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Cultural impact of Wonder Woman


Cultural impact of Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman depicted as stricken by AIDS, in an awareness campaign

Wonder Woman is a character initially created for comic books in 1941, the medium in which she is still most prominently found to this day. As befitting an icon of her status, she has made appearances in other forms of media and has been referenced and meta-referenced beyond the scope of traditional superhero entertainment. For several years in the 1950s, the only three superheroes to have their own comic book were Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

The cultural impact of the character, once derided by psychologists and anti-comic book crusaders as an anti-male lesbian, has steadily increased over the years, having served as an iconic exemplar of the feminist movement[1] and a continuing symbol of female empowerment.

As such, she appears in numerous media, from cereal box covers and popular magazines to being referenced both directly and indirectly in film, animation and television programming. As a cultural icon, she is the subject of several homages and parodies in many forms of media.


  • Creation 1
    • In art 1.1
    • In theatre 1.2
    • In cinema 1.3
    • In literature and comics 1.4
    • In periodicals 1.5
    • In television 1.6
    • In women's culture and feminism 1.7
    • In health awareness campaigns 1.8
  • Scholarship 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Wonder Woman's viewpoints and characteristics reflect those of her creator, William Moulton Marston, who was a strong supporter of feminist ideals and female empowerment:

In art

Wonder Woman is the subject of a 1978 - 1979 video art piece Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. In this work she uses appropriated images of Wonder Woman to subvert the ideology and meaning embedded in the television series.[3] Author T.J. Demos writes, "(the) opening with a prolonged salvo of fiery explosions accompanied by the warning cry of a siren, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman is supercharged, action-packed, and visually riveting... throughout its nearly six minutes we see several scenes featuring the main character Diana Prince... in which she transforms into the famed superhero.".[4] The exhibit currently resides in New York's Museum of Modern Art.[5]

In theatre

Wonder Woman's origin, the invention of the lie detector and the unconventional troika marriage between Dr. Marston, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne are interwoven in a 2014 production, Lasso of Truth.[6] The last act engages two current-day characters discussing what Wonder Woman means to them individually, reflecting on her influence on society in general.[7]

In cinema

Images and references of Wonder Woman abound in film. The apparent first appearance of the character was in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy wherein a little girl covers her face with a copy of DC Comics' Wonder Woman #178.[8] Later appearances have female (and male) characters of all ages appearing in Wonder Woman's costume or T-shirt representations of said costume. Wonder Woman enters the cultural lexicon, as characters are compared to Wonder Woman due to their athletic prowess, beauty and/or height.

In literature and comics

In his book, Seduction of the Innocent, psychiatrist and anti-comic book crusader Fredric Wertham wrote that Wonder Woman had a bondage subtext to her character, a claim somewhat strengthened by the character's creator, William Moulton Marston having admitted as much. As well, Wertham also claimed Wonder Woman's strength and independence made her a lesbian, calling the "homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is psychologically unmistakable",[9] and considered Wonder Woman to be "Lesbian counterpart of Batman" [9]Wertham notes in the Chapter "Those Wicked Men" in that Wonder Woman's sidekicks, students at the fictional, all-woman Holliday College are the 'Holliday girls,' i.e. the holiday girls, the gay party girls, the gay girls." The chapter title references a comic book story wherein another princess talks about "those wicked men". [9] "For boys", writes Wertham, "Wonder Woman is a frightening image. For girls she is a morbid ideal. Where Batman is anti-feminine, the attractive Wonder Woman and her counterparts are definitely anti-masculine."

This sentiment would be later echoed by other critics. Short story author and cultural historian Jim Harmon describes in his 1970 book, All in Color For a Dime how Wonder Woman would "exchange hugs and kisses of delight with the readily available Holliday Girls." Harmon adds, "It was a very sick scene."[10] This recollection by Harmon is disputed by comic book artist and writer, Trina Robbins. She notes that "although Wonder Woman is indeed seen hugging her friends and her mother in the pages of these comics (women do hug!), she doesn't kiss them. She's never even depicted kissing her "boyfriend," Steve Trevor!"

Robert Kanigher, who took over writing the comic in 1948 after the death of creator William Moulton Marston as well as later creating other female superheroines such as Black Canary, Lady Cop, Rose and Thorn and The Harlequin confided to Robbins in a telephone interview that the Amazons from her home, Paradise Island (where no men are permitted) were all lesbians.[10]

In periodicals

Wonder Woman featured on the first cover of Ms., July, 1972

Gloria Steinem chose an image of Wonder Woman for the first cover of Ms. in July, 1972, and again in the July–August 1997 issue. In the latter example, the retrospective issue depicts an illustrated version of the modernized version of Wonder Woman is reading a copy of the original Ms. magazine, its cover showing the Golden Age representation of the character.

In television

Wonder Woman iconic nature has filtered into American television, references appearing in the form of impersonations, costume and character references. These abound in live programming such as The Big Bang Theory, Charmed, Frasier, Friends, and 30 Rock. As well, she is referred to often in animated programming, such as The Simpsons, Family Guy and Robot Chicken.

Prior to the more widely known Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series, a made-for-TV movie was broadcast in 1974, starring Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman, playing the character as a blond in a star-spangled red & blue costume which featured a skirt & tights rather than the comic costume. In the film, she uses her powers to thwart an international spy ring headed by Ricardo Montalban. ( ). Her invisible plane is mentioned in passing.

Lynda Carter, the actress who portrayed Wonder Woman in the series of the same name from 1975-1979, appeared on a 1976 televised Olivia Newton-John Special as the character wherein she deflects a bullet meant for Olivia. In 1980, Carter appeared in an episode of Jim Henson's television series The Muppet Show. Her performances were singing The Rubberband Man and Orange Colored Sky. During a skit, Miss Piggy becomes "Wonder Pig" in order to rescue her family from a giant-sized chicken. Carter continues to be identified with the character thirty years after the portrayals.

The Wendy Williams Show‍ '​s host Wendy Williams often drinks from various Wonder Woman coffee mugs throughout the series (having the same initials of 'WW'). In 2010, when DC Comics revamped the character with a new costume, Wendy had a 10-minute segment discussing the change and explained why she didn't care for it.

In women's culture and feminism

Gloria Steinem once wrote:

In health awareness campaigns

Wonder Woman's image—along with that of AIDES. Posters depicting Wonder Woman wasting away in a hospital bed and attached to an intravenous drip were exhibited on billboards and in French subways, demonstrating that no-one is beyond the reach of the disease. Concerned that the images could have an adverse impact on the public perception of the two superheroes, DC Comics demanded that AIDES withdraw the campaign.[12]


  • Sociologist Susan Hopkins in her text Girl Heroes, juxtaposes the image of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman with Girl Power action heroines of the late 1990s.
  • Academic Angelo Iannella (Course Coordinator and Lecturer) began a research paper entitled "From Wonder Woman to Xena: Reframing Greek Mythology", which reveals the development and significance of the superheroine in speculative fiction. The article was first published in The Advertiser in South Australia on December 7, 2001. The research paper attracted interviews on radio as well as interstate conferences at Universities in Australia. This event was timed with Wonder Woman's 60th Anniversary who first appeared in 1941.


  1. ^ Crawford, Philip Charles. "An Enlightening Look at the Feminist Ideals that Informed This American Icon".  
  2. ^ Ley, PhD, David J. "Wonder Woman: Top or Bottom".  
  3. ^ Margot Lovejoy, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, Routledge, 2004, p108. ISBN 0-415-30780-5
  4. ^ T.J. Demos, Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, MIT/Afterall Books, 2010, p1. ISBN 1-84638-066-9
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Lasso of Truth". Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Lasso of Truth': The curious tale of Wonder Woman's creator"'". Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "1969". Comics Sightings in TV and Film. Marvel Retrieved 13 October 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Wertham, Frederic (1954).  
  10. ^ a b Robbins, Trina. "Wonder Woman: Lesbian or Dyke: Paradise as a Woman's Community". Papers. Retrieved 13 October 2011. 
  11. ^ Feitler, Introd. by Gloria Steinem. Interpretive essay by Phyllis Chesler. Designed by Bea (1972). Wonder Woman. ([1st ed.] ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.  
  12. ^ DiPaolo, Marc (2011). War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda In Comics and Film.  

External links

  • The Ultimate Wonder Woman Collector's Guide An in-depth look at Wonder Woman memorabilia and collectibles from the 1940s onward.
  • Wonder Woman on the DC Animated Universe Wiki, an external wiki
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