William Moulton Marston : The Man Behind Wonder Woman

With the release of the Wonder Woman film in 2017, the superhero joins other DC characters that have become s staple in popular culture. Wonder Woman has appeared in television, comics, cartoons, and advertisements. The origins of the character reveal an interesting history and a more eccentric individual who created the character. William Moulton Marston (1893-1947) was a psychologist, inventor, and comic book writer  who conceived the idea of Wonder Woman . Comic books may seem like puerile entertainment to some, but they do have adventurous stories and impressive art. The stories they tell either have social commentary or a wider message. Marston’s creation was made specifically to promote  feminist ideas and  gender equality. Marston was a supporter of the suffragist movement and women’s rights. He had unconventional views about gender relations and lived a life that was rather scandalous at the time. William Marston lived in a menage a trois  with his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byne. These two women were inspirations to the creation of Wonder Woman and also gave some of their input into the character.  William Marston could be described as many things: a visionary, fetishist, and a possible charlatan. However, these descriptions do not accurately capture a more complex figure. The DC comic book character he created was and continues to be more than just a cartoon character.

          William Moulton Marston did have a feminist vision of society. His thinking was to say the least different from the average man in terms of gender relations in the 20th century. Marston quote reveals much about his feminism when he stated “not even girls want to be girls as long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” Martson believed that women would one day acquire their rights and go on to lead the world to a new era of peace. He did not think this would happen in his lifetime, but thousands of years. The early comics do possess suffragist imagery. The cartoons of Annie Lucasta Rogers featured women in chains. During the 1910s  her cartoons appeared in various news papers devoted to the women’s suffrage movement.  The constant theme of chained woman in her cartoons was to demonstrate women’s lack of freedom in society. Martson continued that imagery in the Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s.

  When Wonder Woman was in a predicament her adversaries in most stories would tie her up. This was not just a simple trope, but had a deeper meaning. Either through her strength or wit Wonder Woman would escape captivity and defeat her nemesis. Her triumph was a metaphor for women’s struggle for equal justice and the elimination of the oppression of women. This message may not be as obvious to a reader who was just exposed to Wonder Woman comics. To the creators it was subtle when inserted into stories giving small psychological suggestions  to devoted readers of the comic.

RogersPeters  Marston was progressive in the sense he was more accepting of different sexual orientations, sexual fetishes, sadomasochism,  and transvestism. His book the Emotions of Normal people claims these elements of sexuality  and  fetishism are not abnormal. These are characteristics unique to individuals. This was written before the sexual revolution in which many of the conservative mores and practices were challenged. Moulton thought such characteristics were not just normal, but were inherited through the nervous system. This can be debated, considering environment also influences an individuals existence. Olive Byne and Elizabeth Holloway contributed to this book with research and writing. Although it was ignored and never got Marston the academic respect he desired, it does provide further insight into his thinking. Marston believed that some required emotional reeducation to accept the parts of themselves that were considered “abnormal” but were in reality normal. Women’s desire to be independent, free, or strong was not abnormal even though society condemns such attributes in women. Only when people change there emotional state in Marston’s  view would society radically change. William Moulton Marston was certain that one day women would rule the world. Matriarchy he stated would be a possibility in the distant future.

         Marston gave was convinced in his own words ” The next hundred years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy- a nation of amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense.” His predictions got even more bizarre saying “in 500 years, there will be a serious sex battle and 1,000 years women will definitely rule this country. “Marston’s predictions seem exaggerated, although may be he was talking more so about the possibilities of the rising second wave and third  wave feminist movements. Women have become more powerful compared to women of the past. The nation almost had a female president sooner than what Marston predicted in 2016.

2A3BBD2B00000578-0-image-a-40_1436042140248    The idea that their are amazons in the psychological sense, rather than physical is interesting. Men did not dominate women due to their greater physical strength. The unequal access to property, education, income disparity,  and legal protection ensured women’s subordination to men. A woman could be physical powerful, but if she has no legal. economic, and political power she could still be vulnerable to an oppressive social system. If Marston was alive today, he could be possibly shocked by the fact women in sports have in a radically different manner changed perceptions about femininity and what it means to be a woman. The female athlete has culturally become a Wonder Woman straight out of a comic book. When Martson created Wonder Woman he wanted a character that presented both beauty and strength. Strength specifically physical strength was considered a male only attribute, is no longer incompatible with beauty or womanliness. Women have never to this extent in human history have developed themselves physically. Women are beginning to define what is beautiful to them, rather than have the concept dictated to them.

Title IX has allowed for the rise of many women athletes. With modern media such as the internet and television the public is getting exposure to to these women with impressive physiques.  It seems there is a level of acceptance for the modern day amazon. These women however do not have the desire to establish a matriarchy or dominate men. Unlike Wonder Woman, they do not battle super villains or go on adventures. William Mouton Martson’s  prediction of matriarchy is clearly wrong. He was right in the regard that the sexes will have more equality in the future. Assuming there is not a collapse in civilization, progress can be achieved. Yet, there is always the threat or reactionary movements or political and ideological  extremism. These threats can happen in both democratic and authoritarian political systems. Martson’s battle of the sexes is unlikely to happen seeing as men and women need each other. It is also erroneous to assume that women want revenge for past abuses. Ever since, Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election more women have become politically active in the United States and are seeking to run for office. William Marston ‘s prediction of waiting 1,000 years  for more female leadership  could come sooner than one thinks. Various nations have in the past and present have had female leaders. The US lags behind in this regard. William Marston  took the position of cultural feminism of the 19th century, which regard women as more peace loving and that female virtues would lead to a less turbulent society. They emphasized that women’s difference made them morally upright . The problem with this argument was that it promoted gender stereotypes and stated women’s superiority. There is no “superior sex” and women are not all peace loving and nurturing individuals. There are instances in which women participated in war or contributed to their conduct. It is a myth that the world would be more peaceful if women were in control. The ethnic, national, and cultural hatreds are too powerful. Marston’s  theories of the future were not accurate, but it is obvious that he was a firm believer in  progressive era movements. This included not only the suffrage movement, but the birth control movement. When Emmeline Pankurst  was banned from speaking at Harvard University in 1911 for the Harvard Men’s  League for Women’s Suffrage, this had an impact on Marston. The Harvard freshman became more staunch in his support for women’s rights in the face of this act of censorship. When Martson entered the comics world he had already acquire a vast amount of knowledge about the women’s movement and had a Ph.D  in psychology. This allowed him to create not just a cartoon character, but  an icon and symbol for women’s equality.

           When Maxwell Charles Gains got into contact with Marston, comics were facing criticism. The father of the modern comic book  realized that this new industry was facing a public relations problem. Critics claimed comics were an awful influence on children and were too violent. Marston thought that comics were enriching to children. The issue as William Moulton Marston saw it was that there were too many male superheroes promoting “blood curdling masculinity.” Marston realized that a female superhero would stand out as something unique and also promote his beliefs. If young girls saw a strong woman, they would have the desire to become strong independent women in adulthood. The intent was to use this entertainment medium to influence young people’s ideas about women by means of psychology.

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Exposure to certain images in youth does influence attitudes and mores. Here by showing Wonder Woman as a positive figure, the strong woman will not hold a negative connotation. There was special attention given to character design. Wonder Woman’s design was based of the Esquire Varga Girls centerfolds of the 1940s. The women were not rail thin, but more athletic looking and fuller. Her costume even resembled the swim suits that the models would wear. This was later redesigned to have Wonder Woman wearing a skirt. H.G Peters was responsible for the development of the character design. The final version William Moulton Marston was satisfied with. Originally Marston wanted the character to be called Suprema, however Wonder Woman seemed to be a better fit.

Wonder Woman would then make her debut in All Star Comics # 8 in 1941. From that point on she would become of the most recognizable female superheroes. Wonder Woman was unique in the sense that she broke the prevalent trope of damsel in distress. The only roles in comics that women characters filled were either supporting cast , wives, mothers, or a person for the male hero to rescue. William Moulton Marston would continue to write Wonder Woman stories for  the comics until  his death in 1947. The last years of his life were devoted to his creation an embodiment and symbol of female empowerment.

       There is another side to Dr .Marston    involved sexual fetish. The most obvious fetish was bondage that appeared in Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s. Wonder Woman many times was either chained or her enemies were restrained. The breaking of the chains is also a political metaphor, yet it also has a sexual nature to it. There is a relation between dominance and submission in regards to women and men. Marston with his theory was that if men submitted to women’s loving authority, this would create harmony among the sexes. Domination and submission should be traded off between the two sexes. To William Moulton these are harmless sexual fantasies and as long as they do not depict extreme violence or degradation, they are healthy expressions. Submission was not an awful attribute in his view. Dominating and imposing attributes he thought were. There also another element that is ignored. There is an emphasis on Wonder Woman’s immense strength and athletic ability.

peter-wonder-woman-3     This was clearly based on certain sources. The amazons in Greek mythology were warrior women noted for their skill in battle. Drawing on that context this would be an obvious attribute to give the Wonder Woman character. The women that William Moulton Marston knew had athletic backgrounds. Elizabeth Holloway was a field hockey player in college. Olive Byne also played basketball, which is of important significance. Basketball was one the few sports women got access to on US college campuses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alice Marble who served as editor for the comics between 1942 and 1944 was a tennis champion. Besides the bondage theme, he wanted Wonder Woman’s athleticism and physical strength emphasized throughout the comic. Wonder Woman in the comics played baseball, ice hockey, tennis, and swims in some issues There was even one in which she established a chain of fitness clubs. These comics show that Marston had more than just a simple admiration for the female form. His fetish could have been cartolagnia  and  sthenolagnia.

This arousal from the demonstration of strength and display of muscles seems more apparent in Wonder Woman’s fights and general strength feats. Even other characters take notice of her physical abilities. The golden age version of  Wonder Woman only loses her strength when her wrists are chained by a man. The metaphor basically being accepting an oppressive system will never improve anything, because Wonder Woman only loses her power if the is done willingly according to Aphrodite’s law. There has been a segment of men who enjoy a powerful woman whether it is either mental or physical power. William Moulton Marston even explained that ” frankly Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman, who I believe who should rule  the world.”  Moulton’s new type of woman is one that is powerful mentally, physically, and also has a loving nature.

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The new woman has apparently arrived in some sense. There is a female presence in occupations that were mostly male dominated. Women are emerging  in the science and technology fields. This combined with areas associated with masculinity such as sports, politics,  and the physically demanding occupations means that there has been progress to a new archetype. The development is disjointed and there are disparities that still face women depending on which nation. The same prejudices and hatreds remain. Marston’s new woman has arrived. The new era of peace, however may never come. That theme may have come out the desire to see World War II end. Fascism was terrorizing the world and the idea of a peaceful future was something desirable. Mouton would be very impressed with the women of the modern world and specifically how certain women embody the Wonder Woman principles.

Some women even look more Wonder Woman than what Marston could have imagined. The strides that have been made in such a short period of time are impressive and there is much work that has to be done. Marston’s strong women were the wave of the future and his love for them presented itself through the comics he wrote for. The lasso of truth is not just a tool of Wonder Woman, it is a part of bondage imagery. Wonder Woman used it to make her enemies confess, simultaneously the image of dominatrix becomes apparent. Critics were quick to recognize this imagery.  These depictions were mild compared to a modern day standard. There were even complaints from the National Organization for Decent Literature  about Wonder Woman’s costume being too revealing . That Catholic organization added comics and specifically Wonder Woman to their banned list of books. Maxwell Gaines  tried to even get Marston to reduce  on the bondage imagery by 1943. Marston was never going to eliminate the bondage theme completely, so a solution was made by Dorthy Roubicek  to restrain Wonder Woman in different ways.She was the editor of Gaines and was able to placate member of the editorial board. The amazing element is that the early Wonder Woman comics combined feminism, sexual fetishism, psychology, action, and adventure into a truly unique comic.

       William Moulton Marston  also tended to be somewhat charlatan in certain ventures. His odd combination of careers demonstrated this dimension of his personality. Marston was part inventor developing one of the early polygraphs. The lie detector test Marston claimed was a great discovery in the detection of lies. He claimed it was the science of the detection of deception. Marston even went as far to publish a book called The Lie Detector in 1938. This was not an academic work, but was really attempting to sell an idea to the general public. There really  is not a scientific method of detecting lies. Marston argued this anyway with little evidence or research. This was more apparent with the publicity stunts Marston organized having press conferences and even erecting a booth at the 1939 World’s Fair. The problem with the polygraph is that it cannot repeat the same results. There is a possibility that a competent liar could pass the test with no problems. Marston claimed to be the master of detecting lies. It was apparent that his findings were fraudulent. The first time Marston entered in business it ended in fraud. He was an unsuccessful lawyer and failed to get his polygraph results as admissible evidence. Marston only worked for Universal Studios for one year in 1929 as a consultant before being terminated. The world of academia had pretty much by the 1930s rejected him. Demoted from chairmen of the psychology department to adjunct professor at American University few took an interest in his theories. William Marston made limited effort to explore new elements of psychology, instead focusing solely on his theories. The promotion of the polygraph may have been out of the need to create financial stability. This also explains why Wonder Woman carries a lasso of truth. It is her personal lie detector. There was a showman and conman element to Marston. However, the support for the women’s cause was genuine.

          William Moulton Marston was a fascinating figure. He was a mad who live with both his wife and mistress  and they provide input as wells as inspiration to the creation of Wonder Woman. He could not hold a job for long and was hoping someday his theories would get notoriety. The body of work he produced related to psychology appeared in academic journals or books for the general reading public. This is either forgotten today or merely part of an archive. Marston would not become a Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, B.F Skinner, or an Abraham Maslow. Ultimately he would be remembered for his contribution to the golden age of comics. Wonder Woman was the first female superhero to have her own comic. Her popularity rivals Batman and Superman’s. There is an enduring legacy and she will continue to part of DC’s star characters. Marston did make one prediction that was correct: women will no longer accept secondary status forever. The eccentric psychologist and writer would be proud of the real life superwomen changing the world everyday.

 Further Reading

   Pollitt, Katha. “Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 June 2017. <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/wonder-womans-kinky-feminist-roots/380788/&gt;.

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. New York : Vintage Books ,2015 .

William Moulton Marston : The Man Behind Wonder Woman

Women in Combat Video Milestones

The videos shown here are from 2017 showing women becoming the first infantry marines. There have been many detractors stating this will harm or even cause disorder in the military. The complains mostly come from the right-wing political establishment, which often is seen as contradictory. The Republican Party and its right-wing supporters claim to be pro-military, but hate women who want to serve in combat roles. The social conservatives mostly see women’s roles as being less than and not equal. Standards have not been lowered to accommodate women and no special treatment has been put in place. The only reason that someone would object to women getting combat jobs is because they support sexist discrimination. There is no reason a woman should be denied a military occupational specialty, if she meets all the physical and mental standards. The idea that women are physically inferior for jobs that require strength has to be challenged. Women are getting involved in physically demanding occupations such as firefighting, construction, and law enforcement. The military seems to be the next bastion.

The fact is women fighting in wars is nothing new. Women fought in the American Civil War disguised as men for both the Union and Confederacy. During World War II Soviet women flew bombing missions and served as snipers. Dahomey had an armed force in the 19th century known as the mino warriors, which consisted of all women. The ancient world had numerous women warriors in Scythia and fighters in the Iceni tribe of Britain. Although there are documented cases of warrior queens such as Zenobia and Nzingha there are still detractors who claim that women in combat will not work. These individuals are unaware that there is no longer a traditional frontline and that women have already seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, even before the removal of the ban in 2013. The removal of the ban was not a “social experiment of leftists” as the far-right claimed, but understanding the reality of the military and geopolitical situation. The US wants to expand the Army with more troops and meet target goals. It would make sense to seek qualified men and women to fill any vacant positions. The nature of warfare is now moving toward wars of proxy with an emphasis on air power.

Technology has in a way helped reduce the physical burdens of soldiers. However, this has not completely negated sexual dimorphism. Men on average have higher upper body strength which is critical to certain task. More muscle mass and higher aerobic capacity means that male fitness levels exceed women’s total physical fitness levels. Women are more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries. This means women may remain a minority in combat occupations seeing as women do not have the advantage of higher natural strength. The only solution is to have women have a high physical fitness level before entry. This would prevent failures and injuries. Before entering these jobs women must have a training regimen  they do to prepare them for the physical demands. These few women that passed the tests show that it is possible for some women to do combat jobs.

Even though there are qualified women who will make it through, resentment will remain. The all male atmosphere will not be kind to women in particular. Issues of sexual assault and persistent racism in the US military continue to be persistent problems.  There are more battles to be fought than ones in foreign lands. Opponents still are attempting through legislation to reimpose the ban and some are wonder what Donald Trump might do. There claims that adding women to combat positions will degrade US fighting capacity. This is incorrect for several reasons. Wars are lost due to poor strategy. With no plans for victory and what happens after defeat of a belligerent failure is inevitable. Low quality leadership in government creates situations that can escalate to longer term conflicts. Flawed foreign policy or lack of a coherent one can result in such military defeats. Women will not degrade the US military; a policy focused on imperial ambitions and aggression will. The role of the US military is to protect the United States, not fight for corporate or neoconservative imperial geopolitical interests. People who decide to enlist should understand you are not fighting for freedom, democracy, or human rights. This could change with new leadership. Yet, the public must become educated about how US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wars of aggression . Women should not seek to just be combat soldiers, but move up the ranks to positions of leadership. Only when we begin to see women fours star generals, then it can be said there is progress.

Women in Combat Video Milestones

Colette Nelson Interview from The Beheld : Beauty and What It Means

Beauty and What It Means

This is a blog written by Autumn Whitefield Madrano that seeks to understand the concept of beauty and what it means in a cultural context. She seeks to in her own words engage with these questions of beauty and how to an extent it dictates the lives of women. She seems to be influenced by  The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. That book has some analytical flaws and half truths. It would be too simple to dismiss this site as another third wave feminist promotion, but there is a difference. She interviews women from all walks of life and various professions. Comedians, sex workers, and in this case female bodybuilders. Colette Nelson was interviewed for the blog in 2011. What is special about this is that blog’s that tend to be third wave feminist ignore the muscular woman or athlete. Compared to other issues and struggles, it may be low priority. However, it does offer a radical paradigm shift in how women see their bodies and what the female body is capable of.  The interview exposes readers who may not familiar to the bodybuilding world to another image of beauty. Many claim that this type of body on a woman is not beautiful. This leads to the question what is beauty? Who defines it? If an alternative is found to current standards will that be just as oppressive as the current ones? The Colette Nelson interview explores these questions.

            The definition of beauty can be stated as ” the quality aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts mind or spirit.” This becomes ambiguous when questioned. The beauty concept and be highly subjective. It should be understood beauty had become a subject of philosophy notably in aesthetics. The modern world merely associates it with physical attractiveness of a person. These concepts date back to classical Greece and the Age of Reason. Physical attractiveness is a different  concept, but closely related. This varies from culture and time period. At one time in the West a fuller figure was more accepted. Around the 20th century a thinner look was made an ideal. Now it seems there is a small, yet growing fitness fad that wants present a stronger looking form for the female body. These models and paradigms change. Colette explains her sport as follows : “bodybuilding-at least women’s bodybuilding is another way of judging beauty.” She explains further that ” for those who attend and judge women’s bodybuilding contests, the muscular woman is beautiful.” Here were getting more of an idea of the definition. Beauty can be defined in multiple forms and in this case it is a muscular one. The reason this becomes an amazing paradigm shift is that it redefines the beauty model. The muscular body was thought to be something solely of the male domain. It was contrasted with either the soft or frail body of woman.

The strong woman breaks the mold of the rigid dichotomy. It is commonly believed that the pursuit of beauty to such a degree is either based in arrogance or vanity. Colette then states: “do you consider a woman who does make up hours in front of the mirror arrogant ?” Colette’s response was no in her argument. She then says “why should we give this label to a woman who works out hard in the gym and shows results on stage?” Colette then says both are seeking their version of perfection. The reason is based in sexism. Women are held to a different standard and it is normally designed to be restrictive. When examining these definitions and connotations of beauty it becomes more complicated when femininity becomes connected. Femininity’s definition has nothing to do with beauty or physical attractiveness. It can mean simply the qualities of womanhood. Colette explains that people see contradictions between muscles, femininity, and beauty. Beauty and femininity can have multiple meanings, so there would be limited contradiction based on subjective ideas. Muscles are part of the human body. These strong women have decided to develop it to the highest level attainable.

      Femininity does not equal beauty. The definition is “the qualities of being a woman.” yet what makes a woman a woman? Gender defines it in a cultural context that could vary. These attitudes change overtime. This however should not be confused with biological sex, which is the product of human evolution and sexual dimorphism. Societies that are extremely patriarchal or male dominated dictate femininity in rigid gender lines. This is designed to be restrictive and controlling of women. When examined from the context of sports it has been said that women active in them are not feminine. Such attitudes demonstrate sexism, but have been challenged. It is no long abnormal for a woman to display strength or athletic skills. There are still limits of acceptance in the cultural atmosphere. A woman can show some strength,but not too much that it challenges the notion men have sole monopoly on physical strength. Colette says in the interview “that she wants to prove that muscle can be feminine and beautiful.” It certainly can be one form of beauty; the problem is that people have a narrow perspective of other paradigms or alternatives. Some women who do not fit the majority model of beauty may even internalize negativity. Women who alter their bodies to further extremes through drug use receive ostracism from the public and even their  their own circles.  It seems that the concern over drug use is more about a woman’s appearance rather than their health. Virilization can occur depending on how long steroids were taken and specific dosage. Colette said she was never willing to go that route, because she did not want to sacrifice her femininity. That term is  ambiguous and can mean many things depending on which culture and community you reside in. To say women who have been effected by drug use are no longer women represents the narrow space in which they can navigate in society. Colette has fought back in a sense providing make-up and hairdressing services to competitors. Colette has helped with women who have had baldness or facial hair growth. Colette articulated “it was not her place to judge or criticize these women, but should they ask for it offer my help.” If only the public and bodybuilding community could have the same conviction, women would have an easier time. A woman who does not take the drug use route still has criticism directed at them for their appearance. Colette reveals that most women would rather have the body shape of Jillian Michaels.

It appears at times that Colette even struggles with the idea of a muscular woman. Colette expresses “as a female bodybuilder you walk a fine line.” She expounds further saying ” you love muscle, yet you love being a woman at the same time.” This is not a contradiction yet many in the fitness circles still think in this manner. What bothers more traditional thinkers is that it alters their views of femininity. Women who participate in this sport have formed a new definition of femininity. This new thought not only frightens some, but its the idea that women’s bodies can be powerful. Some men do not like the like the concept of a woman being physically stronger. This intrudes on the unwritten mores of gender norms in which masculine identity has a huge emphasis on strength and dominance. The more tolerant men may find women in shape appealing . This also has a limit among supporters. A woman can be strong just not “too” strong. One coded language phrase is that a woman who is too muscular “crossed the line.” This means that the woman is no longer acceptable in terms of body type and physical attractiveness. This subtle sexist attitude does not realize these athletes are doing this for themselves not the approval of others.  There has been at least a shift were society at least accepts a woman that is in shape or has some visible muscle. However, female bodybuilders are the most muscular which in the eyes of some men are threatening.

 The threat is that it makes them realize that strength is not their sole property. One reason women have been subjugated in particular societies is due to the fact they do not have control of their own bodies. This extends to the restriction on reproductive rights and how women should look. The deviation from conformity also is threatening, mainly on the basis it could depose the status quo. Whether women choose to build their bodies by natural or pharmaceutical means it is a radical statement about what a woman is. It seems to be so controversial some feminists even reject the muscular woman or ignore them in the discourse on gender relations. There should not be a contradiction between femininity and athletics. The only reason it would be is in a society that has a limited view of what women and be and accomplish.

     How Colette Nelson acquired her respect for the muscular form is interesting. She was 12 years old when she saw pictures of  Rachel Mclish and Cory Everson and loved how they looked. When Colette was growing up female bodybuilding was in its infancy. Never before had women developed their bodies to this level in human history. There were of course muscular women prior to the sport, but this was the first time they had a platform.

Colette admits she loved bigger and muscular bodies. Oddly she also reveals that she had dissatisfaction with her own figure. As ludicrous as this sounds she claims “she never considered herself looking good” in her youth. It is clear now she is a more confident person, yet it is still prevalent that young women age taught to have a level of insecurity about their appearance. Extreme cases may result in developing eating disorders, constant dieting, and psychological issues. Colette was able to avoid these problems through exercise. This had to be done for the sake of her health considering she has type 1 diabetes. The discovery she had this disease in her own words made her feel “weak, damaged and broken.”  Colette the took the suggestion of working out and found it was an empowering experience. She became more accepting of her body and loved being strong. Women who do this do say they develop a new sense of self and greater level security in their abilities in other areas of life. There are not only physical benefits from weightlifting;there are important psychological developments that contribute to well being.

    Being diagnosed with such an illness diet and exercise are pivotal for health. Colette was expose to an alternative of beauty and decided for herself that it should be replicated. This demonstrates that images and beliefs that children are exposed to can influence their attitudes later in life. It is possible if more people were exposed to women like this early in life it would not be such a shock to them in adulthood.

         Colette did not go into bodybuilding to get attention, but people are not used to seeing a muscular woman. Living in New York, there seems to be a more open atmosphere. She does get stares and Colette even admits she likes the attention. There were times in which men would say “I want to armwrestle you.” The majority of the comments Colette Nelson receives are positive. Though its still is not unheard of to get some form of vituperation or insult from the more closed minded. There are many reasons why people would respond to the muscular or athletic woman in a certain way. Curiosity and the desire to discover something new may cause stares or questions. Their may be an attraction to such a physique and seeing it up close causes excitement.

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Colette Nelson recognizes that we are not brought up how to respond to women with muscle. Seeing as women like this are rare, it does induce some form of wonder. There now is more exposure thanks to the internet and social media. This is another challenge women have to deal with. Either it is an in between off hash criticism or sexualization. The problem with the latter is that it reduces the women to sex objects, rather than focusing on their accomplishments. It is understandable why female bodybuilders who get frustrated being seen as fetish objects for schmoes. Like it or not a woman with a muscular frame will attract  attention both negative and positive.

       Another issue arises from the development of another beauty model. Does it just remove another one and then becomes standard? Some feminists argue that bodybuilding would not be empowering on the grounds it has women obsessively pursue a particular image. The flaw with this assertion is that these women are going against mainstream convention. The most empowering act is to make your own decisions as a free individual. Here, women decide to become as physically powerful as possible doubtless of what men think. Colette Nelson describes her bodybuilding pursuit as the struggle for perfection in terms of muscular aesthetics. Colette stated “she was always  classed a pretty, but wanted more.” This is not hubris.This is competitive drive and what some bodybuilders refer to as living sculpture. Flesh is the clay and the weights become your tools of molding art. The point is not to say all women should appear a certain way, but realize they are all different. There should be room for all forms of beauty.

         While it is true there is a level of societal pressure placed on women to look and behave a certain way, there are instances in which personal decisions add to the problem. The biggest problem with the the beauty myth theory is that women do certain things to themselves in others which perpetuate a vicious cycle. Third wave feminists fail to admit this unfortunate reality. Women continue to spend large amounts of money of make -up, hair care, and anti-aging products. There is no one forcing them to do such things, but the power of advertisement and capitalist free market enterprise is powerful . When examined from this point of view, the argument that women are being oppressed by a beauty myth seems to lack credibility. Then it is no secret that other women criticize women who look different. Many female bodybuilders have said they have gotten negative comments surprisingly from other women.

Naomi Wolf.
If Naomi Wolf is convinced that the beauty myth harms women so, why does she still wear make up and engage in other behaviors that perpetuate it ?

 At some point being pressured is not a legitimate excuse.  To a feminist looks should not be of importance, because liberation is the goal. There are many contradictions of what remains of a feminist movement. Another problem is that the feminist movement refuses in its mainstream discourse to be intersectional. White women middle class feminists ignore or either do not care about the struggle against racism, homophobia,  or class conflict.  The beauty myth concept often ignores that racist element in models of beauty which  dehumanize African and Asian people. Light skin is considered” beautiful “and African American women are told to straighten their hair. Asian women are pressured into getting eye lid surgery. These changes in appearance are done to mimic the appearance of whiteness. They are designed to instill self hate, while simultaneously presenting the oppressor as a “superior being.” The fact white middle class feminists do not challenge this is because the benefit from white supremacy and white privilege.  They just do not benefit from to the maximum extent due to their sex. Besides these complicated issues of racism, there is the issue of blaming every man for women’s condition. Radical feminists claim that all men contribute to women’s oppression. This is a false assertion, considering there are men who are members of oppressed groups. African American, Native American, South American, and Asian American men have suffered under the violence of white supremacy. To say every man oppresses every woman has not factual support. Hopefully, women can learn to reject societal pressure and think for themselves what beauty means to them.

          Since this blog post was written there has been some shift. It is a small one that emerged in fitness circles with the slogan “strong is the new skinny.” While women are not attempt to reach Colette’s level, the idea that some muscle does not seem like an anathema. The rise of crossfit did contribute with women presenting not only impressive physiques, but excellent performances. The responses are positive, with the occasional detractor.

 Again, there is another conundrum. This slogan and zeitgiest seems to be mostly confined to a small circle. Although it has gotten some mainstream exposure. the concept of a woman being “too much” still lingers. There are still backward and dated notions about what women should be and do. What also is frustrating is that the mainstream treats  the sudden acceptance ( to a limited degree) of the muscular woman as a recent phenomenon. There have been male fans who have been following female bodybuilding since its inception during the 1970s. The emergence of the internet expanded the audience and led to the growth of a subculture. Now there are millions of websites, blogs , and social media venues specifically targeting female muscle fans. While it seems unlikely at this point that the muscular body will be a model of beauty for the mainstream, women have decided to make it their own. When Colette Nelson was born Title IX was only two years old and female bodybuilding did not exist. These two events radically changed how women viewed themselves and their physical capabilities. The best action women can take is to define beauty on their own terms, rather than having it dictated to them.

Colette Nelson Interview from The Beheld : Beauty and What It Means

Happy Inauguration Day

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It is unfortunate that American politics has come to a point in which far-right extremist views are acceptable. Hate or general violence directed at immigrants, African Americans, and women will become  the norm under a Trump presidency. Donald Trump and his supporters dream of a United States that is of the 1950s  in which racial discrimination was common and women had little power in society. While Donald Trump’s racism is well documented, what people forget is his misogyny. Women have accused him of sexual misconduct and tapes exposed a crude side of his personality. A Republican dominated Senate and House of Representatives means Trump has a free hand to implement policies that could be potentially devastating to the United States. There is limited hope for the future, but people can still resist. That is why it is important to support the Women’s March on Washington. Let it be known the citizens of the US will not tolerate oppressive measures by a Trump administration.

Women’s March on Washington

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Happy Inauguration Day

“My, what dimorphic parents you have!” From Family Inequality Blog

My, what dimorphic parents you have!

Another post was composed on Family Inequality in regards to unrealistic body types in Disney cartoons and animated features. The author is a sociologist by trade, but still does not grasp the concept of animation and character design. The posts belong to what the author refers to as the animated gender series. The problem with this is Phillip Cohen does not care for exaggeration in character design. The whole thesis is that unrealistic images of sexual dimorphism are a projection of sexism. These images the are used as a model for how men and women should look or even act. While there is an element of truth to this argument, to blame the general character design of a particular studio is an inaccurate assessment. Too often we see the muscular man and slim woman body archetype. Yet, there are instances in animation in which it is reversed or completely different. If Cohen wants to make a cogent argument all of the Disney animated material should be examined . This could include animated series and films as well. This post is brief and he asks why the level of sexual dimorphism from the characters in Frozen. The explanation is related to character design and animation styles.

              The point of animation is to exaggerate human features. There are cases in which realistic depictions are shown in animation. Fantasia (1940) had segments that were outlandishly cartoon like to more traditional artistic presentation. Cohen then uses Moana’s parents to show how abnormal the body proportions are.  He explains in the following paragraph :

“His big toe has the same diameter as her wrist. His unflexed bicep is wider than her waist. (Sources say the voice actor for Maui has 20-inch biceps, while a real life-sized Barbie doll would have an 18-inch waist, compared with 31 inches for a typical 19-year-old woman.) Anyway, it’s ridiculous.”

The point is that the characters are suppose to look humorous or unusual. Large eyes, varying heights, weights, and general appearance makes a cartoon character memorable. Animators develop a style, which becomes their recognizable signature. Disney over the years had developed this model of large man and thin woman. The claim here is that body diversity is not present. That is not the case if one does through research. Maui and Moana’s dad are not the typical muscle man. Maui is large, but does not have the traditional male heroic physique. The author then tries to counter this fact by saying ” there are a lot of large bodied Polynesian people in societies.”Then claims it is not a sex specific pattern. Sexual dimorphism is present in every ethnic group around the world. It seems that he has some stereotypes about one group, while recognizing another common one.  He the later expounds : “If  the difference is in racial or ethnic context for the families, then maybe extreme dimorphism among parents helps signify the exoticism of the culture depicted.” If this is the case, then may be we should question whether or not this is borderline racist caricature. When Europeans colonized the islands they either depicted Polynesians as lazy, fat, exotic, or primitive in literature, film, or other media . The fact the author gets his data from wikipedia on obesity rates from the Polynesian islands seems to be a confirmation bias of a prejudice he could personally have.   That could be a more convincing argument. Cohen the realizes that black men are stereotyped as having superhuman bodies, but there are no tiny women tropes. That is not true. One notable trope relevant to discussion is the pint sized powerhouse. This could be a man or woman with large amounts of strength who just happens to be diminutive in size.  This trope appears in cartoons as well as film.

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A small woman trope as seen in Dragonball Z ( 1989-1996). Android 18 fights Tien despite her size.
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There are two stereotypes surrounding the Polynesians. The first is one of obesity and the other is the image of super human athlete.

Stereotypes appear in all media, but white men are least effected. Seeing as Phillip Cohen is white he has no understanding of this.  Which makes him less qualified to even discuss body image distortions in regards to women. He does not deny that sexual dimorphism is a fact, but cannot grasp the elements of animation. It takes features such as hands, noses, ears, and  body shapes and distorts them. Human being have to ability to change their bodies to extreme either through plastic surgery, exercise, make-up, or even sometime in the future genetic engineering. When men and women alter their bodies sex differences in size do not disappear.

 Men and women do alter their bodies to impressive degrees in some sports. The exercise and physical training in some regards makes sexual dimorphism more obvious. Men are on average taller and stronger than women. The basic Disney character design accentuates this more. The characters of Moana and Maui represent this unrealistic exaggeration. The point is to make the characters recognizable and unique in a particular style. There are some people in real life that resemble cartoon characters themselves.

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Maui is too endomorphic to be classified as being part of Herculean dimorphism.  It is a great development that a male antagonist is give a different body type.
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A woman and a man who developed their bodies to the highest level.  At first glance it would seem they both jumped out of a comic book.

The core of character design is to be outrageous in appearance. There is also a problem that arises from these depictions. Portraying women as only slim could induce body image issues in young girls. Women or girls who are muscular or larger could be made to feel ostracized or abnormal. There is a subtle form of sexism in this. It enforces a gender role that men are always more powerful and there fore should control women. These convictions can be challenged. Not only that, a repeated use of a particular character design can stifle creativity. Animation should be willing to experiment with different styles and designs. This creates an enriched and wonderful cartoon. Phillip Cohen refuses to see this in the perspective of an artist.

        The author presents small amounts of evidence. There does exist in Disney cartoons and others were the slim female body is not the model. It is not simply being a bit larger, but the presentation of a muscular and powerful body. This could be called amazonian dimorphism. This model has not appeared in Disney animated films, but more so series.Disney animated series such as Dave the Barbarian, Pepper Ann,  The Emperor’s New School , The Proud Family,  and Darkwing Duck .

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The Proud Family (2001-2005 )  features Penny Proud as a superhero in one episode.
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This is Candy from Dave the Barbarian (2004)
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Although it was just in the intro it depicted a strong woman in the show Pepper Ann (1997-2000).

One could make the guess that Disney in their TV series is more open to a different character design. Seeing as it is animation these transformations in TV programs can be either temporary or permanent. It would still be relevant to include both categories. The bodies shown on the characters deviate from the standard Disney depiction of women.If Phillip Cohen did his research of the Disney library of animation, he would see that his argument is not as potent. Then he mentions How to Train Your Dragon, when that is a Dreamworks film. If the focus is solely distorted body image models in Disney films, other media should not be mentioned. The reason he may do this is to show it is not solely a problem with Disney. However, if you continue to examine it further beyond Disney his argument then collapses. The occurrences of these muscular body types on women are rare in Disney animation, but more prevalent in others. The prevalence of comic books gives source material for animated series. Whether  it is Marvel or DC their characters have appeared in animated cartoons over the years.Characters such as Black Cat or She-Hulk would not fit the Disney Princess measurements.

Even cartoons that are comedy focused vary in body type representation occasionally.These also include one shot characters and recurring characters in animated series. Again, it should be noted that many of these representations function around tropes. This does not only occur in animation from the West, but other countries. If Phillip Cohen wanted to truly prove his point he would include animation from other nations . The West has a habit of thinking that it has a monopoly on all art forms. This ethnocentric worldview is not only prejudiced, but historically inaccurate. Many cultures have borrowed from one another and art is no exception. Japanese anime has become a global phenomenon having fans and devotees on every continent.

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Elle Ragu as she appears in Shadow Skill (1998)
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Jun Auska from  the Iron Virgin Jun OVA based on a one shot manga (1992).
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This is Genie from Rune Soldier Louie (2001)
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A one shot character as she appears in Yu-Ghi-Oh! GX (2004-2008) . She is Tania.

It seems amazonian dimorphism has a presence in animation across the globe. The evidence seems to not demonstrate that body representation is a limited as previously thought. The vast plethora of action, comedy, or adult animation series do vary in character design. This is a positive development, but also should continue. There also develops another problem of exchanging one model for another. There is a possibility that the amazonian dimorphic model could be another unrealistic standard pushed on young girls.This may not even happen seeing as appearance of women of various body types is rare. There is however gradual change. The human body has often been sexualized or racialized throughout history. Cohen admits that Black men have been stereotyped as superhuman. This is routed in the enslavement of African peoples in the Western hemisphere. The superhuman myth was designed to justify physical violence against the enslaved. Whipping or the mutilation of limbs was acceptable, because it was believed Black people could handle more pain than normal. When discussing Moana   and comparing the parents from Frozen  there is another stereotype that emerges. It shows the “civilized” European compared to the “savage” Polynesian. Either intentionally or unintentionally Disney continues the racist idea of the noble savage. Suddenly, one realizes that Phillip Cohen’s claim “I’m not sure how to interpret this” is disingenuous.

         This  fixation that some social justice advocates have on ignoring sex differences is rooted in the idea that a difference means that women are unequal. Sex differences in terms of biology are not the reason women have an unequal position in society. It is rooted in the lack of property, income, equal employment opportunities, and disparities in education. Also that lack of reproductive rights is a method to control women’s bodies. For a longtime throughout history women were considered property. It was thought that men’s greater physical strength was used to also control women. This is not a complete explanation, because access to weapons can negate this and the fact there are women who can be stronger than men.Control of laws and the economic system was more effective than brute force. Sexual dimorphism is not the culprit of inequality. Political, economic, and legal systems are. Most of these systems favor men over women and only recently are being challenged. Relevant to this discussion, it should not bother anyone that sexual dimorphism is depicted. However, there should be concern that their is not a variety of multiple body types depicted in animated subjects or films. It may influence how children think they should look and attempt to aim for an unrealistic standard. Besides this problem character design will become limited and unimaginative. Another issue is with the characters themselves. If one is  solicitous about female characters in animation, there should be questions asked. Why are there so few compared to male ones? Do they have developed personalities other than just being one dimensional stock characters such as the damsel in distress, mother, or girlfriend? These problems seem more urgent than actual appearance of the creation itself. Moana is a great character because they gave her some personality. This cannot be said of other Disney female characters of the classic era. The change really happened in The Little Mermaid   and Mulan  .  Those animated films had great examples of developed female characters. Only if the formula that Moana  has continues there can be effective change.

“My, what dimorphic parents you have!” From Family Inequality Blog

Wonder Woman Is No Longer an Honorary UN Ambassador

The iconic comic book character Wonder Woman is no longer an honorary UN ambassador. The fictional character’s selection did meet some condemnation. The reason it was done was to promote the empowerment of women and girls. UN members and external pressure wanted this revoked based on certain perspectives. They claimed they were concerned about the “over sexualized image,” which featured “a large breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh -baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots.” They went on to explain that it was “not culturally encompassing or sensitive.” Hearing these statements demonstrates erroneous thinking. It is the type of  irrational thinking that comes from extreme third wave feminists and false social justice warriors. These two groups do not want to challenge injustice, but merely act as managers of current conditions. These people presenting themselves as advocates are nowhere to be found when people are in danger. At this point in history the United Nations has lost most of its credibility. UN failures and abuses in the  Democratic  Republic  of the Congo, South Sudan, Haiti, and the authorization of military action in Libya prove it should not lecture any nation on human rights. Iraq suffered under both UN and US sanctions, while North Korea  is  being put under sanctions. This honorary ambassador for the famous DC character could have been a positive development for the struggling supranational organization. Syria could be the breaking point for the world body. These criticisms of  Wonder Woman’s image display a level of ignorance about the character. The arguments for rejection can easily be discredited.

           The claim of the over sexualized image almost sounds like a religious fundamentalist argument. Wonder Woman is drawn as an attractive and athletic woman. Yet, some feel that the mere image of the woman’s body is sexual. There effort to prevent misogynistic convictions only reveals their sexist prejudice. To them a woman that is dressed in a certain way is just a sex object. Men are hardly ever judged on how they dress. These objections to the character’s costume expose an undated traditionalist view about women. Extreme third wave feminist make similar arguments, but in another context. They believe that presenting women in this image encourages a rape culture. This explains why feminists and the religious right collaborated in the attempt to ban pornography in the United States in the 1980s. The traditionalist claimed that it was obscene. Feminists stated it created rapists and hate for women. Both these statements are incorrect. Rape is the product of a society that thinks violence against women is normal, not lascivious materials . What is considered obscene or  crude to one person, may not be to the other. These two groups obviously do not believe in the freedom of speech.

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The case with the statement on Wonder Woman reveal a combination of these two schools of thoughts. They say her uniform is sexualized, but the only thing it does is reveal some parts of her body. It should be understood that DC comics is not pornography or sexualized. It has happened to the character in certain comics, but that is not her sole purpose. Wonder Woman does not fall into being a simple stock character or some random trope amusement. She is one of DC comics most recognizable characters, with plenty of fans around the world.  Wonder Woman costume is more tame compared to real life swim wear.

Wonder Woman has not appeared in a thong or nude in the comics. Microbikinis almost seem like no clothing at all.   When examining this objection it lacks cogency. While it is true, normally Wonder Woman appears in her thigh bearing suit, there are times in which her costume changes. At first she wore a shirt. This was during her first comic books in the 1940s. There were times in which she wore pants. The costume changes depending on the time or character designer. Writers and artists change the image of  a  comic book character various times.

         The belief that Wonder Woman’s design is impossible baffles the mind. Seeing as she is a cartoon character she can be drawn, which ever way an artist wants. If these UN members bother to do research, they would realize that Wonder Woman is not some unrealistic standard body. There is a habit to draw women unnaturally thin, but this has been avoided by DC artists. Wonder Woman has either appeared athletic and sleek or muscular. Being an amazon she has to look the part. She is a type of superhero that is a fighter trained in warrior combat. So it would make sense to show her body as if it was trained for rigorous physical activity.

Depending on the artists and writers of the comic, Wonder Woman can break the common model of slim woman. This allows the readers to at least believe that she could pull of the strength feats she does or fighting super villains. Wonder Woman’s design can either be extremely cartoon like or realistic model. Saying that her body proportions are impossible is wrong based on several reasons. The first reason one should remember is that it is a fictional character not meant to be a entirely realistic depiction. Another reason is that there are other mediums besides comic books encouraging body image disorders. The fashion and fitness industry do this as well. Fitness magazines emphasize weight loss and present the slim body for women as the image of health. Fad diets and equating a slender body with success. The fashion industry entourages models to starve themselves and they only design clothes for an ectomorphic body type. These critics have never spoken out about these more serious issues. The last point also is that Wonder Woman’s proportions resemble that of a female athlete. Many of them are more Wonder Woman like than the actual character!

Muscular thighs and a powerful looking upper body seems to be the model Wonder Woman is based upon. The women who train in what ever sport they choose to compete in create a body that is powerful and has implications about what a woman can achieve. The concept of the weaker sex is based around a pseudoscientific understanding of biology and physiology. The female body is seen as inferior or either frail. The muscular woman challenges this idea. This extends to a version of feminism that emphasizes women’s physical prowess as a means to challenge patriarchy. The fact that men are stronger than women has been used a justification to control women, becomes a ludicrous argument when women develop their strength. The image of the strong woman in this mode of thought can inspire young girls to grow up to be confident and independent women.William Moulton Marston Wonder Woman’s creator was a supporter of women’s rights. He has supported the women’s suffrage movement  and did not hold traditional views about gender roles. The character was not meant to be an empty vessel, but a symbol for women to liberate themselves. It surprising  that UN members are rejecting an image that shows a woman with one type of power. Although there are many types of power ( mental, financial, and constitutional) , physical power is still not consider acceptable for women. That statement about Wonder Woman’s “impossible proportions” just proves their objections are not out concern for women’s well being.

     The only legitimate argument that can be made to revoking the honorary ambassadorship is one of cultural sensitivity. This claim also has weak points. Wonder Woman is a white person who is trying to be presented in a campaign to empower girls and women globally. The majority of the world’s population is not white. This image almost seems like a painful reminder of the colonial past in which whiteness was presented as a standard of beauty and success in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Adding to this is the fact her costume is the US flag in swimming suit form. What appears from this is a type of subtle cultural imperialism. The great part about fictional characters is that they can be changed. That means even their skin color. Marvel has done comics in which their former character are no longer white. Amadeus Cho is the new Incredible Hulk. Fans did not recat negatively to the change, because comics function on retrocative continuity. There is no reason why Wonder Woman can be either African, Asian, or South American.

This needs to be done to correct past mistakes. It is no secret that comics have had a tradition of racist caricature. African Americans were targets, but Asians, Mexicans, and other non-white groups were subject to prejudicial representation in popular media. It was common to see blackface and yellowface  caricature in Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s and 1950s. The only characters drawn in a normal form were the whites. This was the era of Jim Crow and Japanese internment. Even after the end of World War II, ant-Asian and anti-black racism was still prevalent. America’s refusal to grant African American equal rights and its wars in Korea as well as Vietnam demonstrated America’s desire to maintain a white supremacist system.

 The Japanese a portrayed as small eyed, sneaky dwarfs. African Americans are shown as sub-human. These were the views shared by the majority of whites in the United States. 

The end of European colonial empires and the civil rights movement in the United States had a major impact on race  relations. Certain views were no longer acceptable. It had a positive effect on popular culture and comics, because more non-white superheroes were being created.  Wonder Woman has been used as a symbol for social justice whether its appearing on the cover of Ms. Magazine  or artistic renditions for a contemporary cause.

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An artistic rendition of Bree Newsome, who took down the Confederate flag form the South Carolina State House in 2015. It had been there since in 1961 and continues to be a symbol of division in hate.

Numerous fans produce art and share it online as a way to explain certain movements. This could range from anything to Black Lives Matter to women’s rights issues. Taking a recognizable popular culture figure helps explain what a cause is about. A popular symbol remains in the minds of  people longer than just mere ideas. Wonder Woman should not be regulated to just a frivolous part of entertainment.

   UN  member should reconsider their decision. If one examines the history of Wonder Woman she is a comic book character born out of the women’s rights movement. Using this cartoon character for a UN campaign to  empower women and girls would a positive development. This sudden reversal reveals what the organization is really about. The United Nations was never about creating world peace or even enforcing international law. It was about imposing order through the domination of the world’s most powerful nations . The UN has either authorized or allowed armed conflicts to start, which harms more women and children. It fails women on many levels and continues to make women’s rights as  low priority. There are a few programs for women’s causes, but these are under funded by peacekeeping missions. Although there was controversy regarding this event, one question remains. How come no one has nominated a real woman as an honorary ambassador? There are women who do amazing things everyday and making a difference in the world. May be this exposes a larger problem. The United Nations,just like most human societies is majority male dominated. Women must have an active part in the societies in which they live. While Wonder Woman is no longer going to be an honorary UN ambassador, she will always be a favorite among comic book fans.

Wonder Woman Is No Longer an Honorary UN Ambassador

The Walking Dead Creator: Women Are ‘Generally Physically Weaker. That’s Science’

The Walking Dead Creator: Women Are ‘Generally Physically Weaker. That’s Science’

The Walking Dead is one of the highest rated show on cable. Based on the comic with the same name it has become a major success for AMC. The show and comic tell the story of a world in apocalypse. The dead have risen, but no one knows why. The zombies known as “walkers” have destroyed civilization. Rick Grimes and his small band of followers have to survive a world of walkers and dangerous people. The show and comic have great stories and action. Yet, there seems to be a problem with its female characters. The women in  The Walking Dead   are not positively presented as their male counterparts. The strong female characters seems to fall victim to “Vasquez always dies” syndrome. The strong women characters are either killed or considered to insane to be considered respectable. Robert Kirkman’s statement in an interview for The Comics Journal  may hint to why there is a problem with how women are presented in The Walking Dead . Simon Abrams asked him a question in an interview why are women portrayed in such narrow terms. His response could be, to say the least an unsatisfying answer.  Kirkman first said “I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters.” Then he expounds further “they’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers.” The argument gets worse as he continues “I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker.” Robert Kirkman then said “it’s science.”  This excuse for lack of strong  female characters is devoid of cogency. Then his statements are only half truths. There is no denying that the show has an issue with female characters.

           Kirman’s statements display a general lack of understanding or lack of knowledge . He claims not to be sexist, but it is clear there is a level of prejudice. The statement about not seeing female hunters is not entirely true. Women are engaged in hunting and shooting more than they were in the past. The reason is that women no longer have the certain gender role restriction. Hunting was seen as something women should be restricted from. The reason women would not be involved in large numbers is because only recently they got involved. Men were already hunting in larger numbers, so obviously it would be disproportionate.

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Women and even teenage girls  are getting involved in hunting Women hunting

  Kirkman’s  idea is one that come from images of cavemen hunting in the prehistoric past .  This Flinstone  cartoon idea about humanity is hardly accurate. Humans of the Ice Age probably did not hunt mammoths on a regular basis. Smaller game and gathering were probably the best options for sustainable food. Hunting may not even be a true measure of physical strength. Tracking and trapping an animal takes a level of thought and patience. The early humans appear to have the males do most of the hunting and women perform the gathering. It was assumed that males would do hunting because there size and strength was greater. However, there could be a problem with this theory. There is a possibility that early australopithecines hunted in groups. The major change was when humanity developed simple tools. Homo erectus was a maker of tools and this gave it an advantage over other animals. As time passed spears, knives, and bludgeons  came into existence. The use of these weapons and tools require little strength. This gave humanity an edge over the larger  predators and larger toothed animals. Guns are now the ultimate hunting tool and weapon . Hunting  does not require large muscles do successfully.

           There is a reason that women are a minority in  the military and construction. Discrimination was a factor, not just elements of sexual dimorphism. Protectionism a legal mandate banned women from certain professions on the basis it was too dangerous form them and they needed to be protected. Women were even forbidden from lifting objects of a particular weight in some cases. The reason women were not in combat positions in the military was because they were prohibited from those jobs. The ban had been in place up until 2013. It should be understood it takes time to reverse injustice and wrongs of the past. Women will not automatically fill all combat positions overnight. Sexual dimorphism does not mean women cannot do physically demanding jobs. It means they are different. Men have more physical strength, which makes it easier for them to handle physically demanding task. Women if they want to be part of these professions have to train to gain strength. The average woman will not be as strong as the average man, but to say “women are generally physically weaker” is not entirely accurate. The female body is thought to be biologically inferior, but exercise physiology has proven otherwise. There is no difference between male and female muscle in terms of histological composition. Exercise and weight training can increase a woman’s strength.

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What should be considered here is magnitude. Men have denser bones, larger tendons and ligaments. Women’s muscle still responds to training, its just that total body strength will not be as high as a man who is engaged in the same training regimen. Women can be strong, but it requires more effort due to differences in endocrinology and physiology. Kirkman presents an image of weak and helpless woman being something common. Body type also determines strength. A woman with a mesomorphic body type could be strong as or stronger than an average man.

 There are women who can  be stronger than some men. If Kirkman tries to hide his prejudice by saying “it’s science.” Sexual dimorphism is the product of human evolution. Yet,  it is also related to sex selection. The reason men have more strength was for competition for mates. Males would fight one another for access to females. The early Australopiths  did this like other animal species and females would mate with the victors of these fights. The fact the male wins in terms of sexual selection, indicates health to the female. This can be seen in other primates like gorillas. When homo sapiens evolved some of traits of sexual dimorphism remained. Traits related to sexual dimorphism can be flexible in the human species. Kirkman from his comments believer in biological determinism . The truth is that we are products of both our environment and biology. Science still does not explain why Robert  Kirkman  has trouble with female characters.

           Female characters on The Walking Dead  are not portrayed well. Rick’s wife Lori is not really one of the best. Both the TV program and comic do not give her much character. The problem with her is the actions she takes. She has a relationship with Shane, Rick’s best friend out of grief. The problem with this is that it shows women as emotional wrecks under pressure  and vulnerable after the loss of a long term partner. Lori’s function in the comic seems so limited that it almost comes close to the women in refrigerators concept. This trope explains how female characters are normally placed in a story to either motivate the male character in action. They have no personality development or growth, but are there to either be killed or  lose power in some way. Fans were even dissatisfied with the character in regards to the show. Lori does give an apology for the relationship with Shane, but thing never were fully right with Rick. She dies during the Governor’s assault on the prison while giving birth. For the three seasons she was alive, she never developed as a character. There were points in which she could have been admirable, but writers kept her in a one dimensional box.

           The perplexing case of Andrea also reveals some issues on The Walking Dead  . The comic still has her living and she is a very active member of the group. The character that is in the comics should have been the one in the television show. Andrea as portrayed in the show started off giving up hope. The dead of her sister made her almost suicidal. Dale then convinces her to leave the CDC when the scientist sets it to self-destruct mode. Around season two Andrea wants to live and survive. She wanted to continue and find a better place. She even learns shooting from Shane and bonds with him. Andrea gets lost during the fall of the farm to the walker hordes. She meets Michonne  and both survive a harsh winter. Andrea show a level of independence, but when she gets involved with the Governor    that changes.  She refuses to see that he was nefarious and then attempts to speak on his behalf. Andrea went from being a powerful character, who could have been a potential leader  in the group to a dependent. There was an opportunity in which she could have killed the Governor in his sleep, but did not because she was under his charming spell. It seems the strongest women either end up dead.

thewalkingdeadandrea  Andrea’s situation could fall under another common trope of “Vazquez always dies.” This describes how even though a woman is powerful and a survivor some how she is killed violently.  The comic has not killed her ( for now), but it could happen seeing as this trope is so prevalent. Kirkman has stated that reason Andrea was killed in the show was that he wanted to make alterations for the TV show. While it is expected that characters will die in a horror genre, the reasons for Kirkman’s decision seems to lack fortitude. When it comes to women and non-whites of the show they are the ones who will die first. This could be fulfilling some subconscious desire of the mostly white male creators  who are projecting prejudice through their content. There is no definite proof, but if one analyzes both the comic and the show it may lead to these conclusions.

            The character of Michonne is one of the better female characters. There are still challenges and problems with her in both the comics and the show. Race cannot be avoided in popular media and stereotypes are inevitable product of an intolerant society. The most obvious stereotype here in the magical Negro. This racist stock character paradigm is common in American media. The black character only function was to help the white protagonist. This character could either have supernatural powers or special abilities and was merely a side kick. Michonne falls into this category in a way seeing as she is watchful of Andrea and Rick. The character is saved from being completely stock or stereotypical , by getting  development. She goes from being more loner like to a leader within Rick’s group.

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  Some argue the treatment of women in the comics seems better, but not in Michonne’s  situation. The Governor  rapes Michonne in the comics. This tragic occurrence is even more disturbing considering it happens to one of the strongest female characters in  The Walking Dead comic. Then from a historical context it becomes infuriating. The Walking Dead takes place in the US South . The enslavement of African American people involved the rape of women and children. Slave owners would sexually assault black women and the image of a white man attacking a black woman makes it more disgusting. While feminist acknowledge the the subtle sexist elements in the show and the comic, they ignore the racist ones. Non-white characters die in the most violent way at the hands of a white person. Glenn the only Asian character has his cranium smashed by Negan in the comics ( and as seen in the season six premiere of the show). Tyreese  gets beheaded in the comics( but his death in the show was by a walker). It seems as if that black and Asian people are not survivors in The Walking Dead universe.

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The show enjoys killing off black characters more and specifically black men. Noah  and Bob were killed by white characters in the show. Michonne’s survival seems to be in question at this point. There also is the problem of another racist stereotype. It is the image of the angry black woman and super strong black woman. This image of a black woman with an attitude or bad temper as been portrayed in various entertainment ad nauseum. Michonne when she first meets Rick’s group at the Prison in the series seems to be more vexed in personality. The recent seasons have attempted to reverse this and her character seems to be changing. Michonne is a great fighter, but in that portrayal comes another stereotype. The super human black woman ( and man), which comes from a positive stereotype. The positive stereotype comes from blacks being super human athletes and described as something beyond human. Positive stereotypes are not harmless,because  they derive from prejudices and hatreds. This concept of the super strong black person comes from enslavement. The African people enslaved in the New World were not considered human, but animals  or property. This falsehood was used to justify physical brutality against the enslaved on the grounds their bodies were so strong it did not harm them.  This myth continues in the form of  positive stereotype in the notion “blacks dominate sports.” Michonne when she fights in the show, almost seems like she is super human. They made a physically strong female character, but did not advance her characterization.

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An example of how positive stereotype works. It is doubtful they would have used this title with a white athlete.

 The show is still exploring Michonne’s  character. It’s uncertain where it might lead and what the relationship with Rick will do. There has been transformation to the character and at one point she explain the psychological distress of living in a collapsing civilization . The show humanizes her by getting her to help Carl cope with difficult situations. After the fall of the prison, Carl and Michonne  along with Rick say in an empty house. The great part about this is that she is given more personality than just being a killing machine. She even soon rejects the idea of being a person who just lives for survival. She wants to live for something. As Michonne said “she does not want to be seen as a monster.” This character has potential for improvement.

           Carol is  a good counter argument to the idea that walking dead cannot create strong female characters. Carol’s evolution is impressive.She went from being an abused wife to one of  the bravest fighters in Rick’s group. Carol is flawed for all her talents and her biggest error was the murder at the prison. Rick banished her from the prison without Daryl’s knowledge. Carol eventually will save the group from Terminis  and comeback with them. However, now she is in a crisis and the pressure has gotten to her. The killing and struggle have caused her to want to leave Alexandria. Her reasoning is that the group will be better off without her. Morgan tries to bring her back  almost getting himself killed in the process.

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Carol went from being passive to more aggressive, but now questions the kill or be killed mentality. What is going on with her is more a crisis of conscience. The loss of Sophia changed her to adopt a more offensive defense strategy to the world. Even though her husband was abusive the death still was a lugubrious matter to her. It was in many respects was what allowed her to develop as a person. This evolution is still happening with Carol and it is fascinating to see how it shall culminate. There are also times in which she acts as an adviser to other member’s of Rick’s group. She once said to Daryl “that his brother is bad for him.” Carol provides Maggie comfort under intense situations. The Walking Dead  got  a female character right. The article from Jezebel does not acknowledge Carol, which is bizarre. The article was written before season four in which there have been numerous changes. It should be gratifying to women viewers or feminists that a female character was given this development. Before condemning the entire show or comic examine the entire source material. It seems that there a tendency of some to condemn media by either seeing small excerpts of a source. Carol if written correctly can be a great character. That should be the model for characters on the show, rather than the one dimensional presentations.

          The discussion about survival leads to one question : how much strength do you even need to survive a zombie apocalypse? Going off  The Walking Dead  universe it would appear large muscles may not be even useful. The walkers are slow moving and lack intelligence. Physical strength would be useful in fighting off one or two. If the number exceeds twenty or even hundreds that would be insuperable. Weapons are more efficient than fists. The type of weapon has to be considered. Baseball bats,  lead pipes, spears, axes, or knifes are better than guns to an extent. Walkers are attracted to noise and gun shots do produce it at high decibels. Guns should not be discarded completely, because it helps in situation where its too many walkers to fight off at once. The biggest issue would be finding ammunition and reproducing enough to ensure protection.

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Physical strength could be useful at fighting off other people and some walkers, but weapons  are more effective.

May be muscular strength is not the element of physical fitness best equipped for a zombie apocalypse. Cardiovascular endurance would be essential. The people who had the ability to run the fastest would be in a better position. Slower runners would certainly fall victim to walkers. As Zombieland once said comically, cardio is a rule.  Fighting your way through walkers would probably not be the wisest path of action. Avoidance if possible seems to be a better strategy. Flight as opposed to fight would ensure a high level of safety. It should be assumed there would be more zombies than living people. The living would be at a disadvantage in this regard. While having at least some moderate level of physical fitness could guarantee survival, there are some biological aspects to consider.

            The problem with having large muscles is that maintaining them requires a good portion of food. Fat however stores some energy. The world of a zombie apocalypse  will for obvious reasons be short on food. A person with some fat may not feel the adverse effects of hunger as a person  with  a muscular or thin body. The average person probably would not even weigh much considering food security would be limited. Hunting or farming would have to be done to meet nutritional needs. Farming would require permanent settlement. This causes some problems. Settlements would be targets of people or zombie herds. No law or order other people are just as or even more dangerous than actual monsters. The best chance is to either be nomadic or semi-nomadic. This would only work if the group of survivors follow the game they are hunting. People who live in this type environment have to live and survive on limited food.

The person who would suffer more from lack of food is a person with less fat. 

Food is not the only challenge, but access to clean water. Water is just as important as sustenance. It seems that elements of survival in the collapse of civilization require more consideration. One unrealistic element about The Walking Dead  is that clean water seems more prevalent than it should be in certain circumstances.

           Robert Kirkman’s  excuse for lack of strong female characters lack cogency. While sexual dimorphism is a scientific reality, it does not limit women from doing certain things. Kirkman’s statements seem to reflect  what could be referred to as an enlightened sexism. It does not directly state women are inferior beings, but they are defective or incomplete human beings. A technique to hide this negative belief is to attempt to justify it through a rudimentary or sometimes incorrect understanding of science. Nature did not make women weaker or biologically inferior. It is the process of primate evolution and reproductive techniques that made the human sexes different. These differences are not an indication of inferiority, but the attributes of genes and environment. Unlike Kirkman’s view that women are not important  in the story line of the The Walking Dead needs to be changed.The Walking Dead is a great comic and television show. That being said there is room for improvement. Both the comic and show are still running so there are opportunities to improve the female characters. The possibilities are endless, if you have the imagination. There is a chance that the show can introduce interesting female characters and have existing one play a larger role. It can be done; producers and creators must be willing to do it.

The Walking Dead Creator: Women Are ‘Generally Physically Weaker. That’s Science’