The UN’s idea of women’s empowerment is fiction
What about the unnamed burkini-clad women who stood up for the rights of every woman to wear whatever they want
What was the United Nations thinking when it decided to make the fictitious comic book superhero Wonder Woman the new Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls? I am not sure it helps to add more and more voices to this debate. Nevertheless, let me explain my surprise.
I find it difficult to believe that the only suitable contender for this role is a pretend character who ran around fighting bad guys while dressed in hot pants and a low cut body-hugging top, with a plunging, cleavage-baring, neck line.
And let’s not be deluded here – the costume wasn’t designed for the heroine’s ease of movement. It appeared to be tailor-made for the cheap titillation of men watching the show.
There’s a multitude of women I can think of who would be perfect for this role – not least my mother. Or indeed it could be any mother who has endured sleepless nights with parenting worries while getting little in return.
And if my Mum isn’t deemed a suitable candidate, then what about Malala, Queen Rania, or Aung San Suu Kyi? They are all vastly impressive women, highly influential and more to the point – real.
What about the unnamed burkini-clad women who this year stood up for the rights of every woman to wear whatever they want, reveal as much – or as little – of their body as they want – when they went onto beaches across France in defiance of a deeply prejudiced, and arguably sexist, ban on covering up?
Women of influence
And let’s not forget that throughout history there has been plentiful supply of brilliant, influential women who shaped the future of all women – I’m referring to the women in Britain during World War II who, with men waging wars, went into factories and fields to ensure that the country continued to run.
The empowerment of women should surely be represented by a real person – not a make-believe one. And her figure should be the last thing that comes to mind when we look at herPeter Harrison
Of course there is a counter argument. When Linda Carter graced our screens in the 1970s and ‘80s as the first major female superhero, she was seen by some as a symbol of women’s liberation.
She was a strong character, who was able to fight her own battles, using her own superpowers without having to rely on men and she was seen as a woman, not a girl. Many feminists at the time forgave the producers of the show for the highly revealing outfit because of her strength of character. However, moving forward four decades and in my view – not unreasonably – there is a very different view of this character.
UN staffer Cass DuRant, who protested the decision to appoint the character - by holding a sign at Saturday’s UN event saying “Real Women Deserve a Real Ambassador” – told journalists the protesters “don’t think that a fictitious comic book character wearing basically what looks like a Playboy-type bunny outfit is really the right message we need to send to girls or even boys for that matter.”
And I think she has a point. To me the empowerment of women should surely be represented by a real person – not a make-believe one. And her figure should be the last thing that comes to mind when we look at her.
What message are we sending to young people when the only woman the UN can come up with to represent the empowerment of women isn’t even real?
Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English and tweets @photopjharrison.