I have a long history with Wonder Woman, mostly involving a '70s TV show starring beauty queen Lynda Carter. An Amazonian superhero, Wonder Woman wore magic silver bracelets that repelled bullets, flew an invisible airplane, and wore a golden lasso on her hip that could trap and hold any villain.
Episode after episode, Wonder Woman vanquished her enemies with strength and smarts, yet somehow her lipstick stayed a perfect glossy red and her shiny brunette hair never went flat. On top of this, Wonder Woman maintained a no-kill policy and was genuinely nice.
In homage, my little sister made silver bracelets out of aluminum foil and wore a cape made from a pillowcase. I rolled my eyes but secretly admired my sister's moxie, because like her, I was entranced by Wonder Woman's beauty and strength.
As I grew older, I kept an eye out for other strong women. Oh, there were women like Betsy Ross and Pocahontas, whom I learned about from history class, but stitching together a flag or bringing food to the English settlers didn't quench my thirst for a female hero.
Then one Sunday afternoon, I saw her. A woman who changed the world. She wore a blue-collared shirt, sleeve rolled up over a toned and powerful bicep, arm curled, hand clenched into a fist. Her hair in a red bandanna, she looked back at me with eyes wide open. It was Rosie the Riveter, her bright and determined face splashed across the pages of a department store ad in the Sunday paper.
I was struck by the determined line of her jaw and decided to get to the bottom of her story. I soon discovered that millions of Rosies changed the world by laboring in factories and shipyards to help defeat the Nazis in World War II.
Getting to know Rosie whetted my appetite to find more women who, with grit and guts, changed the world. I discovered great humanitarians like Mother Teresa and Harriet Tubman; women who wielded great political power and revealed social power, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Austen; and women like Mary Magdalene and Perpetua, who lived out their faith in extraordinary ways.
As I encountered these women of history, I felt a familiar sense of inadequacy as I confronted what seemed like strength, intelligence, power, and breadth of talent far beyond mine. It was Wonder Woman all over again.
But the more I got to know them, the more I realized these women were just like me. Real, flawed, broken. They often lacked education, resources, and support, and they had to overcome ignorance, tradition, prejudice, and fear. They also faced significant obstacles. Escaped slave Harriet Tubman, who led 300 people to safety on the Underground Railroad, suffered horrific abuse along with a traumatic brain injury that almost killed her as a teen. Elizabeth Fry, who reformed the entire prison system in England, struggled with debilitating periods of mental illness. Eleanor Roosevelt, a great humanitarian, was buffeted by virulent criticism of her less than glamorous appearance and devastated by her husband's infidelity, yet she became FDR's active political partner in a presidency that successfully led the United States out of a devastating world war and paralyzing economic depression.