Gloria Steinem is 80 years old today and as one of the architects and leaders of second wave feminism there is much to be thankful to her for. But because this blog focuses on the women of DC Comics, there is another reason to be thankful for her - she is instrumental in making Wonder Woman have a resurgence in popularity in the 70s by putting together a book containing her early strips and, of course, putting her on the first cover of Ms. Magazine.
She also pushed DC to undo the “New” mod Wonder Woman of the 70s and give Wonder Woman back her powers.
Steinem said about Wonder Woman:
“Looking back now at these Wonder Woman stories from the forties, I am amazed by the strength of their feminist message. Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream.”
While Wonder Woman has appeared on Gloria Steinem’s magazine several times in addition to the one above, Gloria has only appeared along with Wonder Woman once in Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier Special (with art by J. Bone where Wonder Woman and Canary break up a Playboy club.
And there at, literally, the end is a bunny who resembles Gloria Steinem who famously went undercover as a Bunny for an Esquire article.
Happy Birthday, Gloria.
And thank you.
Gloria Steinem, for all her historical accomplishments (and they are both many and real), also epitomizes the worst of second wave feminism, most notably in her transphobia and stunning failure to seriously consider intersectionality on any level.
But I want to focus on the claim that she “put the Wonder back in Wonder Woman,” because while Steinem may continue to blow her own horn on this, it’s crap. Steinem caused massive damage to Wonder Woman as a comic and set back its progressive and feminist agenda by years.
When Steinem got the depowered Wonder Woman cancelled the writer was Samuel Delaney, an enormously respected and regarded science fiction writer who was doing an explicitly feminist arc on the comic that was, in his own description of it, going to culminate in Wonder Woman confronting efforts to close an abortion clinic after working through other issues like exploitative labor practices for women. It was one of the single most feminist moments in Wonder Woman’s history, and puts the 1940s, which, for all their glory, are blatantly also the sexual fetishes of their male author channeled onto the page, to shame.
What replaced this era after Steinem’s intervention was a run of comics by Robert Kanigher, the writer responsible for ripping out all of Marston’s feminism in the first place. Kanigher promptly brought back Steve Trevor so that Wonder Woman could moon over him constantly. In his first issue he wrote in a deeply nasty joke in which a stand-in for editor Dorothy Woolfolk, who had been Steinem’s choice for taking over editing the book, is shot and murdered. His story arc also consisted of introducing a black Amazon who was tastefully named Nubia.
So basically, Steinem’s “accomplishment” in saving Wonder Woman consisted of getting an actual feminist fired and replaced with a misogynistic and racist dunce. That Steinem considers this any sort of victory for feminism speaks volumes about the profound limitations of Steinem’s feminism. Her self-promotion for having “saved” the character has always been exactly that - self promotion made with no serious regard for the comic in the first place.
Aware of the irony of saying that and them promptly turning to self-promotion, I should note that I look at all of this in considerable detail in my book A Golden Thread, which provides a thorough critical history of Wonder Woman looking specifically at her relationship with feminism through the ages. It turns out that Steinem did not even read the comics she criticized, and that the article on Wonder Woman in the first issue of Ms. was largely plagiarized from a piece Steinem had written previously, but was, in Ms., credited to another writer. (Creepily, both pieces use the exact same set of anecdotes about a childhood reading Wonder Woman.)
Seriously. Steinem’s conduct regarding Wonder Woman is absolutely vile, and should in no sense whatsoever be celebrated.