What Ms. Magazine’s 40th-Anniversary Wonder Woman Cover Says About The State of Feminism

My pals at the Mary Sue posted Ms. Magazine’s inaugural 1972 cover next to the one the magazine is running for its fortieth anniversary this month. And as much as the comics-lovin’ gal in me is excited to see Wonder Woman back in her role as cover woman, I couldn’t help noticing some of the differences between the covers, which in subtle ways have a lot to say about where feminism was forty years ago and where it is now. Take the 1972 cover:

The billboard calls for “Peace & Justice In ’72,” rather than making specific feminist demands. She’s in a landscape where the war in Vietnam and the blasted landscape it’s produced are in danger of intruding on the American main street, and Wonder Woman rushes to catch a war plane before it crashes, perhaps into that schoolbus. In this reading, feminism is part of a much larger left movement, but the implication is also that it has a larger role to play. The cover lines may be about paid housework and body hair, but Wonder Woman, as the personification of feminism, is solving not just any problems she might have as a super-powered lady, but the problems of everyone else. This was a time when people still talked about misogyny as a root cause of war, something that seems awfully distant from our mainstream political discourse now.

Flash-forward forty years:

Wonder Woman’s striding through the streets of Washington, the capitol in the background. Unlike the cover forty years ago, when the women on the street were dwarfed by the Amazon striding above them, Wonder Woman appears to be following a group of multi-racial young feminists carrying signs about the War on Women and voting in 2012. The movement’s survived into the next generation, and its constituency is broader than it was back then. But its theater of operations has gotten smaller: institutional feminism is part of the patchwork of the left, but nobody’s claiming that feminism will get us out of Afghanistan. Part of it, I think, is that in those forty years, feminists have had to spend a lot of time consolidating and defending our early gains, instead of pursuing new goals. It’s hard to to move into new arenas when we’re still trying to hold on, for example, the right to choose.