Just Not Feminist Enough: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #3It'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.
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?
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.