Monday, June 12, 2017

The man who invented Wonder Woman

I haven't seen the film, nor did I ever read the comic books, but I'm aware that the character of Wonder Woman is supposed to be a feminist icon.

And that's not so surprising given her origins.

It turns out that the creator of Wonder Woman was one William Moulton Marston. He was a product of that long first wave of feminism that ran from about the 1860s to the 1940s.

Marston lived together with not just one but two feminist wives:
Olive Byrne met Marston in 1925, when she was a senior at Tufts; he was her psychology professor. Marston was already married, to a lawyer named Elizabeth Holloway. When Marston and Byrne fell in love, he gave Holloway a choice: either Byrne could live with them, or he would leave her. Byrne moved in. Between 1928 and 1933, each woman bore two children; they lived together as a family. Holloway went to work; Byrne stayed home and raised the children. They told census-takers and anyone else who asked that Byrne was Marston’s widowed sister-in-law. “Tolerant people are the happiest,” Marston wrote in a magazine essay in 1939, so “why not get rid of costly prejudices that hold you back?” He listed the “Six Most Common Types of Prejudice.” Eliminating prejudice number six—“Prejudice against unconventional people and non-conformists”—meant the most to him. Byrne’s sons didn’t find out that Marston was their father until 1963..

The character of Wonder Woman was intended from the start (the early 1940s) to celebrate the power of the New Woman:
In February 1941, Marston submitted a draft of his first script, explaining the “under-meaning” of Wonder Woman’s Amazonian origins in ancient Greece, where men had kept women in chains, until they broke free and escaped. “The NEW WOMEN thus freed and strengthened by supporting themselves (on Paradise Island) developed enormous physical and mental power.” His comic, he said, was meant to chronicle “a great movement now under way—the growth in the power of women.”

More simply, Marston gave this reason for the creation of Wonder Woman:
Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.

There was some push back in the 1950s. There were complaints that female comic book characters, like Wonder Woman, had been stripped of any positive family role:
They do not work. They are not homemakers. They do not bring up a family. Mother-love is entirely absent. Even when Wonder Woman adopts a girl there are Lesbian overtones

As a result the comic book industry adopted a code of conduct which included the following:
The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage.

That might sound over the top, but when you read the back story of men like Marston, you understand why even in the 1950s the older values needed to be explicitly defended.

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