She marveled the comic book-reading masses in 1941.
She dazzled television audiences in 1974.
Today, 76 years after her debut, Wonder Woman is still taking audiences by storm — or rather, by the Lasso of Truth.
The evolution of Wonder Woman from 1941’s gentile superhero to today’s armor-clad warrior is as much a timeline of feminism in popular culture as a Sears catalogue.
Wonder woman as role model
When she was introduced, Wonder Woman wore a red bustier, blue shorts, knee-high red leather boots, and a golden tiara. Her clothing choices were much more risqué than her male superhero counterparts, who wore full-body crime fighting suits.
The look, said Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, a renowned psychologist in his time, was about declaring that women should be treated equally in the fight for everything from women’s rights to ending fascism.
In 1943, Marston wrote, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power … The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
Sometimes, Wonder Woman’s attributes were leading indicators of changing times, and sometimes they were lagging. In 1972, Gloria Steinem reclaimed the Wonder Woman mantel and put the heroine on the cover of the first issue of Ms., an American feminist magazine.
Lynda Carter’s rendition for 1970s made-for-TV movies and a TV series carried a little more crime-fighting weight than previous iterations.
For everything Carter’s character lacked in fierceness, however, Gal Gadot’s 2017 Wonder Woman is every bit a warrior — and even better, a strong role model.
Gadot’s presence is strong — her attire is armor, not a costume. Her wit is as fast as her lasso. She doesn’t mince words when telling pilot Steve Trevor she won’t be seduced by him if they rest next to each other in their journey from Themyscira to London. Even her emotions give her strength; she doesn’t crumble under the weight of them.
“Typically, ‘bad-ass’ women in film are portrayed as heartless, man-eating characters that are tragically broken at the core,” said Kaity Rodriguez, psychotherapist, confidence educator, and former Miss New Jersey USA. “Wonder Woman shows that a female can be strong and tough, while still caring and being feminine. This sends a message that it’s possible to be strong and vulnerable at the same time, a much healthier way of being,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez’s personal experiences in the public eye have led her to work with women and girls struggling with self-esteem and self-acceptance. Rodriguez said whether we realize it or not, girls, young women, and older women alike all absorb subliminal messages about their bodies or behaviors from the various forms of media — movies, television, magazines, and music — they view.
“So often, we are given the message that crying, loving, or even simply caring makes us weak,” Rodriguez said. “Girls need to know that it takes more strength or courage to have and show emotions because doing so makes a person vulnerable to being hurt.”
Women can find that balance on full display in Gadot’s character, which has been praised by body-positive pioneers and self-esteem coaches for the balance of strength and sensitivity that makes the character relatable but also resilient.
“Yes, Gal Gadot still fits the profile of a supermodel. However, her display of strength, confidence, heroism, and independence brings a new image that women and girls can strive to emulate, this time aiming for a goal that is well within reach,” Rodriguez said.
“Today’s super hero can be physically powerful while also dealing with real emotions rather than hiding or suppressing them. We are remarkable beings, and I am so happy to finally see characters that so appropriately show who we really are, what we really are, how we should be portrayed,” said Alexandra Allred, former U.S. Olympic Bobsled and U.S. Nationals Champion. Allred was over four months pregnant when she won the U.S. Nationals for bobsled and was named Athlete of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee. She was three months pregnant with her third child when she earned her second black belt.
“Today’s female super heroes are stronger because of the dual strength and vulnerability. We don’t have to compartmentalize so that in a moment of crisis — personal drama, trauma — we completely fold,” Allred said. “This is what makes women so strong. This is why we can handle all that we do. So, to see Wonder Woman ‘expose’ her humanity made her all the more powerful and real. This is, by the way, real life.”
Gal Gadot’s real Wonder Woman experience
If Gadot, an Israeli actress and former combat trainer in the Israel Defense Forces, had to find a source of superhuman strength to play sword-wielding, bullet-dodging Diana Prince, she didn’t have to look far. She was pulling her Wonder Woman stunts, in some cases, while pregnant.
“I was pregnant and showing for some of the additional scenes we shot,” Goldot told Britain’s Mirror. “But they did some clever stuff with special effects to hide my bump. It didn’t hinder the process, I could still do the action stuff and the physical scenes. And now, it’s nice to look at the movie and know that Maya is in the movie with me in some way. I love that.”
Like Gadot, Allred pulled her own stunts of sorts while pregnant and training for the Olympics. “I was training to make the U.S. women’s team, but I was pregnant,” she said. “I was squatting 350 pounds, running 20 miles per hour on forced elevated treadmill runs, and doing extreme plyometrics. I was pushing a 425-pound sled, and I won U.S. Nationals.”
Sarah Yamaguchi, MD, is an OB-GYN at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. She has treated patients who, like Gadot, needed to film for long hours and be physically active during their pregnancies. “As more women have entered the workforce, we have had to reevaluate what really is safe in pregnancy. In the distant past, before antibiotics and hygiene were common, women stayed at home and also avoided exposure to germs, which could get them very sick,” Yamaguchi said. “It is now very common for women to continue working throughout their pregnancy both because that is what they want and also because they financially cannot afford to take time off.”
In more than one way, Gal Gadot, and the character of Diana Prince she so powerfully portrayed in this year’s blockbuster film, can serve as both inspiration and guiding light for women and girls of all ages.
Wonder Woman and Gadot both show that women have no limits, and that setting your mind to anything will help you achieve it, whether you’re fighting Nazis with indestructible bracelets or filming superhero action shots for the silver screen while several months pregnant.