Even for a cynic like myself, stepping foot into the Economic and Social Council Chamber at the United Nations brought upon something of an eye-widening rush. I arrived at the top of the colossal assembly room after tailing a crowd of fellow journalists through the UN headquarters’ buzzing thoroughfare, instantly losing footing when hit with the historical and ideological magnitude that such a room represented. But even the lifelong pacifistic discourse junkie inside me could not keep up with the passions exuded from the face of the dozens of young girls—and a few boys, too—who’d enter the ECOSOC Chamber soon after, all draped in bright blue Wonder Woman t-shirts and even brighter smiles.
You could chalk the elation up to a day saved from the elementary school classroom, or perhaps the excitement of meeting movie stars up close and personal. But there was more to it than that—a fact that became clear once the feature guests took the stage to accept their honor.
“Stories, whether from scripture, legend, or comic book, can educate and encourage. They can light a fire in our soul and guide us toward good.”
After 75 years of serving the planet Earth in comic books pages, on television, and right here in the real world, Princess Diana of Themyscira, better known as Wonder Woman, undertook the title of Ambassador of Female Empowerment, as officially bestowed by the United Nations. Present and accounted for on behalf of the timeless hero were Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, as well as the foremost recognizable faces of Lynda Carter and Gal Godot: the actors who’ve brought Wonder Woman to life onscreen in the past and present.
Taking the mic first, Nelson laid out the historical significance of the DC Comics character for an audience of girls many decades the Amazonian queen’s junior. “For too long and too often, the comics, film, and television industries have portrayed women as damsels in distress,” Nelson said. “But thanks in large part to Dr. William Moulton Marston, who in the early 1940s created Wonder Woman—the greatest female superhero to date—this is becoming less often the case.”
She continued, “He knew that for Wonder Woman to be accepted in the male-dominated world of superheroes, she had to be a different kind of hero. Wonder Woman needed to embrace love over violence and value peace over war. She had to stand up for peace, justice, and equality for all people.”
Though Marston is credited as the principal creator of the Wonder Woman character, Carter was eager to point out that he was not alone in her conception. “It was the height of World War II, the world was at war, when William Moulton Marston was asked to come up with a new superhero to fight against the Nazis,” she said. “When he returned home that evening, his wife Elizabeth told him, ‘Honey, that’s a good idea. We can do that together. But this one is going to be a woman.’”
“…She lives in me, and she lives in stories that these women tell me…They saw that they could do something great.”
Carter cited William and Elizabeth Marston’s granddaughter Christie in articulating the latter’s contributions to Wonder Woman: “’For [my grandmother], it was all about intellect and attitude.'”
Nearly 35 years after her introduction to the DC Comics family, Wonder Woman found her way to the small screen, roping Carter into the mix to portray her. “This was a monumentous thing, for, at the time, there were very few women holding their own shows in television,” the Wonder Woman star said. “They didn’t think a woman could hold a television show. We started getting letters and phone calls and started hearing stories. This miracle of an idea that came from a 48-year-old woman named Elizabeth started to have an influence on some girls’ and women’s lives. That was when Wonder Woman became flesh.”
Ever since, Wonder Woman’s impact on young viewers and readers has made itself evident to Carter. “She lives and she breathes,” she said. “I know this because she lives in me, and she lives in stories that these women tell me. I see it in the tears that fall from the eyes of women who say that it saved them or inspired them through some awful thing. They saw that they could do something great.”
Despite the social progresses we have made in the decades since Wonder Woman’s creation, she is as relevant and necessary as ever today and beyond, a point Nelson hammered home by reminding the room of an issue of DC Comics’ Injustice: Gods Among Us in which Wonder Woman was named General Secretary of the UN and Lois Lane elected President of the United States of America.
“There are girls all over the world who don’t get to dream about what they want to be when they grow up,” Nelson said. “Inequalities faced by girls begin right at birth and follow them all their lives. In some countries, girls are deprived of access to health care and proper nutrition. They’re married at young ages and don’t have equal access to education.”
This is why we need not only real world heroes, but those on the page and screen. “We believe that in addition to the exemplary work that amazing real women are doing in the fight for gender equality, it’s to be commended that the U.N. understands that stories—even in comic book stories—can inspire, teach, and reveal injustices,” Nelson said. “Stories, whether from scripture, legend, or comic book, can educate and encourage. They can light a fire in our soul and guide us toward good.”
Nelson added, “Imagine what a figure like Wonder Woman means to [these girls and women]. Someone who takes no nonsense from any man—including Superman.”
“Wonder Woman is a fighter, better than most. But it’s what she fights for that is important.”
Throughout the ceremony, I’d look back up at the rows and rows of young girls, rapt in every word of the Wonder Womans standing before them. It became ever clearer to me that this wasn’t just excitement over spectacle; these words were sinking in.
“There’s a revolution already under way,” Nelson said, “and it needs to be put into action from women and girls and men and boys. The tough conversations we’re facing about assault and objectification, just like tough conversations about race and policing, will ultimately take us to a better place.”
Joining Nelson and Carter at the head of the room was Gal Gadot, who, in 2017, will become the first actor to take Wonder Woman to her own starring role in a feature film. Though Gadot insisted on making a much shorter speech than either Nelson or Carter did, her message was no less the powerful.
“Wonder Woman seeks to promote strength, wisdom, leadership, justice, and love,” she said. “Qualities that, combined, make us the very best that we can be. Her mission is simple, but as many people know from all around the world, it isn’t always so. Sometimes we need something or someone to aspire to. To help inform our choices and set an example.”
Gadot continued, “Wonder Woman is a fighter, better than most. But it’s what she fights for that is important. It is her vision of a future of peace and acceptance that makes her the right ambassador for everyone.”
But of all the ideas expressed that morning, perhaps Nelson summed it up best here: “Wonder Woman is already, in her mythology, an ambassador,” she said. “She’s an ambassador from the Amazons to man’s world with the role of uniting men and women, granting peace and equality to everyone. But what makes Wonder Woman empowering isn’t that she represents, ‘Look what girls can do,’ it’s that she represents, ‘Look what girls already do.’”
Nelson capped her speech by informing her audience that DC would be breaking ground in 2017 with a new Wonder Woman comic book: the first ever to publish across the world in multiple languages simultaneously.
Images: Warner Bros.; DC Comics
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.