Wonder Woman-Dominant?

As a little girl, my favorite Underoos were the Wonder Woman ones-blue, starred panties and red crest on the tank top.  I wore through several sets and ran around the yard convinced I was her.

To a little girl, Wonder Woman was a fun superhero who deflected bullets off of her wristbands and telepathically communicating with dolphins.  Especially, under the Warner Bros. name, the series featured cheesy 70s attractions like a disco beat theme-chimpanzee side kicks and an episode where she fights off “The Phantom of the Roller Coaster

So, imagine my surprise when I met a friend who is doing his dissertation on the history of Wonder Woman and the psychology of her representing a Dominant female.

A little history here on our caped (or not) crusader:

Wonder Woman was created in Dec 1941 by William Moulton Marston (under the pseudonym Charles Moulton) -the man who created the systolic blood pressure test and the polygraph machine-a Harvard PhD who lived in a Polyamorous relationship with his wife and their girlfriend-Olive.

William Marston was hired by All-American Publications which then became DC Comics.

It was his wife Elizabeth who came up with the idea of a female superhero and Marston agreed saying “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.  Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness.  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”

He created Wonder Woman in tribute to both of the women in his life-the looks were based on Olive (his lover)- and her Amazonian intellect on his wife, Elizabeth who possessed degrees in law and psychology.  In fact, when he died in 1947, these two women continued to live together for decades with their 4 children by Marston.

But, like many people at that time who were championing women and challenging their roles, Marston came under fire.

The Child Study Association of America labeled him a ‘sadist‘ and another considered his vision of an “American matriarchy” as one that would lead to ‘dictator dominance’.

Marston filed his comics with symbolism: Wonder Woman wearing bracelets to reflect the Amazons defeat by Hercules-her restraint of victims (often men) and her Lasso of Truth.

He even admitted to “Family Circle” in 1942 “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world”

Marston believed that man’s “submission” to loving authority was the key to overcoming mankind’s violent urges and that strong women were the key to the future.

Being in the city that I live in, exposed to the psycho-sexual trends (I live around the block from Good Vibrations!), I’ve noticed the recent fascination with the Dominant Woman-even at Burning Man, the huge, metal “Bliss” statue is far more celebrated than the wooden man.

Perhaps it is in cities like San Francisco, where extreme ideas take hold and trickle down in more pasteurized, palatable forms to other areas of the country.  And, while your aunt in Kansas or my friends in Pittsburgh aren’t going to be dressing in leather and carrying whips, maybe-just maybe, they will start to embrace the fierce feminine and can exert her power in loving ways.

So, maybe as a precocious 8 year old who ran around the yard in her Wonder Woman Underoos and barking out orders to my uncles, I got a small sense of the power that this costume represented!

And, in the bigger picture, Marston said it best “Only when the control of the self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society”

If you see a girl with a golden lasso on the Playa, it just might be me!

One thought on “Wonder Woman-Dominant?

  1. Great article, Autumn! I love it!

    And yes, Marston’s 1940s stories were not even thinly veiled. Comic books were an overlooked medium, and he saw a golden opportunity to further his subversive agenda. The question is: how successful was he? Wonder Woman has made a tremendous social impact. (Just ask Gloria Steinem!) But ultimately, did she succumb to the patriarchy? That’s my question today… now that she wears pants.

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