[The following rant/reminiscence was prompted by Noah’s set of posts on Wonder Woman as a flawed feminist icon]
I collected most or all of the George Perez run of Wonder Woman when I was a bit younger than Vanessa, Wonder Woman’s adolescent pal. I was into it, especially the young-adult-lit stuff, like the Very Special Issue about teen depression and suicide. But seeing as how that was the first (as well as last) iteration of the character I experienced, I can’t say that Wonder Woman got me young enough to be my feminist superhero icon.
As I’ve mentioned, the mid-80s X books were really the foundation of my superhero (and beyond, if we’re being honest) worldview. There were plenty of well-rounded (by 80s Marvel standards) women in the New Mutants… I consciously identified with Rahne, the meek, pious good girl, but secretly identified with Illyana, because she was so full of rage for no real reason. But ultimately, I think my childhood feminist hero was Rogue.
Her power was, if she had contact with someone else’s skin, they would be knocked unconscious and she would get all their memories and powers. I guess it’s about the power and the loss of control and the terrifying vulnerability inherent in sex, or intimacy of any kind. Who can say what will be unleashed when you touch another person? I think, even as a little kid, I understood that awesome dread.
And the fact that Rogue had to protect herself against intimacy all the time, what did that mean? For one, it meant that technically, her costume was more in line with a man’s costume, skintight but covering head-to-toe, than swimwear/lingerie, like Wonder Woman. Her biggest fashion statement was an oversized brown leather jacket. It signaled both her toughness and her need to shield herself (and maybe as a kid growing up with religiously dictated dress codes, the consciously covering up felt like my reality).
It meant that no one ever ever got to touch her without her permission, or they’d be sorry. And you could say, being as she was created and written by men, that it’s all about straight male fantasies and fears, vagina dentata or whatever, but really. Think of how powerful that statement is for a little kid, who has no power over whether people she doesn’t know will muss her hair or pick her up or worse (I was never molested myself, but I really hated it when adults would be overfamiliar with me. But as a child, especially a female child, there was nothing I could do about it). Not even to mention all the fun when I grew up, where it would have been nifty if random-ass guys who groped me could have instantly fallen into a coma. How’s that for bodily integrity.
It also meant that all her romances were unrequited romances. Which is nice for kids, who know all about wanting, but have no reason yet to be modeling, you know, the actual identity compromises and icky sex stuff of settling down with a prince. That might just have been me, though.
It undoubtedly says something about my current female/feminist identity that the icon I think about is not all Girl! Power! Tough As A Boy! Her great powers were even greater vulnerabilities, and they were centred on her female body. Maybe a lot of the lesson of Rogue was the same lesson I’d pick up in other consciousness-raising works like Cerebus and From Hell: as a woman, you just can’t win.