5 Life Lessons from Wonder Woman
One of my earliest memories is winning a fancy dress competition when I was 5. Costumes weren’t quite the same “licensed” brand as we have today, so all the girls were in beautiful Christening or Flower girl dresses – the real deal…
I wore, a crown made from card, a cloak which was actually an apron, and bracelets made from gold paper.
AND I won!!!
...but not because I'd “tried” and they felt sorry for me – but because I was the only person not dressed as a princess.
I’d come as Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston who felt stories were lacking "A strong woman who would do whatever she set her mind to do." For the psychologist also credited with inventing the lie detector, "Not even girls want to be girls as long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power." (Marston, 1943). Hence Wonder Woman spun into existence.
Yes, it is notable that this feminist warrior was a man, and there are some question marks as to whether his approach to what women want and need is biased under that lens, but Wonder Woman (and her incarnations after Marston) nonetheless teaches us lessons in empowerment which apply across time and gender.
1. It is possible to build a world on the values of Kindness, Honesty and Compassion
This is, after all, how the Amazons on Paradise Island lived for many years. Women on this island were messengers of peace and justice, and fashioned out of clay then given life by the god of Olympus. They were taught the laws of Aphrodite as well as trained as warriors. (I'm not entirely sure of Marston's message here but...)...they were also unable to grow old whilst living on the island. Diana (of the original comics) was simply one such woman. (It is not the place of this article to debate the changes to her origin in the 2017 film bringing in psychological conflict suffice to affirm it was not Marston's original conceit).
Through this upbringing we learn three of Diana's "rules of life"...and diplomacy:
a) Kindness: "No matter how small an act of kindness or generosity or simple positivity you put out in the world, it will make a difference." (WW Comic strip)
b) Honesty: "If loss makes you doubt your belief in justice, then you never truly believed in justice at all." (WW Vol3 The Circle)
c) Compassion: "Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't raise your hand until you have extended it first." (WW Vol3 #25)
Already empowering thinking points.
It is these values she continues to live and teach within the "World of Man" (with her own "Lie detector" - the Lasso of Truth, because it is only when we face the truth that we can grow) although she is often severely and brutally tested. It is also these values that draw Steve Trevor who eventually sacrifices his life for the greater good, and Etta Candy, in the comic strips her best friend who always has her back, to her.
Identify and try to always live your values, and you will draw those who also connect with them to you. This world is one which can often be unkind, but this does not mean you cannot create at least a small "Paradise Island" of your own to retreat to.
This week: Identify the 3 values you subscribe to most of all, and try to do something every day that allows you to be proud of yourself for living them - not just knowing them.
2. There is a difference between a bond of love and a bond of submission
Whether Marston's personal life was the precursor for 50 Shades of Grey, it's best not to speculate, but Wonder Woman wears the "Bracelets of submission". In her case, however, it is as a reminder that if she is ever bound by them, her power is lost. This is true of ourselves. Of course in friendships and relationships there is an element of compromise, collaboration, learning and growth, but this must be done as a team - two whole people benefitting both themselves and each other - not where one side always acquiesces to their detriment (and often to the advantage of the other party).
Deep love and friendship is difficult to find and to keep because it depends not only on you being willing to give and receive, but a connection with someone over whose actions you have no control. It is no wonder so many of us do not take the risk, or seek out the "easy option" - the "low hanging fruit" which, according to fruit pickers "...often bruised, damaged, unripe and weighs you down as you try and climb to the top!" (What a great metaphor!!) The climb is hard, but good relationships (friendships and relationships) are worth the effort.
And, not only that, but with the people who live your values in your team, even Wonder Woman would agree "Bonds of love never make the wearer weaker, they give him greater strength" (WW #35)
This week: Whether it is a relationship, professional or personal goal, aim high - know you (and the outcome) are worth the eventual reward...and never lose yourself to get there!
3. "For the love of chocolate" Friends are the ones who show up
Etta Candy, to all intents and purposes, does not seem like the best friend of Wonder Woman. Once an emaciated orphan, Etta found her moxie through chocolate. She's full figured, bad-assed, and human...yet she always has Wonder Woman's back. In fact, it is Etta who seems to help her out more than anyone, and Wonder Woman gets it:
Wonder Woman: Etta you're wonderful
Etta: Sure I am!
(WW Comic strip)
And Etta, at least in Marston's incarnation, got it too. She wasn't interested in chasing men - she had enough chase her in any case. She had brains and beauty, and was a motivating leader of the "Holiday Gang", and often delivered her endgame blows with her catchphrase "For the love of chocolate". Etta was a "Bold, sassy, wisecracking leader who was aware of her weight and didn't care." (Marston, 1944).
Unfortunately, later incarnations of Etta (post Marston) had her insecure about her weight and even developing an eating disorder - it was nice to see the film embraced Marston's vision.
The message for me here is it doesn't matter how different you may appear, if you share the same values, and you show up, you can certainly be my friend! Etta was human and yet she put herself in the same situations as the Amazonian princess - and often managed to use brains and leadership to help save the day.
This week: Show up, be there. We don't have phones just to talk about ourselves on social media, the best connections - at least to my mind - still go on in real life! If someone you love hasn't called you for a while and you want to hear from them, call them, drop them a text - simply let them know you have their back!
4. Heroes rise from anywhere
Being fashioned out of clay and given powers from the Gods in a land of peace and harmony was Marston's reaction against the "typical" comic book hero origin of destruction and revenge. Wonder Woman had a different upbringing, a different lifestyle, a different understanding of her world, and entered a world which was rough and unkind "It can't be legal to deprive poor children of milk" (WW #7). Yet, she made herself a hero within it.
Of course, Wonder Woman also had much to learn "Power without self control tears a girl to pieces" (WW #19) but she remained true to herself and her beliefs - when she faltered, she was often bound by her bracelets!
This week: Say to yourself "I know I am doing a good job". It is not your place to save the whole world - in fact I will discuss that in the next point, but if you can believe in who you are, what you are doing, and why you are doing it, you are in the position to be the hero to someone. Never underestimate a tiny act of kindness - letting someone out in the road, giving up a seat, offering a smile. But remember, as with Wonder Woman - have "self control" - give from a place of joy not a place of need - give because you want to share, not because you are crying for appreciation (my previous article will help on this).
5. How you live your life is always your CHOICE - and the choice of others to make for theirs
All you can ever do is live your life your way. While you may feel you know what is best for someone - and no matter how much you want them to be a part of your life, unless they are your child, you have little right - nor power - to force the issue. "I used to want to save the world...but then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves - something no hero will ever defeat." (Wonder Woman Movie 2017)
I like this movie quote - despite the changes the movie makes to Marston's origin, it encapsulates the essence of what coaches often remind clients you cannot save people from themselves. You can do as much as you can - without exhaustion - but then you need to let them make their own choices. In fact it is then when you are better off keeping yourself strong to help pick up the pieces later.
This week: Focus that effort you might have spent helping someone who might not have put the last thing you suggested into action on something which energises you. That way, when they are ready - you are similarly revived. Go for that run, have that cup of coffee in a favourite spot, read that book...after all the strongest you is the most powerful you.
Dr Audrey Tang (R) - who still dresses up as Wonder Woman in her spare time - is a chartered psychologist and author focused on practical self improvement. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; watch her psychology & coaching masterclasses on YouTube Or catch her hosting Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV where she and her team discuss how psychology affects our behaviours in the workplace and what we can do about it. Follow her self improvement content updates on Twitter/IG @draudreyt