'Seriously?' Wonder Woman actor helps put her character's U.N. controversy in perspective.

The United Nations recently fired Wonder Woman from her ambassador post, forcing her to fight back with valiance and diplomacy.

No, I'm not pitching you a comic book right now. This is real.

Wonder Woman through the ages. Photo by Matt Cowan/Getty Images.


The U.N. appointed the iconic superhero as its honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls back in October 2016. It's not the first time the U.N. has appointed a fictional character to an ambassadorship, either. They've given jobs to Winnie the Pooh, Tinkerbell, and Red from Angry Birds.

This time, however, things were a little different.

Wonder Woman's appointment to the U.N. was quickly met with controversy.

It began with an online petition started by U.N. staffers urging the council to reconsider its choice (emphasis added):

"Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent 'warrior' woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots –the epitome of a 'pin-up' girl. This is the character that the United Nations has decided to represent a globally important issue – that of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls."

I hope she's not going anywhere chilly. Photo by Matthieu Alexandre/AFP/Getty Images.

Those might seem like fair points, sure. In a world where there is an abundance of (real) feminist role models who don't professionally wear costumes designed for the male gaze and who didn't get their start in sexualized and submissive comic book stories, it's easy to see why the 44,000 people who signed the U.N. petition thought there might be a better choice.

Ultimately, the U.N. dropped Wonder Woman from her post.

If this sounds familiar, that might be because it's eerily similar to a plot line from an episode of the early '00s "Justice League" animated TV series.

Facepalm. GIF via "Justice League."

But reducing Wonder Woman to her costume reinforces the idea that a woman's value comes from her appearance — and that what a woman has to say doesn't matter if she doesn't look the way we feel she should.

Of course, when the U.N. decided to revoke the character's ambassadorship (which Jeffrey Brez, the U.N.’s chief of NGO relations and advocacy, told The Guardian was the plan all along), the Amazonian superhero had supporters in her corner to defend her.

Among them, of course, are DC Entertainment, which owns the Wonder Woman franchise, and actress Gal Gadot, who played Wonder Woman in "Batman v Superman" and the upcoming solo "Wonder Woman" film.

Gal Gadot (left) speaking at the U.N. along with Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the 1970s "Wonder Woman" TV show. Photo by Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

In a Time profile, the Israeli actor responded to the U.N.'s decision, lamenting that people would be so focused on what a fictional woman appointed to an honorary position is wearing when there are more pressing issues affecting women and girls.

“There are so many horrible things that are going on in the world," Gadot told Time. "And this is what you’re protesting, seriously?”

Gadot also noted that just because Wonder Woman is "sexy," that doesn't mean she can't also be smart, strong, and a good role model. "That’s not fair," said Gadot. "Why can’t she be all of the above?

GIF from "Justice League."

And what has Wonder Woman been saying?

Oh, you know, just some casual feminist critique of the way rigid gender roles hurt girls (from the 2009 animated "Wonder Woman" movie):

Images from "Wonder Woman."

And this wonderful moment from the recent "Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special #1" comic, in which she is the very embodiment of empowering, encouraging a young girl to put her heart and wisdom to good use — and to be her own kind of superhero.

Images from "Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special #1"/DC Entertainment.

Not to mention the times Wonder Woman stood up for nonviolent diplomacy in the "Spirit of Truth" comic book, confronted a man who was using sexist slurs in "Justice League: War," and put a guy who tried to get her drunk on a date in his place shortly before saving his life in the 2009 animated movie. And that's just to name a few. A short Google search will lead you to dozens of articles highlighting the feminist contributions of an incredibly rich female character who has influenced generations.

Whatever side you fall on, you have to admit that Wonder Woman is much more than her costume. She's an icon.

It's hard to think of a more male-dominated field than comic book superheroes, and Wonder Woman has transcended that to become one of the most recognizable faces of justice and baddassery in the world.

Women in Sydney pose in Wonder Woman costumes after a charity race. Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images.

For 75 years, Wonder Woman has been a bulletproof, ass-kicking symbol of strength who's given girls and women someone to idolize. And frankly, when your résumé includes uppercutting Adolf Hitler, being an honorary U.N. ambassador is nothing.

Just like Superman, Batman, or any other male superhero, Wonder Woman represents an ideal slice of humanity. She's a person who fights for what's right no matter what she comes up against. She's a myth, a legend, and an allegory for what's good and fair and just in all of us.

And look, this doesn't mean there isn't a serious problem with female comic book characters being over-sexualized or drawn specifically for the male gaze. But discrediting Wonder Woman completely because of her outfit or her body type (both of which change depending on who draws her) completely ignores what she really stands for and what she represents as an icon to so many people around the world.

Yes, her costume is revealing, but ultimately, isn't it more important to actually listen to what she's saying?

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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