By: Irina Verardo
On October 21st Wonder Woman was named Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls at the Economic and Social Council chamber, despite protest by many U.N. staffers. Some 50 U.N. staff turned their backs to the ceremony to show their lack of support in appointing a fictional and hypersexualized character as opposed to a real woman.
The 75-year-old heroine was named ambassador after a year-long campaign to bring awareness to Goal 5 of the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the U.N. Goal 5 and this campaign are intended to raise awareness and end gender inequality around the world. This decision was supported by DC Comics and Warner Bros., who produce comic books and movies featuring this character. Wonder Woman’s image will be used in the U.N.’s social media campaign to bring awareness to a younger audience and deepen critical thinking around gender inequality.
Diane Nelson, president of DC Comics and Warner Bros., stated at the ceremony: “We believe that in addition to the exemplary work that amazing real women are doing in the fight for gender equality, it is commended that the U.N. understands that stories – even comic book stories and their characters – can inspire, teach and reveal injustices.”
However, not everyone agrees with this sentiment. Resistance to this appointment was not only shown with a silent protest at the ceremony, but with a petition calling for a human representative signed by more than 1400 U.N. staffers and women’s groups. Organizers of the petition believe the U.N. is sending a disappointing message to the world that they could not find a real-life woman to fight for the rights of women and girls.
The actors who have played this iconic role, Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter, were present at the ceremony. Carter responded to the criticism on CBS This Morning saying the protests were “ridiculous,” and “nitpicking on something that has nothing to do with anything.” Gadot commented after the event, stating: “I care for the people who care and I’m here for a wonderful cause today. That’s what my focus is.”
Long-time feminist icon Gloria Steinem acknowledged the important work Wonder Woman has done to expand the image of women, stating, “I am all for symbolism, and Wonder Woman was an important female hero in the 1940’s when there were none, but we are now looking for women with real terrestrial power.” Steinem would instead like to see a “feminist female Secretary-General,” and believes that the resources going toward this campaign could be better used elsewhere, like in the budget for U.N. Women.
Former Secretary-General of the Parliamentarians for Global Action, Shazia Rafi, drafted the petition to ask U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon to rescind the appointment. She has been outspoken in her opposition of this appointment, declaring that there are many women who would be suitable candidates for this position, including Nadid Murad, who has become the public face for Yazidi women and girls facing sexual slavery, and Malala Yousafzai, who challenged the Taliban to allow women access to education.
The Wonder Woman appointment came after the election of yet another man to be the Secretary-General, despite the fact that more than 50 countries and many organizations lobbied for a woman to get the position. Of the thirteen candidates, seven were women – but none placed above third in six informal polls. This caused much dismay for women in the U.N., and Rafi stated that the appointment of Wonder Woman was an effort to appease female staffers, calling it “a slap in the face for all women who work within the U.N.”
Rafi was not only opposed to the appointment of a fictional woman, but also the hypersexualization of this female character, who is often depicted in a skin-tight, body baring outfit. She stated: “The whole issue of taking a cartoon figure who is clad in a bustier with cleavage, high-cut shorts – a sort of muscled version of Barbie – and saying ‘This is what represents gender equality’ is incredible. It’s culturally insensitive. It’s insulting.”
Jean Krasno, director of the unsuccessful campaign for the election of a female Secretary-General, pointed out that Wonder Woman’s outfit also features an American flag, which “completely flies in the face of U.N. multilateralism.”
There was no comment from U.N. Women or UNICEF on the appointment, though some senior U.N. officials defended Wonder Woman’s new role.
Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Cristina Gallach urged that the U.N. does take gender equality very seriously, stating, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but also a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Wonder Woman will be another valuable partner for us to achieve such a world by inspiring her millions of fans worldwide to stand up for gender equality.”
Chief of NGO relations and advocacy, Jeff Brez said that over 330 U.N. staffers signed up to attend the ceremony with their children. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters that “in order to reach young people, in order to reach audiences outside this building, we need to be creative.” He also stated that Wonder Woman was chosen for this position simply in an effort to reach younger audiences.