Wonder Woman and Her Provocative Creator


Wonder Woman is experiencing a resurgence lately with a new book and movie in developement. Jill Knopf’s book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman is not so much a story about the comic character but a story of feminism and the interesting ménage-à-trois at the heart of the author’s personal life.  448 pages; $29.95. Buy from Amazon.com

WONDER WOMAN first appeared at the beginning of WWII in December 1941. DC Comics launched the series as a response to the negative reaction parents had to the violence in other series such as Superman. William Moulton Marston, her eclectic creator, described his character as, “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”

“psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”

“Not even girls want to be girls,” he wrote, “so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power…Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones.”

Marston (who wrote as Charles Moulton) became a staunch feminist while attending Harvard, where he met and later married fellow feminist, Sadie Holloway. Their marriage took an unconventional turn when Marston introduced Holloway to his new lover, Olive Byrne. He gave her a choice of accepting Byrne into their family or divorce. The three lived together and raised four children until Marston’s death. Holloway, obviously, saw some advantages to having her own wife. After Marston’s death in 1947, she lived with Bryne until the end of her life.

wonder womanWhile Marston instilled strong characteristics into his heroine, he made some provocative statements when parents complained that she found herself bound and gagged in practically every episode.  “The secret of woman’s allure”, he apparently told Gaines, his boss, is that “women enjoy submission—being bound.” It will be intriguing to see how such ideas might be interpreted in the new Wonder Woman film currently in development. Will it be a Wonder Woman meets Christian Gray type of adventure? That could certainly be interesting.

While reading a review of Knopf’s book on The Economist website, I had to giggle reading this astute comment.

“The most interesting aspect of this isn’t Wonder Woman, it’s Marston’s personal life. A guy can, relative to traditional thinking, force his wife to accept his lover and not only that, have his wife finance his lover and their offspring… and still have it written that he ‘clearly believed in women’s rights’.

Not even Bill Clinton pulled that off.”

Marston himself may be the true hero, to men at least.


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