The UN has dropped the superhero Wonder Woman as an ambassador for empowering girls and women after a brief stint that drew widespread criticism.
The DC Comics cartoon character was appointed Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls on her 75th birthday in October. Wonder Woman has long been considered a feminist icon (her creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston, was reportedly inspired by the suffrage movement) and she was expected to be the face of a year-long social media campaign promoting gender equality.
Wonder Woman’s appointment, the protests, and her recent exit have all contributed to an ongoing conversation about the involvement of fictional characters in real-world issues. To be sure, the UN and others have effectively used fictional characters to raise awareness – and change behavior – on important societal issues. But in this case, why Wonder Woman backfired may reveal the limits of this approach.
“It is alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualised image at a time when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls,” the petition’s authors wrote.
Her scanty clothing – “a shimmery, thigh-baring bodysuit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots” – meant that deploying her as a role model for the UN was culturally insensitive in many parts of the world, the petition added.
Wonder Woman is not the first fictional character to be tapped for an “honorary ambassador” role by the UN. Winnie the Pooh served as Honorary Ambassador of Friendship in 1999, and Tinker Bell (of “Peter Pan” fame) became Honorary Ambassador of the Green in 2009 to help promote awareness of the environment among children.