I was excited to read Wonder Woman and Philosophy: The Amazonian Mystique because it promised the chance to dive neck deep into that conversations. It did not disappoint.
It is fitting for a character who has spoken in so many different voices over the years, that this book is a collection of essays by different authors. Each one explores Diana and her world through a particular lens. Many of them place Wonder Woman in conversation with philosophers such as Aristotle, Foucault, or Beauvoir. Others look at her actions and legacy through philosophical schools such as virtue ethics, or use her words and actions to explore issues relevant to our own world, such as if and when one can kill in the name of justice. The richness of essay topics speaks to the richness of the character of Wonder Woman herself. Each essay highlights a different facet of Wonder Woman, creating a mosaic of opinions and perspectives that befits a character who has captured the imagination for more than 70 years.
The essays are thorough and informative without being overly academic, or unapproachable. Many of them go into great depth on a specific topic, such as Wonder Woman’s relation to the Bushido ethics of the Samurai, or how her story fits into Greek understandings of godhood. Not all of them are compelling; I had trouble buying Adam Barkman and Sabina Tokbergenova’s argument in chapter 11, Saving Lives Through Just Torture that Wonder Woman’s use of the Lasso of Truth is a justification of torture in our own world. But even if I disagreed, their exploration of the Lasso and its power to compel honesty while causing discomfort and pain makes me wonder about other superheroes who are willing to punch the bad guy in the face till he spills his guts. The authors didn’t convince me that Wonder Woman would support waterboarding, but they made me wonder if Batman or the Green Arrow would.
In one of my favorite essays from the book, chapter 5’s Feminist Faux Pas, Andrea Zamin uses the work of Simone de Beauvoir to explore Wonder Woman’s role as a role model for women. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir illustrates how the idea of woman has been constructed by man as the “other” against which man can define himself. Man is subject, woman is object, constantly defined in terms of man’s needs and wants. Wonder Women represents a break from that, having been born and lived most of her life in a world entirely without men. Zamin points out Wonder Woman’s origins in the early 1940’s, a time when women were able to play a larger role in American society because the men were off fighting WWII. “Women were liberated from the shackles of ‘Man’s World’ (even if for a brief moment) that prescribed procreation, above all else, as feminine purpose.” Woman could be the subjects of their own world, with Wonder Woman leading the way.
Read the rest of the review here at here at Superhero Ethics.