A Wonder Woman at the UN? How about a real one? | Catherine Bennett

It hasnt been a good week for female empowerment, with fictional characters being held up as role models

There was a good deal of sympathy for the writer Julian Barnes last month, when he described as straightforwardly daft the opening up to US competition of the Booker prize, historically limited to British, Irish and Commonwealth countries. The Americans, Barnes said, have enough prizes of their own.

Then again though this is not to doubt the justice of his complaint at least Booker eligibility has yet to extend to the dead. Without wishing to start a daftness competition, the Booker isnt available to cartoon writers of fiction, to fictional novelists, to people who are living, but unpublished, with a view to encouraging non-novelists who are opposed, on principle, to prizes for fiction. But something not dissimilar, in 2016, has been the fate of various awards devised to celebrate or promote female achievement at a time when, the UN says, gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society.

At the BBC, the contribution from the judges on the latest Womans Hours Power List in the week that the anti-feminist obsessive Philip Davies MP, was promoted to the Commons women and equalities committee was the inclusion of two dead women, Margaret Thatcher and Barbara Castle, and of the fictional airhead, Bridget Jones. Admittedly, the Nobel judges have demonstrated the advantages, for a prize, of an occasional shake-up. The inclusion of the deceased, never real and wholly unconnected, represented by, say, Eric Liddell, Velvet Brown and Bob Dylan, could be just the thing to transform the BBCs Sports Personality of the Yearinto an almost endurable event. In future, London could send Patti Smith to accept the Best Kept Village award. Journalisms George Orwell prize could be awarded, at long last, to George Orwell.

And in fairness to Helen Fieldings excellent creation, Jones is not, like one of Glamour magazines Women of the Year, male. Some may find her more lifelike than the UNs latest womens ambassador, Wonder Woman, just retired after an in-house petition and protest. Moreover, given the striking absence of awards for fictional characters, it could not be argued, as Barnes did of US novelists, that there were plenty of other places where Jones, a genial imbecile, could be hailed as a catalyst for change over the past 70 years.

Anyway, following the past weeks publicity, congratulations are absolutely in order for the Womans Hour judges. They have overjoyed BBC publicists with an instantly controversial list that,left to the more literal or sentimental, might well have included names such as Jo Cox, Victoria Wood or Caroline Aherne. Or, indeed, a living woman up for crushing Philip Davies. If therewere a 2016 prize for most ridiculous womens award, such as to convey their obsolescence, the Power List judges would definitely, with Bridget Jones, beatGlamours Bono. But they lose, narrowly, to the UNs peerless insult to the living, its honorary ambassadorship for Wonder Woman. The UN director of outreach, a Mr Maher Nasser, reasoned: There is a Wonder Woman in every woman.

Maybe the Top Cat in every UN executive explains why a semi-naked, gigantically bosomed, wartime-era sexual fantasy should have struck that organisation as the ideal ambassadress for female empowerment, excepting, naturally, within the UN, where male leaders are strongly preferred. Now that the WW scheme has been aborted, the lads in outreach must be wondering, desperately, what other photogenic heroine sods law: Jones is taken would be big enough to signal its fathomless respect for women, following the appointment of another male secretary general. Minnie Mouse? Moana? That eagle taming girl or is she real?

Bridget

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Bridget Jones, played by Renee Zellweger in the film Bridget Joness Baby, is hailed as a catalyst for change despite being a genial imbecile. Photograph: Allstar/UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Its hardly an excuse that the men appear to have been enthralled by feminist assurances from Diane Nelson, DC Entertainments very own belle dame sans merci, whose superpowers include transforming UN functionaries into her besotted PRs. The UN-DC creative partnership coincided with a Warner Bros remake of WonderWoman. Nelson seized the chance, at a celebrity launch attended by Ban Ki-Moon, to reintroduce a character nowadays best known as a stripogram choice, as an emblem of hope for the female downtrodden.

Her ability to operate alone, Nelson told the BBC (maybe not completely getting the whole united part about the UN), and to be her own independent person but also to work right alongside with the same strength and same abilities as some of the strongest male superheroes, I think is a testament to her character and kind of ties back to the UN designation and this idea of gender equality.

While some of us prefer to stick, thank you, to the inspiration afforded by Noggin the Nog, team-building in his winged airboat, there is no disputing Nelsons faithfulness to the vision of WWs creator, the early psychologist and creepy huckster, William Moulton Marston. WW existed, Marston wrote, to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement. At home, he was the ill-tempered master of a mini harem.

If her feminist career never entirely took off, it may be because Marston also conceived Wonder Woman and approved every aspect of her pin-up inspired clothing as a vehicle for his dearest erotic imaginings. Thanks to Jill Lepores fascinating biography, the UN outreach personnel could have discovered what Nelson must know: that Marstons obsessions came to alarm his publishers almost as much as they thrilled bondage fetishists. Do some careful chaining here, he would instruct the illustrator. Put a metal collar on WW. Have her hands clasped together at her breast with double bands at her wrists… Between these runs a short chain. Then put another, heavier, larger chain between her wristbands which hangs in a long loop to just above her knees… His editor noted that Marstons idea of feminine supremacy was the ability to submit to male domination.

Even without that, an online search could have filled in UNs outreach officials on growing opposition to sexist depictions of women in comics, to a point that might contraindicate a comic-book ambassadress for women. Failing that, any marginal awareness of female UN co-workers should have indicated the likely response if line managers preferred, to any of the worlds 3.5 billion or so living women, a cartoon, dressed in pants.

True, the WW team was reportedly aware of sensitivities. Working with illustrators around key words regal and appropriate, Mr Nasser ensured that Madam would be shown only from her tiny waist up, with a slogan semi-obscuring her breasts: Think of all the wonders we can do.

If that sounds trite, it was, indeed, no time at all before real women workers at the UN demonstrated, by returning Wonder Woman to political oblivion, the power of direct protest. Closer to home, the real UK MP Eilidh Whiteford just overcame, no less wonderfully, an attempt by that supposedly invincible nuisance, Philip Davies, to talk out her bill protecting women and children. And to think none of it might have happened without that catalyst for change, Bridget Jones.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/18/wonder-woman-at-un-how-about-a-real-one

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