Wonder Woman will appear in another DC film, which is a sequel to the 2017 smash hit . The character has become so recognizable and popular that she has appeared in TV, books, ads, and other popular media. The character’s creation is a fascinating combination of feminism, fetish, and psychology. Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston was to say the least a strange figure in the comics world. He believed as this article from The Atlantic stated were superior to men. Marston was convinced that in 1,000 years women would be running the world. It was not that he just thought they would be in charge, rather they should be. There are more female leaders in governments around the world, but it seems improbable that some form of matriarchy would arise. This article was published in 2014 before the Wonder Woman movie was released. While longtime fans know all DC characters there remains a rich history that is normally ignored. The early Wonder Woman comics were designed to promote feminist ideology, yet also had sexual innuendo with the the depiction of bondage. Some how Wonder Woman was always getting tied up in ropes or chains and then used her immense physical strength to break free. There may have been more than one type of fetish suggested than bondage. Besides being involved in comics, Marston was a psychologist. When discussing the creation of Wonder Woman all the credit cannot be given to Marston alone. His two lovers Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne contributed to the character’s creation. Entertainment can sometimes be a vehicle for the promotion of ideology.
William Moulton Marston was a very unusual personality. His family life was a menage a trois . He had four children from Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne. This would have been unacceptable in the 1930s and 1940s, so it was kept secret. Marston was influenced by the women and historical events in his life. The suffragist movement and Olive Byrne socialist feminism were two factors in his ideological development. His fetish for bondage may have come from suffragettes chaining themselves to buildings during the 1910s. It could be questioned whether or not he was genuinely feminist. It appears that he was able to manipulate two women into maintaining what was an unconventional home life. Marston’s article ” Don’t Laugh at the Comics” caught the attention of Charles Maxwell Gaines. Gaines was the head of DC comics and realized from reading the article in Family Circle that the company could benefit from his expertise. Comics were coming under attack as being a bad influence on children. To counter this Gaines needed professionals to counter this falsehood. William Moulton Marston thought that comics main problem was the “bloodcurdling masculinity” as he referred to it. This was not exactly the more ludicrous argument of “toxic masculinity” uttered by feminists of today, but rather the lack of female heroes and independent characters.
If girls and women were presented with negative images in entertainment or media in general this could effect their self-esteem. As Marston articulated the damage of negative images of women : “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power.” He explained further ” not wanting to be girls they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are.” Not all women are good and peace loving. This is a positive sex stereotype that at times is embraced by feminists when it suits them. The idea was more so a product of social feminism and the temperance movement. Marston exalted female qualities as he saw them saying “women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness.” Thinking deeply about this it actually puts men into a gender stereotype. Violence and brute force are associated with men, when there are cases in which women were involved in sparking conflict. Every man is not violent or is every women peaceful. Maybe Marston was not as progressive as thought, at least by a 21st century standard. However his intent for Wonder Woman’s creation was clear: “the obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” One wonders if Marston was genuine activist, fetishist, or possibly a con man. His failed business ventures and the development of the polygraph make some wonder if the socialist-pacifist feminism he preached was just another enterprise.
When deconstructing entertainment, literature, or media certain elements can be discovered. Interpretations can be debated. However, there are some messages that are so obvious. Bondage and fetishism was a part of Wonder Woman comics. Wonder Woman in many of her comics were either tied up by her enemies. Panels would be devoted to breaking free from chains. Some would be quick to say that this is just a trope of action comics. Others would say this a metaphor for women’s oppression and the inevitability of equal rights being achieved.The blatant display of bondage is so obviously it is almost unthinkable that Marston was able to put that in Wonder Woman comics. The character was so popular that William Marston had a level of creative freedom. Bondage was not the only fetish that could be seen in the comics. Cratolagnia was part of the list of fetishes that Wonder Woman comics demonstrated.
Her strength and athleticism was highlighted through the art of H.G. Peter. William Moulton Marston was not a comic artist himself. The job of illustrating fell on Peter. Few people remember his name, but he could also take credit for being one of the creators of Wonder Woman. His career was based in cartooning and illustration. After Marston’s death he would continue to work with the character. Peter’s character design featured a Wonder Woman with a traditional figure, with some athletic development. The moral panic critics were quick to see that there was a fetish element in Wonder Woman. Marston stated that it was not violent or abusive, rather it was teaching readers to value peace and a more positive perspective about women. This was published before the sexual revolution and the second wave feminist movement. The character was more of a bold statement back in the 1940s. The article incorrectly says that Marston presented strong women as submissive. What he was really articulating was the idea of men submitting to women’s loving authority. Only when this happens can the world be free of war and oppression. It is questionable how much the creator actually thought this was possible. One thing is for sure is that he was into fetishes.
Using Amazons to deliver a feminist message can be both a bizarre and contradictory message. The Amazons of ancient Greek myth were a tribe of warrior women who live apart from men. Some myths presented them as man hating, rather than protagonists. Their existence in mythology was not to glorify the strength of women, rather to exalt Greek male heroes. While skilled in combat, they would meet their defeat. The blatant message was do not challenge male strength or power. Most importantly do not violate the natural gender order. Penthesilea was killed by Achilles. Hercules takes the girdle of Hippolyta and kills her. The queen of the Amazons was defeated in the ninth labor of Hercules. Amazons however got a more positive image in popular culture. It could have been due to a greater acceptance of strong women or women as protagonists. The Amazon’s of the DC universe are not man-hating, rather they despise the ways of the outside world. They are capable warriors, but not bellicose. Wonder Woman has been forced to fight seeking as the problems of outside world come to her home. Instead of remaining on Themyscira she sets out to battle war and injustice. This depiction of Amazons differs due to the fact it is based on utopian social feminist literature. The interesting aspect is that over time the term and concept has been used differently. Some have used the term amazon to refer to strong or muscular women. Knowing the original myths and definition it does not fit perfectly. The Amazons of myth were warriors. While the sportswomen of the modern day are not warriors ( although there are women serving in combat roles). The Amazons of myth are normally not depicted with noticeable musculature. The modern sportswoman has attained a highly developed physique through training and sports nutrition. Strong women of today do not hold misandry as part of their beliefs. Amazons of Greek myth only kept men around for breeding purposes for producing more girls. At least in a contemporary context strong women are modern Amazons.
Definitions and words can change overtime. The question remains is are Amazons a feminist statement? The ancient myths were not pro-women pronouncements. The modern pop culture presentations could be. The image has made such an impact it has become a small branch of feminist ideology. Amazon feminism promotes celebrating the strong woman both in history and fictional works. The idea of amazon may no longer be a pejorative. The history and myth can be confusing, which why it is subject to debate.
William Multon Marston can either be viewed as a fetishist, a feminist, or charlatan. Maybe he was all of these. A combination of psychology, political ideas, and art produced one of DC’s most iconic characters. His contradictions almost reflect the contradictory nature of the feminist movement in America. The feminists were allied with the abolitionists in the 19th century. When emancipation occurred the alliance gradually drifted when African Americans demanded more rights. By 1920. the movement completely abandoned the cause for racial equality, when suffrage for white women was achieved. The feminist movement was always divided between race and class lines. The sex and gender division just like others was debated. Marston’s solution was the embrace of loving community. To the radical feminists that would emerge in the 1960s, this would be unacceptable. They wanted separation and tended to have a more hostile attitude at men in general. Marston could have face harsh criticism from these individuals if had lived to that decade. He most likely would have been classified as a sex positive feminist, which still remains condemned by sections of the movement. Wonder Woman has kinky roots, but since 1941 has become something more. She will remain a long lasting and lovable cartoon character for generations to come.