Last weekend I was blown away by ‘Wonder Woman’. The movie, that is. Well, at least the first 120 minutes of it (and even the last 20 minutes the toddler in me enjoyed). True, I was also blown away by Gal Gadot, the female protagonist, but perhaps less than my two companions, my teenage son & one of my nephews (With these companions, I had barely escaped ‘Baywatch’ – lucky me 🙂 ).
Anyway, it struck me afterwards that ‘Wonder Woman’ might, after all, have been better cast for the role of honorary UN ambassador in the empowerment campaign to fight for gender equality than I thought at the time. With hindsight, I think just the timing was off. They should have waited for the global release of the movie.
As a farewell session is taking place at the Graduate Institute for Margaret Chan (also a ‘Wonder Woman’ of sorts, at least in her best moments ), this morning, I’d like to compare in this short blog Wonder Woman’s role as honorary ambassador with the role Michael Bloomberg got a while ago, as a “Global Ambassador for NCDs” (oops, that should be STCs now). The fact that you can hardly imagine Bloomberg to use the term “STCs” already points to a problem, but I’ll get to that later.
Coming back first to Wonder Woman: the new blockbuster does not just display a very empowered woman – just watch her when the rock guitar is signaling she’s about to REALLY kick ass – the movie was also made by a female director, and although I’m aware of the fact that Gadot’s Israeli nationality is causing some trouble in parts of the world, I still remember my backpacking days when Israeli female travelers, having just spent two years in the army quite impressed me ((yes, I know that doesn’t sound quite right ). They were confident, smart, showing everything a woman can do with the right background, education & support. Gal Gadot reminds me of them. True, Israeli women also tend to look good :). But some level of objectification will always be there in the relationship between the two sexes – by way of example, just before the movie, we were ‘treated’ to a ‘Baywatch’ trailer & some reactions from first viewers on screen – the girls interviewed couldn’t stop talking about Zac Effron’s bare chest/sixpack (+ add a deep sigh) .
You can’t just wish that (sort of objectification) away, on both sides, rather girls & women should be empowered to deal with it, in my opinion, and tackle it the right way. As Gal Gadot does in the movie. The fact that she’s scantily clad in the movie, while male superheroes aren’t? That’s besides the point (see Baywatch again, and the role of male hunks in it).
Moreover, women (and certainly men) will agree that Gadot, like every attractive woman, radiates power, the power linked to her gender (admittedly, if one has some of “the gender cards” typically involved in displaying this sort of power). That’s perhaps the only real downside I see: Gal Gadot is not just smart and strong but also (very) attractive, and in this way enforces the stereotype that women have to be good looking to really count in this world. But otherwise, I mainly see advantages in ‘Wonder Woman’ playing the role of ‘honorary ambassador’ for empowering girls and women, certainly for the younger generations.
Over to Michael Bloomberg then. At first sight, I already thought the former New York mayor was a miscast for this role. Now, some months later, I still think Bloomberg is not the right choice, even if I admit his merits for the (American and global) NCD cause are many. I saw a tweet from Kent Buse this morning, in which he argued the need for “a mobilised public to generate the political incentives for governments to act on #Malnutrition #NCDs”. Now, tell me: do you think Michael Bloomberg is the sort of person who can pull that off, in an era where more and more people feel alienated from politicians and elites? Bloomberg is the sort of person who advocates for a non-ideological & solutions-driven approach, and tends to talk of the need (for elites) to “express and explain better” to citizens why vast changes (need to ) happen. He certainly has the right to do so, but if I understand Joan Williams a little bit, that sort of thinking is not going to go down well with many of Trump’s fans. On the other side of the spectrum, I also can’t help but wonder about Bloomberg’s ‘Bernie potential’. So if you ask me, Bloomberg is more likely to mobilize opponents of the NCD cause, than proponents.
For WHO, it also sends the wrong signal. One already has the impression (see Gates, FENSA etc) that philantrocapitalists have ‘better access’ to the Geneva corridors than civil society (and certainly the poorest of the poorest).
More in general , I also have a hunch Bloomberg is preparing a run for the US presidency in 2020, trying to be a US ‘Macron’ of sorts, a centrist. He and Macron certainly get along well, as we noticed some weeks ago. Terms like ‘the American pledge’ certainly sound ominous to me. By then the GOP contender (Trump or any other lunatic from the GOP) and a probably more left-wing Democrat presidential candidate would offer some more space in the political centre, so it’d certainly make political sense for him to run. But whether you’d want, as WHO, a potential presidential candidate to be a global NCD ambassador? That might be a bit of a ‘conflict of interest’… Even if in terms of timing, it’d certainly work for Bloomberg – the global NCD ambassador’s term is two years.
I personally think better NCD (or rather STC) ambassadors can almost certainly be found. Either people who have really fought NCDs at the grass roots level in LMICs, or at the global level, people like Naomi Klein who make the (necessary and urgent) links between the fight against NCDs, climate change, and for global social justice. To some extent, Bloomberg is making these links as well, but (1) what he “represents” remains problematic, to spark enthusiasm for this ‘broader’ fight and (2), with Bloomberg, you always get a sense that he shares the opinion of our elites that ‘populism is a danger’/cancer for our liberal democracies. Whereas, in my opinion, it’s neoliberal globalization that is the real cancer for the world, its people & the planet, and populism is only one of the reactions against it- true, a reaction that sometimes gets ugly and can be very dangerous in its own respect. (Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind Jeremy Corbyn as an NCD global ambassador. But let him first ‘take back control’ of the UK! 🙂 )
To make a long story short, also when it comes to ‘honorary ambassadorship’, Wonder Woman is kicking ass. So I hope Tedros (or the UN) will reconsider !