Wonder Woman made a comeback in the past few years — not only the movie, but the icon, the archetype. The world needs Diana Prince more than ever.
Most recently she was featured in the viral Halloween PSA “My Heroes.” We see two siblings — one male, one female. They carve pumpkins. Their parents hand them superhero costumes. They’re seen from behind trick-or-treating. The end reveals that the boy was dressed as Wonder Woman and the girl as Batman.
The PSA, co-written by Alexander Day and Brian Carufe and directed by Almog Avidan Antonir, is about acceptance, but it may also speak to role models and gender norms as much as gender identity issues. Ten years ago, my son Joe was in fourth grade. At the public school he attended in Santa Monica, California, the students were given an assignment to become famous Californians. Their task was to research that person’s life, come to school dressed as them and do a presentation. Joe chose Alice Waters.
The following year his teacher called me. Unrelated to the issue that prompted the communication, she said that his record indicated that he’s transgender. This news wouldn’t have fazed me, but since my son had never expressed gender identity issues, I was flummoxed.
When I inquired she said, “He loves musical theater, most of his friends are girls and there was the ‘Alice Waters incident.'” I hadn’t realized it was an incident. Given options like Richard Nixon and the fact that Joe loves cooking, his choice seemed obvious. Why can’t our role models and heroes be anyone worthy of admiration, whether we share their identity or not?
Why wouldn’t the boy in the PSA pick Wonder Woman? If he wants to grow up and be Diana, great, but if he wants to grow up to be a cis male who embodies some of her superpowers like extraordinary humanity and compassion, that’d be respectable, too.
Wonder Woman was born in the mind of American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston, who also invented the polygraph. It was World War II and Marston wanted to create a figure who could triumph, not with fists or firepower, but with love. His wife, Elizabeth, and their life partner Olive Byrne — the three were in a committed polyamorous relationship — suggested the figure be female. Not only would she possess extraordinary physical strength, but her strength would come from empathy for humans and animals alike. It would come from honesty even if it took the lasso of truth to eek it out. And unlike the damsels in distress we’d seen before in comics who required male superheroes to free them she’d have the ability to free herself from bondage.
It’s no wonder then that Wonder Woman’s image graced the cover of the second issue of Ms. magazine in 1972. It was time for women to free themselves. No one else could do it for us. But as someone who’s both fierce and nurturing, Diana is a role model for any person. Period.
My son Joe grew up to be a cis straight male. It’s not something to be celebrated or frowned upon — just his particular truth. He met Alice Waters at her restaurant, Chez Panisse. She later hand-wrote him a letter saying she’d give him a job someday. He was delighted, but he’s pursuing a BFA in musical theater. And many of his closest friends are still female.
Today, when our children look to the world and its leaders, who and what will influence them? Will it be honesty or getting away with lies? Will it be firepower or will it be love? And will they learn to free themselves from whatever bondage society puts them in? I hope they won’t stop looking until they find worthy role models, regardless of how those role models identify.
Michelle Fiordaliso is a freelance writer. This column was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.