Lynda Carter speaks up for Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter with her husband Robert Altman at the 39th Annual Kennedy Center Honors earlier this month.
Lynda Carter with her husband Robert Altman at the 39th Annual Kennedy Center Honors earlier this month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Is Wonder Woman a pin-up girl or a feminist icon? The question dogged a United Nations campaign that featured the superhero as a symbol of self-empowerment for girls and women.

While some feminists may have felt triumphant when the UN announced the end of the Wonder Woman campaign this month, a loyalist was not going to sit by as her cape was dragged through the mud: Lynda Carter, the actress who starred in the 1970s TV show, Wonder Woman.

Of the pushback that accompanied the campaign, Carter believes that some of it may be because "the UN didn't put a woman in there". The ambassadorship was announced just weeks after the UN passed over several women to be secretary-general.

Now 65, she is preparing to pass her golden lasso to Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress who will appear in next spring's film version of Wonder Woman. Carter took time from acting (including a role as the president on Supergirl and a governor in upcoming film Super Troopers 2) and career as a singer (she just competed a four-city tour and is recording her third studio album) to discuss the complex legacy of her Amazon-princess alter ego.

There seems to be some disagreement about what a feminist icon should look like.

What I find interesting is that they didn't look at the larger picture. I agree that the issue of gender equality is much larger than any character is and I understand that a comic-book character should not be representative of something that is that important. I agree with that.

What I disagree with is this idea about Wonder Woman. She's an iconic defender. She's archetypal. It's the ultimate sexist thing to say that all you can see when you think about Wonder Woman is a sex object.

What about those skimpy outfits?

Yeah, so? Superman had a skin- tight outfit that showed every little ripple, didn't he? So why don't they complain about that? And who says Wonder Woman is "white"? I'm half-Mexican. Gal Gadot is Israeli. The character is an Amazonian princess, not "American". They're trying to put her in a box and she's not in a box.

Did you ever think of your character as sexy?

I never thought of Wonder Woman as a super-racy character. She wasn't out there being predatory. She was saying: "You have a problem with a strong woman? I am who I am, get over it." I never played her as mousey. I played her being for women, not against men. For fair play and fair pay.

Some critics called Wonder Woman a "male fantasy". But was not the show aimed more at girls than boys?

I still have women at airports coming up to me saying: "Oh, you don't know what it meant to me. That show got me through this difficult time, that difficult time."

That's really where the fantasy became a reality, where Wonder Woman became something much more than a TV show or a comic book.

And I'll tell you this. When women recognise me in airports, I hold them in my arms and they cry.

If a guy comes up and says, "Oh my God, I had such a crush on you when I was a teenager", I say, "Talk to the hand. I don't want to know".

At the height of your fame in the 1970s, you were voted the most beautiful woman in the world in one poll. Does that sort of thing change the way you see yourself in the mirror?

I'm sure I went and looked. And I'm sure I had no make-up on and I'm sure I went: "Huh, really?"

You have been open about your struggles with alcohol and finding sobriety. Was that all about the post-Wonder Woman blues?

Yes and no. I think that that was more about my bad marriage. I went through some tough times and it brought solace at the time. But of course, that just rears its ugly head and bites you.

But now, it's coming up on 20 years since I've been sober.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Lynda Carter speaks up for Wonder Woman'. Print Edition | Subscribe