Evolution Of Wonder Woman: From Male Gaze To Feminist

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In this paper, I will be discussing the visual representation of women in superhero comic books and focusing particularly on the visual evolution of Wonder Woman, the most popular female superhero with the longest publication history of any female superhero to date. From 1941 to his death in 1947, all Wonder Woman stories were written by psychologist William Marston. He criticized the comic book industry for its male-centric focus and believed that femininity was more superior to masculinity. His aim was to create a “feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman” (Fretheim, 2017). The reason that Wonder Woman is such an important icon in comic book history is because she appeals to both female readers, as a feministic ideal of strength, power and justice, and to male readers, as a sexy woman. Zechowski and Neumann talk about the social impact of Wonder Woman in their article “The Mother of All Superheroes: Idealizations of Femininity in Wonder Woman” and compare the pros and cons in Wonder Woman’s character. Their article argues that Wonder Woman is both an icon that champions feminist ideals as well as a sexualized stereotype of female oppression in a male dominant society (Loeffert, 2017). 

On one hand, Wonder Woman signifies strength and gender equality. In 1972, her image has been used as an icon with a banner reading “Wonder Woman for President” for the second wave feminism. She symbolically disrupted the gender norms that had prevented real women from achieving full equality with men which was one of the main focuses of second wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. On the other hand, Wonder Woman also represents the continuing imbalance of gender equality. Her contradictions are apparent as she combats the evils of patriarchy while embodying the idealized female form. Despite her sex appeal, Wonder Woman provided a new context for children to re-assess gender roles. In Marston’s time, there was a need for strong female representations in comic books, therefore, he created Wonder Woman. Today, that need still exists, but has grown to incorporate the inclusion of all women who have been previously marginalized, rather than just Marston’s ideal. Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” states that the reader seeks to identify with the character in the book therefore, female readers need a female character that represents realistic values and healthy body ideals. While it is true that males and females in comics are represented in their idealized forms, there is an obvious sexual imbalance as the female features are more often exaggerated than male features. In a world ruled by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking is divided between active (male) and passive (female) (Loeffert, 2017). Female characters are created so that men may look at them. 

The male gaze projects its fantasy of what a female should embody, then, is projected onto that character (Loeffert, 2017). Comics have been objectifying women’s bodies since their beginnings in the 1930s, but recently, the public is starting to push back. One example that has made headlines in comic news in recent years is a public uproar over sexualized portrayals of the female character Mary Jane from The Amazing Spider-Man series. The cover drawn by J. Scott Campbell portrays Mary Jane posing in a ‘relaxed’ but sexually provocative way and many fans have responded negatively. A series of parodic images were released in which fans tried to contort themselves into Mary Jane’s pose which proves that her so-called ‘relaxed’ pose is in fact nothing of this sort (Loeffert, 2017). This performance pose assumes the male gaze of the male reader projecting his fantasies onto the female form (Loeffert, 2017). 

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Evolution Of Wonder Woman: From Male Gaze To Feminist. (2021, October 26). WritingBros. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/evolution-of-wonder-woman-from-male-gaze-to-feminist/
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Evolution Of Wonder Woman: From Male Gaze To Feminist [Internet]. WritingBros. 2021 Oct 26 [cited 2024 Jun 25]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/evolution-of-wonder-woman-from-male-gaze-to-feminist/
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