Updated: Mar 21, 2019
First published July 24, 2016
I carried a Wonder Woman bathing suit as I moved around the country with me for a good part of my twenties. It went from New Orleans to Los Angeles and back again twice. I hadn’t worn it since I was about twelve years old. It stayed in a drawer with the scarves, tights, and other seasonal accessories until I was almost thirty-five years old.
I hadn’t really thought about why I moved that old piece of torn up, faded lycra around with me for decades. I kept it like a talisman. I was a little girl when Linda Carter’s version of Wonder Woman appeared on television. Like most little girls in the late 1970’s there were very few options other than Barbie, and I clung onto Wonder Woman, The Secrets of Isis, and Charlie’s Angels as representations of the kind of active, empowered woman I wanted to grow up to be.
I don’t remember how I came to own the Wonder Woman bathing suit. My mother probably bought it for me. It was a one piece with blue background and stars from the waist down. The top was red with the eagle wings around the chest. It had red straps, there was nothing revealing. It was modest, and perfect for a little girl.
We lived in a community where the pool was the center of summer life. If you had a bicycle and a membership, children could just show up and swim from seven in the morning until the sun went down. I spent most of the summer of 1981 at the pool. I lived in that bathing suit that summer, though I owned many others.
One day, riding my bicycle home, I was followed. I knew the person who followed me. My dad had hired him to cut the grass at our house. Michael was a little bit awkward, tall and lanky. He was sixteen, which when you’re eleven seems pretty close to being an adult. He chased me from the neighborhood pool to my house on his bicycle. We got close to my house and he cut me off, forcing me behind a house that was under construction. I fell off my bike, and was terrified. I had been bullied quite a bit at school, and thought that I was about to be beaten up.
I remember looking around the ground for something I could use to defend myself. Instead I saw big nails, screws, and broken glass. This increased my fear because I was afraid I would fall, and I would land on something that would hurt worse. In the midst of my moment of searching,
Michael’s voice broke the adrenaline soaked air.
“Take of your clothes.”
That was a surprise.
I had my bathing suit on under shorts and a t-shirt.
In a split second I realized what Michael’s goal was. I had a child’s understanding of sex, and I knew I was in trouble, and that I had to get out from behind this construction zone. My house was only about two blocks away. If I could escape, and get back to the street- then I could get home. If I could get home, I would be safe.
All of this reasoning took only parts of seconds as Michael screamed, “Take off your clothes!”
“Why?” I responded calmly, “I’m wearing a Wonder Woman bathing suit.”
“Take off your clothes!”
“Why do you want to see my Wonder Woman bathing suit?”
All this time, I was making small moves away from my crashed bike, and towards the alley between the houses under construction.
“I said, TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES!!!”
“I really don’t understand why you want to see my Wonder Woman bathing suit.”
This exchange went on for a few more seconds, punctuated by me pulling up my shirt to prove that I was wearing a child’s bathing suit. I was fully aware that I was reminding him that I was a little girl… and that he was attempting to violate that little girlness…
As soon as I got to the corner of the house I took off running, scared that I would trip and fall or somehow get caught as I sprinted for home. I had never run so fast in my life.
Michael didn’t catch me. I don’ t think he even followed me.
I got into the house, and locked every door. I had not looked back. No one else was home. I hid in my room with the door of my room fastened tightly. I had made sure that every door and window of the house was locked tight. My throat was sore from my shallow breathing. I huddled in the corner, watching the door. I had strategically gotten between the bed and the wall. Had he broken through the door I could kick the bed toward him and jump out of the window quickly, pushing through the screen.
Weeks later Michael had shown up to cut the grass and I was afraid. I found my father and told him I didn’t want Michael working for us anymore. He asked me why. I told him I didn’t want to discuss it— just that it was important to me, and I didn’t want Michael anywhere near me. My father seemed to read between the lines (he has three sisters). He fired him on the spot.
I had confronted a man much larger than me. He gave me an order. I defied it. I ran for my life.
That day several realities crystallized for me: my role as a woman, the possibility for danger in my life, and how I would always need to be smarter, and more clever…
Wonder Woman became a super power I could tap into. I could align with her.
I had used the archetype to find some power in a situation where I was otherwise powerless:
I had used the lasso of truth to return Michael to the reality… “I am a little girl.”
I had used the diadem to engage my mind, to be smarter, more clever.
I had used Amazonian strength to run away, as fast as I could.
I had used invisible magical bracelets to defend myself from the possibility of threat, shielding myself in the moment from what could happen, to what I had to do… get away.
I was able to call on Wonder Woman’s justice when I told my father to banish him, and he did so.
I could ask myself questions about the kind of person I wanted to be. Would Wonder Woman do that? Would she be honest? Strong? Powerful? Would she give up?
Certainly, my potential rapist could have overpowered me had he been stronger, closer in proximity, or not disarmed by my standing up to him in such an unconventional manner. But Wonder Woman gave me the distraction, and later she gave me something to reflect upon. That is the power of an archetype.
Archetypes can’t completely protect us from life, from human-ness. Archetypes are patterns that are beyond what is human, they live in the numinous, rarified space outside of the mundane world. Sometimes they can give us superhuman powers.
The encounter with Michael wasn’t really about him. That moment behind the half-built house was one of the first times and places where my individual power was challenged. Wonder Woman ceased to be Linda Carter on television that summer day. She became a part of me, a powerful dimension that I could align with, and invite into my life. Wonder Woman in that moment reached out an ethereal hand, and elevated me to a new vantage point. It was one of terror, danger, reflection, compassion, strength, vulnerability, and power.
That archetypal encounter was one of the most important of my life. There were many moments after when I needed a reminder, and got one. Random moments frantically looking for a winter scarf, or putting away clothes, when that bathing suit would emerge from the bottom of the drawer, and I would be reminded. Sometimes I would cry in gratitude, and other times I would feel empowered and strong, Amazonian.
Archetypes give us that. They lend us their “greater than humanity” evanescence. We get to touch the sublime, elevated realm of the gods by aligning with them.
What is missing from our world now is that we have banished this power to the darkness of a movie theater, or the small pages of comic books… or the elevated unapproachable place of religious exaltation. We see power as removed from us, which means that we are actually banishing it to the nether region of the unconscious. As adults, we have refused the power, and given it away to some “other”. Sometimes we give it to God, or we give it to a job, a political movement. This is a form of idolatry, we worship the numinous in something else, rather than being in awe at the power that embodies everything, even us.
Each and every one us has our own sovereign power. We have only to line it up with something, and give it a voice. Archetypes are good for that.
I don’t have my Wonder Woman bathing suit anymore. At some point, I no longer needed the faded, lycra talisman. Throughout my life I have been on a journey to create myself as an Amazon, though I can’t say I was doing it consciously. I learned the arts of Amazonian life: justice, honor, equestrian arts, friendship, hospitality, education, politics, and war.
These days I fully embrace Wonder Woman and her power. I no longer need to borrow her strength, her intelligence, her cunning, her truth, or her independence. I embody it.