Wonder Woman's skills aren't real-world magic

November 2016 - By Carolyn Dale

The first woman to run for U.S. president on a major party ticket is wrapping up her campaign, and one blessing about "firsts" is that they do end. Whatever lucky woman gets to do this in the future won't be quite as visible or notable.

Or targeted: Inevitably, Hillary Clinton has become the focus for the discomforts people feel when women move into new and more powerful roles. She has prevailed in such a historical struggle that at first I was offended and puzzled when the United Nations chose Wonder Woman—a comic book character with a movie coming out in June—as honorary ambassador for the empowerment of girls and women around the world.

Don't we have some real women who can fit that role? Wonder Woman's selection has inspired protests, especially because she's fictional and scantily clad. Once again, women are handed a contradictory and highly sexualized image to emulate.

Talk about mixed messages: She wears a swimsuit with along with her magical armor. And, since she is depicted as white, dark-haired, and quite beautiful, she resembles Donald Trump's wife, Melania, more than anyone else in the presidential campaign, especially that older woman clad in a pants suit.

Wonder Woman did wear a longish skirt back in 1942, when she made her debut. At the time, she got to join the League of Justice—as its secretary. But she's been shown in her traditional scanty apparel each time she's appeared on the cover of Ms. Magazine, including its first cover in 1972, which advocated: "Wonder Woman for President."

Okay, if she's going to run for president, she's got to handle those debates, as well as a few other challenges on both the campaign trail and the long road getting there. How would she do, facing the challenges of our more mundane mortal lives?

Let's imagine Wonder Woman facing off with Donald Trump in the three recent debates, far less glamorous battles than most that our cartoon heroine gets to fight. By contrast, they recall the daily disrespect many working women face, such as being constantly interrupted, rated on a scale of physical attractiveness, embued with evil powers, and nicknamed by a single characteristic. Come to think of it, Wonder Woman has been through a bit of that.

I admire that Clinton has handled the abuse and insults. She even won a compliment from Trump that "She's a fighter" who doesn't quit. And she did this without Wonder Woman's magic tools.

When battling cosmic-league evil-doers, Wonder Woman throws a magic tiara that turns into a cutting blade, draws on amazon bracelets for amazing strength, and ropes enemies with a Golden Lasso that makes them speak only the truth. That lasso, especially, would have been very useful during the campaign.

Several other "firsts" of this presidential campaign also make me wish a superhero were around to clear the air. This has been the first time a candidate, in this case a Republican male, has: threatened to throw his opponent in jail, if he wins; called her "The Devil"; made nuanced death threats; and prompted professional athletes to defend locker room talk as more decent than the boasting about sexual assault. This is also the first time a presidential candidate's spouse has appeared in a nude photo shoot.

And it's the first time the Russian government has interfered in U.S. elections—and been encouraged to do so by a presidential candidate. This last item does rise to the level of what the League of Justice fights, especially when it comes to international spies.

One advantage that may come over time from these ugly firsts is that the patterns, especially the ones denigrating women, are out in the open and are being identified, and the harmful intentions and resulting damage are becoming articulated. On the other hand, if Trump were to win the presidency, those same behaviors would be legitimized as having gone through a trial by public opinion and found to be acceptable.

For those of us women who have fought over the years to enter jobs and professions formerly closed to us, to succeed at work under constant scrutiny and assurances that we're inadequate to the task, and to speak through interruptions and resist disparagements —we're never immune to the dark fear and frustration of that struggle, the foreboding that the injustices will return and prevail.

This is a deep hurt that bullies can inflict, but it may not be as effective with younger women who've grown up with more rights assured by law and cultural practice. I hope their fear is not as immediate, and that it seems unlikely and implausible that their equality in society and before the law could be eroded.

Many real women are feeling hurt and disgusted; First Lady Michelle Obama said she was "shaken to my core." Many writers now say the country needs to heal, and part of Wonder Woman's ethos is to be loving and able to heal others. But how does she do that, in a non-magical way? What guidance can we find with her?

Women traditionally are nurturers in society, and Clinton understands what it's like to be a mother, to be married, to be pregnant and raise a child, and to balance all of this with working at a job. These experiences are all outside of Wonder Woman's realm. Yet they impart unique strengths and insights.

Back when Wonder Woman first appeared on the cover of Ms., feminist wisdom observed, "The personal is political, and the political is personal." Recent decades have borne out the truth in that.

Wonder Woman's fictional legacy does draw on deep, delightful roots in Greek mythology and the stories of Amazonian women who protected Man's World. (Why did they? I always wonder.) It's crucial for women leaders to pass on their wisdom and power by mentoring, aiding, and inspiring girls and women and girls, so Wonder Woman would make a great ambassador for the goddesses-in-training out there.

Win or lose, Clinton can be a mentor, too, to women at a range of political levels, including the next woman who may gain a presidential nomination. Clinton did not get to this place solely on her own. Past her husband's coattails are the other women who have run for president on minor party tickets and for vice president on the major ones. Once she's walked through the door, she needs to turn and guide the others who will follow.

I wonder if Wonder Woman could do all of these jobs befalling the first woman running a major presidential bid. Can she withstand the monotony and sheer toil typical of women's work around the world? Does she deal well with daily disparagement, or lack of equality in pay and legal rights? How would she balance home, marriage, and children against the job demands of the League of Justice? And how would she deal with a superhero husband?

In fact, does Wonder Woman really have what it takes to run for U.S. president? We've seen the real thing, and the true story is better than fiction.

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