Great Hera! Wonder Woman and Taking Women’s Power Back from the Mainstream Media by Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyns new lookWhen I was a teen in the 1970s, Wonder Woman was everywhere. A feminist cheerfully determined to right the world’s wrongs, especially against women, she boldly sprinted onto the cover of Ms. Magazine’s 1972 inaugural issue. Her tv series spun off toys, t-shirts, action figures, lunch boxes, and more. Now she’s back. Jill Lepore’s new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, tells of her bizarre 1940s creation and subsequent history. In 2016, a revamped Wonder Woman will be sword-fighting her way into movie theaters worldwide in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

ms coverWonder Woman is just one of many currently popular women warriors or superheras, including the X-Men series’ female super-mutants, the Hunger Games’ lead character, the women warriors in the Avatar tv series, and many more, whose power comes from the ability to fight.  Even Snow White became a martial arts expert in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsmen. Like Wonder Woman’s recent regeneration, however, these characters seem grimmer, and more deadly, violent, and dystopian than the earlier Wonder Woman with her optimistic, colorful comic book style, and an innocence that would now seem naive.

While fictional superheras may seem trivial in our world with so much real-life oppression and suffering, the popularity of characters with superpowers who repeatedly vanquish villains to save the world attests to their widespread and deeply-embedded appeal. More importantly, millions of young women and girls worldwide spend countless hours watching them and learning their subtle lessons. For some, these characters may be the only role models of powerful women they have.

secret historyBut what messages about women’s power do these characters really convey? Power based on the ability to fight and cause harm or death is integral to the pervasive patriarchal culture that inflicts rape, injury, and murder to oppress women. Admiring characters who are part of an ideology responsible for the brutalization of women can never lead to the inner strength, wisdom, groundedness, and happiness that are the hallmarks of control over one’s life and the ability to transform society for the better.

A more lasting, truer women’s power to positively transform on the most essential levels of both the individual and society does, of course, exist and is wielded by millions of women every day. The tools of the women who possess this power are their voices, minds, spirits, strong connection to the Earth and nature, courage to demand justice, and ability to inspire and heal. Women shamans, women’s governing councils, informal women community leaders, artists, and activists demanding ecological sanity and social justice – these are the real superheras who are coming to the world’s rescue.

Still, as we define and forward true women’s power — whether as scholars uncovering ancient goddesses and historical figures, writers and artists creating heras for our time, or teachers offering rituals and spiritual practices to girls and young women – perhaps there are still lessons we can learn from that earlier, vastly popular Wonder Woman so many of us remember.

Wonder Woman’s home is on an island inhabited by the Amazons, who, in the Wonder Woman universe, are a peaceful, all-woman, ecologically-sustainable utopian society. In order to effectively  activate inner power to navigate yourself through life, it is helpful to have a clear vision of what your ultimate destination is even if your vision changes over time.  I wonder if we, as a community of feminist religious and spiritual women, spend enough time envisioning the planet we are working so hard to bring into being for future generations and articulating what life in such a place might be like.

Wonder Woman was created in World War II, when propaganda, lies, and mass delusions led to genocide and other atrocities which we still see today. Unlike other superhero weapons that merely kill better, Wonder Woman’s Lasso, which compels anyone caught in it to tell the truth, is actually the kind of tool of transformation that women of real power could use. Truth alone, whether told in stories or  images, can instantly change the dynamics of a situation, making what is right and just obvious. The ability of Twitter, Instagram, and blogs like FAR to proclaim the truth instantly and globally almost makes Wonder Woman’s Lasso a prophetic gift from her to us. May we use it often and well.

Finally, Wonder Woman never doubts that she can save the world. She reminds me of the Susan B. Anthony quote that guided me in my own young womanhood: “Failure is Impossible.” Our challenges are great and survival of our species and our planet is precarious, but when we consider the world in which Anthony lived and the progress made in the relatively short time since then, we, too, can bolster ourselves when hope is fading with the knowledge that great change for the better is possible as long as we keep working.

wonder 2Wonder Woman first emerged in the 1940s when her feminist message was deeply needed, and then again in the 1970s when feminism was burgeoning with opportunity.  Now, in the 21st century, she is arising anew, but this time the message she sends needs to be transformed to reflect women’s true power and what it can achieve.  If Wonder Woman were here, I think she would exclaim “Great Hera! Let’s take back our power from the mainstream media!” and make a whooping sound.

Perhaps we feminist spiritual and religious women can also, each in our own way through fiction, poetry, art, dance, scholarly articles, and more, disseminate even more forcefully a vision of women’s power that doesn’t come in magic swords or the ability to fight, but in healing and creating, in facing down the real sources of death and destruction in our world. As an early version of Wonder Woman herself said, “A  new journey to be started. A new promise to be fulfilled. A new page to be written.”

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog,

Categories: Activism, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Women's Power, Women's Spirituality

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19 replies

  1. Perhaps we feminist spiritual and religious women can ,,, disseminate even more forcefully a vision of women’s power that doesn’t come in magic swords or the ability to fight, but in healing and creating, in facing down the real sources of death and destruction in our world.

    May it be so!


  2. I am sorry but I cannot take seriously any discussion that references a culture-bound cartoon irregardless of how cute the conceits are packaged.


    • Yes, I see your point. Popular culture can be difficult to take seriously. I have tended to ignore it myself until I encountered a young woman who had taken one of these warrior characters as a role model and I saw how influential they can be.


      • Well, popular culture has given rise to SPCBH’s (Self-Proclaimed Comic Book Historians), who
        are said to be pretenders to the throne. If you are revamping your CV, adding SPCBH as
        another notch to your bow could make all the difference in the world.


  3. Thanks for sharing the gifts of Wonder Woman.


  4. You wrote: “Power based on the ability to fight and cause harm or death is integral to the pervasive patriarchal culture that inflicts rape, injury, and murder to oppress women.”

    I think that is a pretty deep (ok, ‘cute’ if you prefer) conceit that you have pointed out. I see it more and more with female fiction characters “We can kick ass as well as the men, even better!” But WHAT are you fighting for in end?

    Eyes on the prize, gals, eyes on the prize. That’s the wonder.

    Thank you for this post, I enjoyed it. Nice way to kick off 2015.


  5. I have always loved Wonder Woman and I hope the new version doesn’t just turn her into some kind of female jock with superpowers. Thanks for using the word “superhera.”

    I wrote about Wonder Woman in my daybook, Pagan Every Day:

    Wonder Woman, Diana Prince—Princess Diana—is a modern American Amazon. Her stories were first written by William Moulton Marston in the December-January, 1941, issue of All Star Comics. Six months later, she had her own comic.

    She was born on Paradise Island, known to no man, and trained in Amazonian martial arts. She wore bulletproof bracelets. Her magic lasso was forged by Hephaestus from links removed from Aphrodite’s Girdle. Her mother was Queen Hippolyta, whom we remember from the story of Theseus.

    The Wonder Woman web site quotes Marston as saying in 1943, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

    The New Original Wonder Woman first aired on ABC on November 7, 1975, starring Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor, Chloris Leachman as the queen, and Debra Winger as Wonder Girl. American war hero, Steve Trevor, is shot down over the Bermuda Triangle and winds up on Paradise Island, where the Amazons hold a contest to determine who will return with him to American and fight the Nazis. Princess Diana wins. She hides her red, white, and blue bustier and shorts under a Navy uniform, and the story continues. The first season, set during World War II, remained faithful to Marston’s original. Today there are other female superheroes, but Wonder Woman was the first and the best. She didn’t kill the villains, and she was honorable in all of her dealings in our flawed modern world.


  6. I absolutely love your post, Carolyn. Thank you so much for starting us off in this new year with a reflection on our creative vision and power. I am also grateful for the bold reminder that “Failure is impossible.” Indeed, we cannot afford to fail and we all have our work and contribution to give.

    I think it is precisely that Wonder Woman is a cultural-bound cartoon that I find the topic important to reflect upon. The changes that different versions of her reflect at the different times she has been highlighted in culture reveal much in terms of the state of our world.

    Thanks, Carolyn, for this post – I found it inspiring!


  7. I was interested to learn the history of Wonder Woman — your post, today, thanks Carolyn, refreshing, and inventive, especially in regard to the history of feminism. I had forgotten that first cover of Ms. Magazine and the innocence you mention back then. A good sign for 2015.


    • I love that first cover of Ms. – I remember when it was first on the newsstands and I was thrilled and amazed – we had our own professional-looking magazine! It’s also interesting to read from the cover what issues were discussed back then – not so long ago.


  8. Great post, Carolyn! Popular culture, especially comics, is a strong component of how girls and boys are acculturated in the U.S. And getting stronger — just think about all the Marvel movies that have come out lately. As you show, these images reinforces patriarchy. But what I love about your post is that it goes beyond that critique to suggest which parts of Wonder Woman’s original image can be used in our struggles against patriarchy AND that we need a vision of the society we want if we’re going to be able to create it. Yes, yes, yes! Dream big!


  9. Thank you, Carolyn! Great Hera! Wonder Woman and Taking Women’s Power Back From the Mainstream is spot on. I resonate with the way this essay can inspire younger women and older women of all kinds to take action for truth. I enjoyed reading, it is written with beautiful clarity, and love to see the illustrations again. I am designer, an artivist now more and more, standing for Gaia in my work. These times of Climate Change, Awareness & Action are so very potent, and necessary for woman to stand up and speak our truth with compassion and wisdom…using our gifts and talents to help heal the world at large.


  10. Love the idea of her lasso being a truth telling tool and that it was fashioned from Aphrodite’s (Love’s….) girdle. Superb symbolism.


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