Graphic Mythology: Wonder Woman (cont.)

Earlier and later.
Earlier and later.

Wonder Woman is the brainchild of William Moulton Marston and was first drawn by H. G. Peter. Marston, also credited by some with inventing the polygraph, was an educational consultant for one of the companies that eventually merged to form DC Comics. Following a suggestion from his wife, Elizabeth Marston, he created one of the earliest and perhaps the most prominent of female superheroes. It is possible that his character’s personality was based on that of his wife and that her appearance was based on that of Olive Byrne, a third member of their household and a participant in their polyamorous relationship. Both Elizabeth and Olive bore children sired by William though this information was kept from the public.

William Marston (front and center), Elizabeth Marston (front right), Olive Byrne (back right), and various of the trio's offspring.
William Marston (front and center), Elizabeth Marston (front right), Olive Byrne (back right), and various of the trio’s offspring.

“Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” – William Marston

Given his domestic situation and what some have described as a favorable view toward games of bondage and submission (which crept its way into early issues), I would have to say that the above quote makes a questionable claim.



The above images are tame by current standards but still problematic. Incidentally, Wonder Woman’s image was cleaned up after Marston died in 1947, and sales dropped noticeably, which says a lot about popular culture then as well as now. I personally don’t like the image of the empowered (or super-powered) plaything, and I question the validity of feminist heroes as written and drawn by men for a male audience. This is a swindling form of feminism at best.

I know I’m late to the party. Numerous books and articles have already been written about this subject in reference to this particular character. Next week, however,  I will discuss this topic further.

5 thoughts on “Graphic Mythology: Wonder Woman (cont.)”

  1. But wait, there’s more! Marston was involved with many social causes that we now identify as politically progressive. This includes the struggle for women’s vote. The image of a woman breaking out of chains was important in Suffragist literature. Having Wonder Woman chained up and then breaking free wasn’t so much an invitation to kinky bondage, as a call upon this Suffragist heritage.

    Also, I’m a little hesitant to disparage Marston for his private life, any more than I would a gay or trans person of today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My purpose was not to judge Marston in toto but rather to question his portrayals of the character he created. I have always been concerned about any form of feminism which reinforces the image of women by used as sexual objects by men. As a married man and a father, I am not prudish about sex, but as a husband and father of daughters, I am very concerned about how women are portrayed. I think it is more difficult to find the separation of interesting female characters from sexual roles in popular fiction than it is to do so for male characters. The difficulty of female actors sustaining their careers into old age may stand as evidence of this. Marston himself advocated something he called “sex love training” which included bondage, and I can’t regard this as anything but unhealthy. Did he act it out, and, if so, with whom? I just can’t see this as a respectful way to treat another human being, and I wonder if the feminist rhetoric that accompanied such depictions was an excuse for indulgence. Thank you for your response. I left some loaded statements in this post and the next in hopes of stimulating some discussion, and it seems we’ve both managed to touch a sensitive nerve. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. p.s. So far, you are the only reader who has offered an alternative opinion, and I appreciate it. I was expecting this to generate more of a response than it has up to now, but perhaps next week’s post will draw more fire.


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