I wrote this in December of 2016, after learning about a controversy that simply didn’t need to happen. The United Nations designated Wonder Woman as an Honorary Ambassador. This caused some people to create a petition in an effort to push the United Nations to reconsider that choice.
I read “Wonder Woman and the United Nations” in episode 14 of my Words of Jen podcast.
On October 21, 2016, the United Nations designated Wonder Woman as an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. She was selected in support of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (which is to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.)
Wonder Woman is not the first fictional character to be designated as an UN Honorary Ambassador. Winnie the Pooh was designated as an Honorary Ambassador for Friendship in 1988. Tinkerbell was designated an Honorary Ambassador of Green in 2009. (Her purpose was to help promote environmental awareness among children.) Red, from the Angry Birds video game, was designated an Honorary Ambassador of Green in 2016. (Red’s purpos was “to inspire climate action toward a sustainable and happier future for all.)
The United Nations selected Wonder Woman as the Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls because:
The Wonder Woman campaign will highlight what we can collectively achieve if women and girls are empowered – along with examples of women and girls who have made and are making a difference every day by overcoming barriers and beating the odds to reach their goals. The campaign is about women and girls everywhere, who are wonder women in their own right, and the men and boys who support their struggle for gender equality, bringing about positive change in their homes, workplaces, communities, countries and the world together.
Fictional characters who are given honorary titles in the UN do not keep that title forever. It is typically a short term thing designed to bring attention to an important issue. In other words, Wonder Woman’s Honorary Ambassador title was intended to be a short-term thing.
There is a lot to like about Wonder Woman. The DC Comics Wiki points out that Wonder Woman is an immortal from the Amazons of Greek Mythology. She is a superhero. She has super human strength and speed. Her weapon is the golden Lasso of Truth, a magical rope that forces anyone it captures to obey and tell the truth.
Wonder Woman believes that the truth itself has great value. That’s something well worth pointing out in a time when people scream “fake news” at anything they happen to disagree with.
Wonder Woman’s time as a United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Girls and Women was never intended to last forever. NPR reported on December 13, 2016, that Jeffery Brez, a United Nations official, said that they always knew the Wonder Woman campaign would end in December of 2016. They decided on December 16 as the end because the holidays were coming up. The end date was not immediately announced to the public.
A petition was posted on Care2. It was titled “Reconsider the Choice of Wonder Woman as the UN’s Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls”. The creators of the petition were “Concerned United Nations staff members”. Part of the petition described Wonder Woman as:
…Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent “warrior” woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots – the epitome of a “pin-up” girl…
The petition later described Wonder Woman as “a character with an overtly sexualized image.” The petitioners also said Wonder Woman was “not culturally encompassing or sensitive.” It appears that the goal of the petition was not only calling for the United Nations to take away Wonder Woman’s temporary title of Honorary Ambassador of the Empowerment of Women and Girls, but also to replace her with a real-life female role model.
While I agree that it would be a great idea for the United Nations to give a real-life woman the title of Honorary Ambassador of the Empowerment of Women and Girls, I don’t see why the UN couldn’t do that after Wonder Woman’s temporary ambassadorship had ended. To me, it makes no sense to create this much drama over a situation that was never meant to last forever.
As a result, on December 13, 2016, the United Nations dropped Wonder Woman as an ambassador for empowering girls and women. Her temporary, Honorary Ambassadorship was cut short. What does this teach girls?
It teaches girls that not even a fictional female superhero is exempt from being negatively critiqued after being given an important title. The petition creators body shamed Wonder Woman for having large breasts, and they slut-shamed her for wearing what amounts to a one-piece swimsuit and boots.
The United Nations wanted to use Wonder Woman as an example to inspire women and girls. They selected Wonder Woman because she is powerful, and capable, and able to solve problems on her own (or as part of a team). But, the world showed women and girls that none of that matters if your body, or your clothing, make some people uncomfortable.