Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Introduction: The 1970s

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Introduction: The 1970s

Article excerpt

Initially, our thinking about this special issue, The 1970s, began with Wonder Woman. The television series ran from 1975 to 1979. As children we watched, amazed by her magic belt, her nonviolent golden Lasso of Truth, her bullet-deflecting bracelets, and, of course, her killer (though not deadly) tiara. In our girlhood memories, she stood for all of us: Wonder Woman the Chicana, Wonder Woman the South American Amazon. For us, she was the outsider woman hero with whom we could identify. And then came the cyborg, the Bionic Woman, whose television series ran from 1976 to 1978. On the big screen, too, there was Foxy Brown, Cleopatra Jones, and a host of super women who would feed our imaginations and make us believe we were, indeed, "Free to Be."

These popular versions of empowered women reflected the revolutionary potential of the 1970s. Following the various strands of activisms around civil and human rights in the previous decades, women activists-second wave feminists-worked to shape new paradigms for thinking about gender, sexism, racism, sexuality, reproductive rights, religion, labor, colonialism, technology, art, music, and the environment. They transformed accepted notions of female power regarding their bodies, their pleasure, and their work. And they launched a host of interventions and institutions that will continue to haunt and inspire for generations to come.

The Feminist Press itself began in 1970. Its journal, W5Q. (originally published as Women's Studies Newsletter), first appeared in 1972. The same year, Ms. magazine launched its inaugural issue, which featured the headline "Wonder Woman for President" (fig. l). The accompanying image de- picts a towering woman warrior whose utopian ideal can effect real-world changes and defeat the machines of war, whose stride spans the length of a street, and whose golden lasso protects a city encased in its electrified pyramid. She seems to signal a new era, an era in which peace and justice seemed within reach. In the magazine, Gloria Steinern claimed her as a feminist icon, an inspiring symbol of female power. As feminists we know plenty of real women, wondrous in their power, whose labors sought to change the world in the decades (and centuries) before and after the 1970s. Even Ms. magazine's Wonder Woman imagery stands on a legacy; it extends a 1943 cover of the comic book issue #7 that envisions a future President Wonder Woman pictured among a crowd of women who voted her into office (Matsuuchi 2012, 122). That future is still to come.

Separate from Ms. magazine, DC Comics sought to incorporate the Zeitgeist of 1970s Wonder Woman as feminist in its 1972 Wonder Woman Women's Lib. The comic book's editors commissioned a series from black and gay science-fiction author and feminist ally Samuel R. Delany, who envisioned six parts, "each with a different villain," in the series:

The first was a corrupt department store owner; the second was the head of a supermarket chain who tries to squash a women's food co-operative. Another villain was a college advisor who really felt a woman's place was in the home and who assumed if you were a bright woman, then something was probably wrong with you psychologically, and so forth. It worked up to a gang of male thugs trying to squash an abortion clinic staffed by women surgeons. And Wonder Woman was going to do battle with each of these and triumph. (2001)

Ann Matsuuchi describes this 1970s moment in Wonder Woman's feminist history as an opportunity to explore the politics of representation as they inform feminisms in popular culture. In the issue "The Grandee Caper," the only one published before the series' abrupt cancellation, Wonder Woman wears pants. And, like the comic's noteworthy brown women characters, she looks for employment in New York's Lower East Side. When a department store owner wants to exploit the women and simultaneously capitalize on Wonder Woman's brand, the women unite to organize for equitable pay. …

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