UNITED NATIONS —
The animated superhero Wonder Woman turned 75 Friday and celebrated at the United Nations, where she was appointed Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.
“Wonder Woman is an icon,” said Cristina Gallach, the U.N. under-secretary-general for communications and public information, at the designation ceremony. “She has been known for her commitment to justice, peace and equality.”
Gallach said Wonder Woman will help the U.N. reach new audiences with important messages about empowerment and equality. She will front a new campaign with the theme: “Think of all the wonders we can do.”
But the choice of the sexualized and scantily clad warrior to represent women’s empowerment did not go over well with some U.N. workers, who circulated an online petition discouraging the choice. It has received more than 1,000 signatures.
“It is alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualized image at a time when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls,” the petition reads.
Much of the recent discussion around the U.S. presidential election has focused on Republican nominee Donald Trump’s objectification of and alleged inappropriate behavior toward women, as well as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s alleged disparagement of women who accused her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of sexual harassment.
“The bottom line appears to be that the United Nations was unable to find a real-life woman that would be able to champion the rights of ALL women on the issue of gender equality and the fight for their empowerment,” the U.N. petition said.
About 75 female and male staff members protested, Oct. 21, 2016, in the U.N. lobby before the designation of Wonder Woman as a U.N. Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.
‘Let’s get real’
About 75 female and male staffers protested silently in the U.N. lobby before the designation event. Some carried small signs that read, “I am not a mascot” and “Let’s get real.”
“At a time when we are trying to promote gender equality and get more girls and young women involved in predominantly male professions, choosing some comic character like Wonder Woman to represent all these women really flies in the face of all these ideas,” said Slavica, one of the protesters. "It’s just very counter-productive; it’s very degrading to women.”
Many of the staffers continued their silent demonstration during the ceremony, standing in the public gallery with their backs to the event and holding their right fists in the air.
The U.N., which has some catching up to do with gender parity in its employment practices, has set a goal of surpassing 40 percent female staff by 2020 and achieving a 50-50 split among staff by 2030.
But young fans at the event seemed unfazed by the controversy.
‘She represents empowerment’
“What matters is that she represents empowerment for women all over the world,” said Kit, 15, a high school student in Manhattan who was with a group of Girl Scouts at the event.
“People say that Wonder Woman is too voluptuous, she shows too much skin, I think young children don’t see that,” Kit said. “They just look at what she can do; they are looking at her characteristics not her physical appearance — and I think that’s the beauty of Wonder Woman.”
Kailey, 16, another high school student from Manhattan’s Chinatown, said the choice of Wonder Woman is “really awesome and really cool.”
“I feel like it’s helping girls all over the world know they can be more, and they can do things they are not pressured to do, and they can be their own persons,” she added.
Wonder Woman was appointed a United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, Oct. 21, 2016. She will front a campaign with the theme: "Think of all the wonders we can do." (M.Besheer/VOA)
Wonder Woman’s story
For those unfamiliar with the back story of the lady warrior in the star-spangled bathing suit and red knee-high boots, she wields a Golden Lasso of Truth, wears bulletproof bracelets and has superhuman strength. She is Princess Diana, descended from the immortal Amazons of Greek mythology.
Created in 1941, during World War II, by an American psychologist and his wife, she moves to the wider world when an American military pilot’s plane crashes on her isolated island. She returns to civilization with him, where she fights evil and injustice.
Her popularity extended from the pages of comic books to the U.S. television screen in the 1970s. She was portrayed by American actress Lynda Carter, who was at the U.N. celebration and spoke about how groundbreaking the television show was 40 years ago.
“This was a momentous thing, because at the time there were very few women holding their own shows in television,” she said.
Carter says Wonder Woman transcends the page and screen.
“Wonder Woman lives, do not doubt it. She lives in every woman,” she said. “Wonder Woman helps bring out the inner strength every woman has.”
Next year, Wonder Woman will return to the big screen, when Warner Bros releases a new film about the superhero staring Israeli actress Gal Gadot.