Okay, we all know Wonder Woman is probably one of the most important female figures in comics, even if she wasn’t the first. But, before we get into all of that, I’d like to introduce the man (yes, man) who created her: William Moulton Marston.
Marston was a Harvard-educated psychologist and lawyer who largely failed at every endeavor he took on, from being indicted on fraud charges as a business man to being let go from his job at Universal after only a year (he was consulted on how to give their movies a more real, psychological feel). So, it may have come as a shock to some that he created Wonder Woman (and the polygraph test). But he didn’t do it (Wonder Woman) alone. In fact, he had help from his wife, Sadie Holloway, and mistress, Olive Byrne, a staff writer at Family Circle, who lived together and had a ménage a trios (each bore him two children). They supplied many ideas for the character and Wonder Woman was even modeled after Olivia.
Comic books began in 1933, though the first superhero (Superman) didn’t debut until 1938. They weren’t met warmly. Almost immediately a crisis surrounding comics began and they were considered scandalous due to their violence. Namely, people burned them, considered Superman a fascist, demonized Batman due to his carrying a gun, were overall damned by critics, and considered bad for kids.
However, M.C. Gaines, the publisher of Superman, happened to come across an article written in Family Circle by Olive Byrne that stated how Marston believed comics were good for kids and invited him to his office. While there, the feminist Marston suggested that comics were too masculine and violent – a female character would have powers of love, truth, beauty and could help sell comic books to girls. “…and that would be really important and great because it could show girls they could do anything.” (npr.org)
Thus, in 1941, Wonder Woman was born.
“And [she] comes to call herself “Wonder Woman” because she has superhuman powers that only Amazons have. She has bracelets that can stop bullets. She has a magic lasso — a golden lasso — [and] anyone she ropes has to tell the truth. And she’s got the cool jet.” (npr.org)
It seemed to some that she also symbolized (sexual) bondage. She was often chained or roped up and had to break her chains, symbolizing breaking free of the bondage of men. Therefore, it’s simple to see how she became important for the feminist movement. But there were also problems with her.
“Another difficulty with Wonder Woman as the ultimate feminine icon is that she has to embody “all of the strength of Superman” with “all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” The icon, so Marston states it, “wants to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are.” Many feminists after the 1970s began to see that the desire to be and have it all, with absolutely no sacrifices or submissions, is an unrealistic goal for either a woman or a man. In the play, the young woman berates the owner of the original Wonder Woman comic for living entirely in a binary world (women as Madonna or whore; patriarchy versus matriarchy). She espouses instead an ideal of equality between the genders. Yet, as the play progresses, it is obvious that such an ideal is easier stated than embodied or lived.” (americanmagazine.org)
Despite that, I think Wonder Woman has had an interesting evolution, despite her difficulties. She began as psychological propaganda for women in the ‘40s, became the icon of feminism in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and then transitioned to a hyper-sexualized figure for male geeks’ desire in the ‘90s and ‘00s. And I think we can all agree that she is still relevant, even after seventy years. (In the 1970’s, Wonder Woman graced the cover of the first issue of feminist Gloria Steinem’s new magazine, Ms. She would be on the cover three times, the last in 2012. I think this is a huge nod to her and the fact that she hasn’t been forgotten). She’s even getting her own film in May 2016.
Some may say that she empowers women. Others may say that she is a complete failure to feminism because of the BD/SM. But I think we can all agree that she paved the way for women in comics and for equality. Despite your opinion, Marston and Wonder Woman made us think about women and their role in society. They proved that women can do anything.
Written by Alexa Linger