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Wonder Woman 1984: How Diana Prince has long reflected women's place in society

Contributed by
Jun 14, 2018

We now have a title for the next Wonder Woman film. It’s Wonder Woman 1984, once again directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. (We have no idea how Steve Trevor comes back yet, but we have some theories.)

As the title suggests, we’re going to see Diana in the 1980s, decades after the last film. It will be fascinating to see how she’s changed. There is an innocence about Diana in the first Wonder Woman film that was indicative of where the country was at the beginning of WWI. It obviously doesn’t last after she witnesses what war was really like. It doesn’t matter how hard you train and how good you are at fighting. War changes you. The people around you change you.

When we see Diana in Justice League (and even in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), she’s still a hero, and she’s still full of her trademark compassion, but she’s a little more world-weary, a little sadder after what she’s been through. A bit of her idealism is lost. (Well, isn’t everyone’s idealism somewhat tattered these days?) Who will she be when we see her in the decade of excess and greed? She’ll still be our Diana, but the people around her will be very different than Etta Candy, her group of soldiers and the rest of the world back in the 1910s. That's going to change a bit of the essence of who she is.

Wonder Woman has reflected women's place in society since her very first comic book appearances. She may not have been the first female superhero, but she’s the most recognizable one out there. She had a lot on her shoulders. In the 1940s, when she first appeared in comics, Wonder Woman was representative of the women who went to work during WWII. Women were doing all the jobs back home, as well as raising kids and dealing with rationing, while the men were off fighting. Many women were at war as well. In the comics, Diana wasn’t worried about domestic issues. She was busy fighting against evil. In one rather well-known panel, Steve Trevor asks her, “Angel, when are we going to be married?” Diana replies, “When evil and injustice vanish from the Earth.” This was no time for romance. There was a war going on! Diana challenged the earlier view of women who were told to stay at home, clean, and raise children. A valid path, but not so much when it’s presented as the only path. Wonder Woman essentially tested the accepted idea of femininity in the same way these new jobs for women did. 

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In the 1950s, Diana had a much different tone. Of course, some of that was because of the Comics Code Authority trying to keep the funny pages free of “corruption.” We didn’t want Wonder Woman giving little girls ideas, you know. In the ‘40s, Diana hung out with the Holliday Girls who—gasp—might be lesbians! There was suggested bondage. She didn’t have to be saved by men. In fact, she was the one doing the saving. But in the '50s, the men were back, and, ladies were expected to return to thinking about marriage and babies and vacuums. Women were being forced back into their “rightful place,” and unfortunately, Diana was now constantly talking about marrying Steve. As a result, her comics became a love story. 

Diana reflected women again at the end of the 1960s when she gave up her powers to remain in Man’s World (cough, sputter) and took a job at a clothing boutique. Gone was her costume and her ability to fly. Now she learned martial arts and fought anyway. Women were in the workplace now. They were doing things for themselves. She didn’t need superpowers. She could kick someone’s ass in her fashionable new boots. There was even a plan to write a story about Wonder Woman defending an abortion clinic, though it was scrapped when Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. Magazine, put Wonder Woman (the classic version) on the cover in 1972, and wanted her to have her powers back. They got rid of the story, as well as the non-powered version of Diana. In the meantime, we had a TV pilot called Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince. (Watch it here on YouTube. It’s delightfully awful.) Diana was a plain woman who saw herself as Wonder Woman in the mirror. As we moved into the 1970s, we got probably the most famous version of Diana Prince: the Wonder Woman TV series that ran until 1979, starring Lynda Carter. 

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This ‘70s TV version of Diana saw her personality split in a way (the same as that awful pilot). Diana didn’t have powers immediately, but with a spin (a quarter turn counter clockwise, then a dizzying clockwise spin that all little girls in the '70s mastered), she transformed into Wonder Woman. In a way, it was representative of women trying to have it all. You’re one person at home with the kids, another with your husband, and yet another at your job. No work/life balance seminars back then!

As we moved into the later decades, we saw Wonder Woman turned into a demigod, with Zeus as her father. It first appeared in DC’s New 52, and 2017's big screen adaptation used the same continuity. Her powers were back, but she dealt with real world problems. As we saw Diana go through costume changes, fans and trolls howled about the pants, the jacket, the change back towards a more classic costume. They yelled about Gal Gadot’s casting and whether her body was “right” for Wonder Woman. Pretty much what women go through all the time now on social media, don't you think? No matter what you are or how you look, it's never "right."

So, what version of Diana will we see in Wonder Woman 1984? How will she react to that decade and the people who populate it? It will likely say something very important about us as well: who we were then, who we are now, and who we wish we could be. 

And hey, if we’re bringing back Steve Trevor, can we please bring back Etta Candy as well?