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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

"Sexy" Bad Ass Women - Wonder Woman Removed As UN Ambassador

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The online petition signed by 45,000 people read thus:

"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”

I found this slowly rolling controversy, and now its surprise ending interesting. Aside from the weird corporatization of the UN and it's social justice initiatives - using the UN as a marketing tool for DC comics and the upcoming movie...it is something I just don't know enough about to untangle, but does seem a little off - there is the encapsulated oxymoron of Wonder Woman herself, who is at the heart of the controversy. Female power or autonomy cast or re-cast into highly sexualized (usually male gaze) terms. 

Read about the UN decision to un-deputize Wonder Woman here

This is the thing we recognize. Wonder Woman embodies much of the "female fighter" dynamic that affords opportunities to fighting women in so far as they ALSO serve as male sexual fantasy objects...or are just "hot". It's always seemed to me that this is re-sexualization of the liberated, and ass-kicking woman is a sort of re-domestication of real, growing female power in the world. As women receive actual power in the world (rights, financial resources, decision making positions authority, etc), I feel like this shift in power becomes symbolized in culture, among other things, as fighting power. The autonomy of violence, in a contest of violence and wills, stands for all sorts of real world shifts towards women. But...this symbolized autonomy itself is recaptured as sexual fantasy. The new subject is given a hall pass to opportunities only in so far as she also grounds (largely male) sexual excitement...or at least its possibility. De-territorization, re-territorialization. We get it. This compromise of culture is a somewhat better exchange than the more Old School market conditions: Woman, you can have your freedom of self, but only in so far as you are also demonized: a witch, a whore, a slut, a fatty, a commie, or whatever, something we might call the Medusa Trade. Your freedom is the freedom to become a monster of some sort. In Wonder Woman instead we have a kind of acme of exchange. Your freedom, your autonomy is in exchange of becoming a hero, a hot hero...but still a hero.

So here, in Wonder Woman and the UN we have this contradiction coming around full force. She no doubt was going to be used in sophisticated and highly coordinated campaigns that would have exposed the world of women and girls, Nations across the Continents, to the image of a fighting woman. A woman who literally fights, and conquers. Spread through media channels that maybe don't always carry such hyperbolic images of physical prowess for women, coupled with a healthy slather of Capitalist enterprise no doubt, this would have been an unprecedented measure of female fighter fantasy put to social awareness and social change. In all her years on paper, since 1941, and the causes she championed and represented, this would have been a chance to jump the gap and cross into policy itself. Kind of amazing. But...and here is the but...you would have to do this looking more or less like a sex-bot.

Ultimately, I'm not entirely sure how I feel, because progress does not always progress along clean lines, and sometimes it is filled with oxymoric tensions. We like to think in principles: clean, outlined Ideas. And the world is much more twisted than that. More, movements toward freedoms, are usually issues of tempo. It's not: Is it right for Woman Woman to represent UN awareness and policy towards female rights and abuse? It's: Is now the right time for for Woman Woman to represent UN awareness and policy towards female rights and abuse?

 

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I don't know how I feel about this either. It's also interesting timing due to the presidential election we've just been dragged through, the same sentiment of "we want a woman, but not this woman," albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of what's "wrong" with her. Women just can't fucking win. And I don't know that having Wonder Woman, as she is depicted, will translate well across cultures as the UN would hope for. There are zero comic book women I can think of who aren't of this same ilk - maybe Ghost World? - so choosing a comic heroin is kind of a non-starter to begin with. It's just weird, from the suggestion to the rejection, the whole thing is weird.

Can't we have Serena Williams?

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I'm not sure how I feel either, I mean OK her aesthetic is sexy, but why cant someone be sexy and a warrior? Also yes it is a comic and odd in the first instance..

 

Sure, you can be sexy and a warrior. But, can you be a warrior, and not be pop culture "sexy"...is there room for that? Or...as is the case with many men, can you be sexy because you are a warrior, the fighting spirit transcending more conventional ideals of sexy or beauty. If you look at Hollywood action stars, many of them get their sexy glow from their action quality, on film. It becomes an aura of attractiveness, it confers charisma.

This was the mission of the Wonder Woman campaign:

Providing equal rights and opportunities will unleash the power and potential of women and girls everywhere. And we have to, because it’s our only pathway to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and leaving no one behind by 2030.

On 21 October 2016, the character of Wonder Woman was designated as Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, in support of Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

The Wonder Woman campaign highlights 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.

source

Would WW be the visual example of "...every day by overcoming barriers and beating the odds to reach their goals", even to women and girls of different cultures?

Interestingly, male action (and even just actor) stars are starring to be comic booked out, in terms of physique, a really good article: Building a Bigger Action Hero

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Isn’t it an important message to send to girls and women that they can control how they dress, how they look, how sexy they want to be and that they have ownership over their own bodies? I feel like the UN just sexy-shamed Wonder Woman. Like, how dare a sexy woman (a fictional character!) want to stand up for girls and women around the world? Get thee to a nunnery, Wonder Woman! You cannot have cleavage AND fight for women’s rights, don’t you know?

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Isn’t it an important message to send to girls and women that they can control how they dress, how they look, how sexy they want to be and that they have ownership over their own bodies? I feel like the UN just sexy-shamed Wonder Woman. Like, how dare a sexy woman (a fictional character!) want to stand up for girls and women around the world? Get thee to a nunnery, Wonder Woman! You cannot have cleavage AND fight for women’s rights, don’t you know?

The way they word it, it seems like its not because she herself is sexy, but because she is sexualized and objectified by some ominous third party. Rendered in the passive form, perceived as a recipient. I'm not sure what could satisfy all parties in this one. A woman who could be sexy but chooses not to be as not to be sexualized? It does sound a bit nunish doesn't it lol

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Isn’t it an important message to send to girls and women that they can control how they dress, how they look, how sexy they want to be and that they have ownership over their own bodies? I feel like the UN just sexy-shamed Wonder Woman. Like, how dare a sexy woman (a fictional character!) want to stand up for girls and women around the world? Get thee to a nunnery, Wonder Woman! You cannot have cleavage AND fight for women’s rights, don’t you know?

 

There is a sort of catch 22 here. We are pretending that WW is an actual person, instead of a commercialized product -- and in this case, part of a marketed big Hollywood movie that will be coming out, to coincide with this humanitarian work -- yeah, it is great if WW wants to wear what she wants to wear...but WW isn't a person, she's a character invented by a man, and drawn for boys and men (largely). What she wears is really what women in the comic (and video game) universe HAVE to wear, if they want to be viable products.

I think what maybe would best would be something like this: If you gave the assignment to artists to come up with a character that embodies the ideals that the UN is putting forward, would any of them come up with something that looks like Wonder Woman? This is something that is supposed to represent forward thinking in cultures all over the world. I'm not really sure that a woman wearing a USA flag as a bikini is the best for this. Not that WW isn't awesome, and the USA isn't awesome. This just seems a pretty big stretch. For those that are already familiar with her story, and know her to be a high moral fiber saint of a woman, the notion of a contradiction may not seem to make sense. But remember, not everyone knows who Wonder Woman is.

If you anyone wants to read up on the remarkable inception of WW, this is the book to read: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

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Isn’t it an important message to send to girls and women that they can control how they dress, how they look, how sexy they want to be and that they have ownership over their own bodies?

 

There was this amazing, and incredible ironic photo where French police forced a woman to disrobe (partially) because she wasn't "sexy" enough...ie, was covering up her body in accordance with the modesty and custom of her religion.

4252.jpg?w=620&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&f

 

Yes, you want women to be free with their bodies, and to be able to control how they dress. But this would mean also controlling how dressed they want to be as well, not being forced to conform to pressures and codes of sex appeal. Here it is done by the police, in an almost absurd scene, but of course it happens in culture too.

Where the UN may have to make its deepest inroads is in cultures where public modesty is a serious issue.

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There was this amazing, and incredible ironic photo where French police forced a woman to disrobe (partially) because she wasn't "sexy" enough...ie, was covering up her body in accordance with the modesty and custom of her religion.

4252.jpg?w=620&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&f

 

Yes, you want women to be free with their bodies, and to be able to control how they dress. But this would mean also controlling how dressed they want to be as well, not being forced to conform to pressures and codes of sex appeal. Here it is done by the police, in an almost absurd scene, but of course it happens in culture too.

Where the UN may have to make its deepest inroads is in cultures where public modesty is a serious issue.

 

 

Whilst I agree that what they did to that woman was awful, it wasnt because she wasnt sexy enough, it was because she was wearing something that had been banned due to religious associations. France and Holland have banned the burqua in public spaces. That is another debate entirely, bust it is one that is happening more frequently in Europe, as there is alot of anti islam feeling here.

I think they used WW as she is an already famous pop culture figure. Ok so she many have been created with males in mind, but that doesn't mean her message cannot be changed to represent something else.  

I think it is necessary and possible that all types of womens dress is allowed and that includes sexy. 

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Whilst I agree that what they did to that woman was awful, it wasnt because she wasnt sexy enough, it was because she was wearing something that had been banned due to religious associations. France and Holland have banned the burqua in public spaces. 

 

That might have been the technical, legal reason, but this does ignore the very subtle fact that the removal of clothing, and the showing of the female body is essentially the customary dress on a French beach. This is "normal". Everyone does it, it is a socially sexualized place to a large degree, where bodies are watched and judged for attractiveness. I somehow doubt that 4 police officers would have approached this Muslim woman if she was wearing her burkini, walking down the street. It was only in contrast to the public (quietly sexualized) norm that she stood out. I'd also say that because a traditional Muslim perspective codifies the body differently than we do in the west, forcing a woman to strip off her clothing and make her arms bare is indeed forcing her to "be more sexy" (or expose parts of her body which may incite sexual response). This really is no different than if western woman was forced to remove her bikini top...from the perspective of the woman who is submitted to this demand. It is ostensibly a police demand to "be more sexy" for her.

re: "I think they used WW as she is an already famous pop culture figure."

Of course, but she is a famous western pop culture figure. Do you think she is famous, and embraced for her values in Kurdistan? Or in Somalia? I imagine that the UN would want someone who transcends culture to some degree, and does not represent one.

re: "I think it is necessary and possible that all types of womens dress is allowed and that includes sexy."

I think that there is a difference between what is allowed, and what is celebrated. I think it would be awesome if sartorial choice and autonomy could be celebrated, but there are differing standards in cultures. I guess I would ask this: Would a topless female character, with very enhanced breasts and prominent nipples be suitable for a UN campaign to raise awareness about female violence? I'm not saying such a character would categorically not be, but I am saying that we are very accustomed to the state of undress, and hypersexualizing of female "bad ass" women. It's not just a case of: Let Wonder Woman wear what she wants.

Here is an interesting example of another woman who chooses to wear less when she goes into battle, humorously juxtaposed below:

video-game-armor.png

I'm not sure that we can, or even should, separate these kinds of by-men-for-men illustrative examples, when discussing the kinds of powerful and widespread violence against women that the UN is trying to make us aware of. This is not even considering the fact that so many woman don't have these kinds of bodies, and we should ask how much we want to hold these bodies types as ideals of female power.

I cannot help but feel that rather universal by-men-for-men depictions like the one above are connected to the below (taken from a UN UNiTE Campaign):

UN-stats-on-female-violence-e14818019047

 

It just feels like the issues of liberation are ethically, and perhaps rightfully, being drawn in two directions, enough that it doesn't really make sense for the campaign to be represented by a character who problemizes ideals of liberty for many committed to the cause.

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That might have been the technical, legal reason, but this does ignore the very subtle fact that the removal of clothing, and the showing of the female body is essentially the customary dress on a French beach. This is "normal". Everyone does it, it is a socially sexualized place to a large degree, where bodies are watched and judged for attractiveness. I somehow doubt that 4 police officers would have approached this Muslim woman if she was wearing her burkini, walking down the street.

I think in the context of the United Nations pursuing the rights of women across the different cultures of the world, it is ill advised to treat scenarios like this as a counterweight to the social challenges faced by women that go in the oppose direction at much greater scale and magnitude. Countries which ban religious symbols like the niqab and burqa also ban symbols which have no bearing on ones perceived sexuality such as cross necklaces. It happens in settings like classrooms which are in no way sexualized. A woman who goes to the beach in a hoodie and track pants, a religion-free "desexualization," are at no risk of cops coming to enforce a "resexualization." There are indeed social pressures on people to conform to ideals of physical attraction which are often unrealistic, but specifically in the context of addressing global disadvantages that affect women I think it is appropriate to prioritize corporal autonomy.

 

 

I imagine that the UN would want someone who transcends culture to some degree, and does not represent one.

I think that there is a difference between what is allowed, and what is celebrated. I think it would be awesome if sartorial choice and autonomy could be celebrated, but there are differing standards in cultures. I guess I would ask this: Would a topless female character, with very enhanced breasts and prominent nipples be suitable for a UN campaign to raise awareness about female violence? I'm not saying such a character would categorically not be, but I am saying that we are very accustomed to the state of undress, and hypersexualizing of female "bad ass" women. It's not just a case of: Let Wonder Woman wear what she wants.re: "I think it is necessary and possible that all types of womens dress is allowed and that includes sexy."

Here is an interesting example of another woman who chooses to wear less when she goes into battle, humorously juxtaposed below:

 

I'm not sure that we can, or even should, separate these kinds of by-men-for-men illustrative examples, when discussing the kinds of powerful and widespread violence against women that the UN is trying to make us aware of. This is not even considering the fact that so many woman don't have these kinds of bodies, and we should ask how much we want to hold these bodies types as ideals of female power.

Ya, I agree, I would never nominate Wonder Woman for the position for this reason alone. I'm still not sure what kind of figure the UN should go with, assuming they don't just sweep this controversy under the rug and forego choosing a replacement.

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I think in the context of the United Nations pursuing the rights of women across the different cultures of the world, it is ill advised to treat scenarios like this as a counterweight to the social challenges faced by women that go in the oppose direction at much greater scale and magnitude. Countries which ban religious symbols like the niqab and burqa also ban symbols which have no bearing on ones perceived sexuality such as cross necklaces. It happens in settings like classrooms which are in no way sexualized.

 

Why would that be ill-advised. For me it comes back down to the experience of the woman. We are talking about women's rights here, right? I cannot quite get my head wrapped around the incredible irony that an armed police force is forcing a woman to strip down, and to BE more sexy. It doesn't really matter if the police (or law makers) feel this is their motive. What matters is that the woman who is submitted to it experiences it. It is a violation of her modesty (let's assume she holds traditional values about herself). You are forcing a woman to bare herself. This is not categorically different, at least in my mind, than forcing women to experience all kinds of things that they find violating, or humiliating, but that men (just to generalize) or others of the culture, just find to be no big deal. "Hey baby, you should take it as a compliment", or "It's just a joke...lighten up." or..."Just a little advice, you'll probably do better in the company if you wear a little lipstick" are all of this sort. You have authority deriving itself from what is customary, often with a strong skew towards male experiences, imposing itself upon a woman's sense of her own sexual decency. It doesn't matter if the object is just to remove religiously coded symbols, if the imposed removal (or imposition) is experienced as a sexualization by the woman, then these are all of the same class.

[edit: added] In fact I would argue that the hijab brings us full circle. One of the more notable cross-cultural difficulties that the IFMA faced was whether to allow the hijab as official dress for Muay Thai fights (they ultimately did allow it). Many argue that it represents a dis-empowerment of women, but others argue that by taking on this symbolic modesty Muslim women then are freed to empower themselves through fighting. I'm not sure who is more constrained: A western fighter who doesn't really want to take "sexy" photos with glossy lipstick, suggestive poses and belts all draped around her, because she has to be a sexy bad ass in order to be given opportunities in the world as a fighter, or a Muslim fighter who must don a hijab to indicate her modesty if she is going to transgress so many customary gender norms. My point is BOTH are being forced to conform to male expectations and ideals...and that is due to how each culture and custom hyper-sexualizes the female body, and thus ultimately the female subject.

And equally so, there are women who feel empowered by being super sexy, and women who feel empowered by modesty.

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 I'm still not sure what kind of figure the UN should go with, assuming they don't just sweep this controversy under the rug and forego choosing a replacement.

 

I suspect that this was more a cross-marketing campaign from the studios and DC, more than a need from the UN, though one article pointed out that they used Angry Birds for a one-day campaign...maybe they are actively pursuing mass media counterparts for their awareness campaigns.

red-Angry-Birds.png?resize=887%2C563

 

A reasonable character might be Korra of the Last Avatar series. Not only is she more realistically dressed, she blends ethnicities, though probably is not without critics.

2698639-legend-of-korra-review_1920_2014

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Why would that be ill-advised. For me it comes back down to the experience of the woman. We are talking about women's rights here, right? I cannot quite get my head wrapped around the incredible irony that an armed police force is forcing a woman to strip down, and to BE more sexy. It doesn't really matter if the police (or law makers) feel this is their motive. What matters is that the woman who is submitted to it experiences it. It is a violation of her modesty (let's assume she holds traditional values about herself). You are forcing a woman to bare herself. This is not categorically different, at least in my mind, than forcing women to experience all kinds of things that they find violating, or humiliating, but that men (just to generalize) or others of the culture, just find to be no big deal. "Hey baby, you should take it as a compliment", or "It's just a joke...lighten up." or..."Just a little advice, you'll probably do better in the company if you wear a little lipstick" are all of this sort. You have authority deriving itself from what is customary, often with a strong skew towards male experiences, imposing itself upon a woman's sense of her own sexual decency. It doesn't matter if the object is just to remove religiously coded symbols, if the imposed removal (or imposition) is experienced as a sexualization by the woman, then these are all of the same class.

[edit: added] In fact I would argue that the hijab brings us full circle. One of the more notable cross-cultural difficulties that the IFMA faced was whether to allow the hijab as official dress for Muay Thai fights (they ultimately did allow it). Many argue that it represents a dis-empowerment of women, but others argue that by taking on this symbolic modesty Muslim women then are freed to empower themselves through fighting. I'm not sure who is more constrained: A western fighter who doesn't really want to take "sexy" photos with glossy lipstick, suggestive poses and belts all draped around her, because she has to be a sexy bad ass in order to be given opportunities in the world as a fighter, or a Muslim fighter who must don a hijab to indicate her modesty if she is going to transgress so many customary gender norms. My point is BOTH are being forced to conform to male expectations and ideals...and that is due to how each culture and custom hyper-sexualizes the female body, and thus ultimately the female subject.

And equally so, there are women who feel empowered by being super sexy, and women who feel empowered by modesty.

 

 

Honestly they were not making her strip to be more sexy. 

As I said before, they were making her remove it as it has religious connotations and as WaffleNinja said if she had turned up in full coverage non religious associated clothing, like a tracksuit, it wouldn't have happened. People in Europe are banning the Burqua, not because of its not sexy.  They are doing so because in the case of France, as a secular nation they do not want people wearing religious clothing in public places. I have seen women asked to take their veils off in airports and in banks, for security reasons. I do not agree with their policy. But it has nothing to do with sexuality in the way you are describing it. 

Also, on my travels I have met many people who know who WW is, I have a T shirt with the symbol on, and in Nigeria, India and Thailand lots of people recognised it. I like wearing superhero tees when abroad as they also end up being a talking point/ice breaker especially with children when I'm doing charity work. 

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Kevin, I was just watching a documentary called 'Miss Representation' and something that Caroline Heldman said during it reminded me of this post:

"..We also see this new incarnation..where women appear to be empowered. They're carrying the story, they're the action hero, but when you peel back a layer or two, you discover that it's not really about their agency. I call this archetype 'the fighting fuck toy' because even though she is doing things supposedly on her own terms, she is very much objectified and exists for the male viewer."

She talks about this more in this post on her website:

"Fighting fuck toys are hyper-sexualized female protagonists who are able to “kick ass” (and kill) with the best of them. The FFT appears empowered, but her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency, weds it to normalized male violence, and appropriates it for the male gaze."

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Kevin, I was just watching a documentary called 'Miss Representation' and something that Caroline Heldman said during it reminded me of this post:

"..We also see this new incarnation..where women appear to be empowered. They're carrying the story, they're the action hero, but when you peel back a layer or two, you discover that it's not really about their agency. I call this archetype 'the fighting fuck toy' because even though she is doing things supposedly on her own terms, she is very much objectified and exists for the male viewer."

She talks about this more in this post on her website:

"Fighting fuck toys are hyper-sexualized female protagonists who are able to “kick ass” (and kill) with the best of them. The FFT appears empowered, but her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency, weds it to normalized male violence, and appropriates it for the male gaze."

OMG FFT is my new favorite acronym.  So good thanks Emma.

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"Fighting fuck toys are hyper-sexualized female protagonists who are able to “kick ass” (and kill) with the best of them. The FFT appears empowered, but her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency, weds it to normalized male violence, and appropriates it for the male gaze."

 

I believe we watched that doc too. I do think that this re-sexualization of female agency is an essential western response to the real developments in real power for women: legal, financial, political, commercial, etc. This new potency which is unsettling the legacy ruling class is recaptured and embodied in the FFT trope. She is everywhere. Comic books, MMA, the proliferation of the Dominatrix (in a variety of aesthetic forms). All of this to come to grips with...and get a grip on female ascendance. This does feel like a natural (problematic word, I know) response to this shift, a re-integration, subsuming the new. It makes it very difficult to take perspective on. It is both liberty and not-liberty.

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