thanks so much, for the compliment, for reading! I adored this issue. It's going to break my heart to see Heinberg leave.
And sorry for the delayed response. It's almost finals week, and there are too many things to write, and too many things to grade!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
Very well said!

Huzzah! Thanks so much! :) And sorry for the delayed response. It's been a crazy busy week!
Ciao,
Amy, who looks forward to getting the chance to sit down with your review, as well!
(oh time, where have you gone??)

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
This reminds me. Somewhere over the las 2 days I ran across a blogger who had done a post all about Etta. If you haven't seen it already, keep your eyes peeled.

I saw that it is Out There In The World, and it's in my To Read folder, but I haven't gotten the chance yet. Thanks for bringing it to my attention :)
Sorry for the delayed response. Crazy busy!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 7:05 AM, Blogger Scipio said...

Amy, I do have to correct you on one thing, though:

But apparently in her stead they sent Hercules, the man who tricked, and most likely raped, Diana's mother.

Herakles and his men seduced the Amazons, slept with them, and then enslaved them as they slept. Their crime was not merely one of violence and aggression; rather it was one of deception and betrayal.

This is important because in contemporary (male) culture overcoming the Amazons by force would not have been considered shameful, but having to trick them would.

 
At 8:39 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Scipio,
Amy, I do have to correct you on one thing, though:

Uh oh ;)

Herakles and his men seduced the Amazons, slept with them, and then enslaved them as they slept. Their crime was not merely one of violence and aggression; rather it was one of deception and betrayal.
This is important because in contemporary (male) culture overcoming the Amazons by force would not have been considered shameful, but having to trick them would.


I remember the way this played out, but I also thought there was some suggestion of rape--whether before or after the soldiers tricked the Amazons and made them their slaves. Of course, there is a long history of Greek and Roman men raping their slaves, both male and female, so I may have just been projecting. It's been a long time since I've read this particular storyline.

But Scipio, I am never afraid to admit that I'm wrong, so thanks for the information! Like I said, it's been a while since I've read it.

And hey, if I *were* afraid to admit that I were wrong, I'd never, ever speak, and I *love* to talk...
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 

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