Texas Senator Wendy Davis walked right out of a Frank Capra movie and into the world spotlight when she stood on the floor of her state senate for more than 11 hours June 25th to filibuster a bill that would severely (and unconstitutionally) deny Texas women access to safely performed abortions and other healthcare services. Senate Republicans practiced parliamentary chicanery to end the filibuster one hour short of its midnight goal, but motions made by Davis’ fellow Democratic senators and thunderous chants of “Let her speak!” from the (mostly female) observers in the gallery helped run out the clock on the special congressional session and kill the bill (temporarily).
Sen. Davis’ heroic stand for women’s rights was an instant social media sensation (it was overshadowed in most mainstream media outlets by the news of the following day—the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of DOMA and California’s Prop. 9).
Appropriately and unsurprisingly, superhero memes featuring Davis quickly began to populate Facebook and Twitter. The image that caught my attention was one by Steve Marmel likening the bright pink sneakers the senator wore during her filibuster to other examples of famous superhero footwear. The comparison between Wendy Davis and Wonder Woman seemed particularly fitting to me given the impassioned defense of women’s reproductive rights the Amazonian ambassador once delivered before the United Nations (as depicted by writer Joe Kelly and artist Phil Jimenez in the July 2001, Wonder Woman #170 [Copyright DC Comics]).
When Governor Rick Perry called yet another special session of the Texas legislature July 1 to once again try to push this bill through, I took the opportunity to carry on the Wonder Woman/reproductive rights meme. To show support for Sen. Davis and her allies as they geared up for battle again, the group Stand With Texas Women asked people to post orange pro-choice profile badges on their Facebook pages. In response, I created some of my own designs by merging SWTW slogans with repurposed Wonder Woman images. Another of my badges uses concept art for a contemporary series of DC Comics collectible statuettes inspired by WWII pinup art to create an homage to the famous “Rosie the Riveter” poster of that period. What I like about this image is that it evokes the era that Wonder Woman was originally created, and when the seeds of modern feminism were sown by real women who were cutting their own apron strings and entering the workforce in unprecedented numbers to do jobs traditionally assigned to men. I also appreciated the chance to recast this image from its intended purpose as fanboy erotica into an icon of female liberation.
Unfortunately, this is a problem that has plagued Wonder Woman and other female superheroes for more than 70 years. Almost exclusively created by men for consumption by male readers, they have constantly been presented as objects of male fantasy. While comic book super men are depicted in costumes and stances meant to convey power and inspire great deeds, super women are often drawn in impractically revealing outfits and centerfold poses meant to arouse and titillate. Even a feminist icon like Wonder Woman, who psychiatrist William Moulton Marston created as an alternative to what he saw as the “blood-curdling masculinity” of male superheroes, is often depicted as more bathing beauty than Amazon warrior. (In fact, I began this site three years ago today with a post about the controversy over DC Comics’ decision to replace Wonder Woman’s bikini bottoms with a pair of proper pants–which were quickly stripped from her.)
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of real-life women in Texas right now modeling the sort of truly heroic behavior that has achieved seemingly superhuman feats against impossible odds throughout our country’s history. Inspired and mobilized by Sen. Davis’ actions, thousands of orange-clad warriors descended on Austin over the past two weeks to fight for justice. They demonstrated outside the capitol building and testified before the state Senate and House. And out of this popular uprising, more heroes emerged.
Sarah Slamen (who goes by the Twitter handle, @VictorianPrude) used the time she was given to address the members of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services to call them out on their hypocrisy and graphically describe the suffering individual senator’s would be inflicting on women and children throughout the state by pushing their extremist religious views and bad science on the people of Texas. As intolerant of free speech as freedom of (or from) religion, just two minutes into Ms. Slamen’s testimony, presiding Sen. Jane Nelson had her forcibly removed from the building by three troopers. Despite this thuggish effort to silence her, Ms. Slamen got to deliver the rest of her remarks to a national audience two days later on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
Today will most likely be the last stand of Sen. Davis and her supporters–at least for now. With weeks still left in the congressional session and another filibuster out of the question, the anti-women bill championed by Gov. Perry and the Republican legislature will almost certainly pass this time. But that will just be the beginning of the next series of battles against state-enforced misogyny, which may even end with Wendy Davis taking Rick Perry’s job.
Regardless of the obstacles or final outcome, Wendy Davis, Sarah Slamen, and thousands of other Texans remain committed to waging a never-ending battle for truth and justice that will guarantee women the right to protect their health and that of their families.
And hopefully they’ll show comic book publishers and readers that this is exactly the sort of cause that any self-respecting superhero should stand up for too.