Like any superhero, Wonder Woman has a pretty complicated origin story.
Born in both feminism and misogyny, Diana Prince was the creation of psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston. The good doctor had been bought in by DC (the famed comics powerhouse) to create a female superhero that would silence critics who called DC sexist and overly masculine.
Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941 and her unique brand of red white and blue heroism seemed like just the feminist super hero DC needed.
The creator of Wonder Woman Dr. William Moulton Marston was unsurprisingly a staunch feminist…but the kind of feminist that might happily crack: ‘get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich’ jokes (we’ll get to that!)
Marsten had some pretty radical feminist theories and believed that women were the superior sex, who were held back by being housewives (hey-this was the early 1940s!)
He led a progressive life for the time, living with both his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marsten and lover, Olive Byrne. To avoid scandal, the trio told outsiders that Olive was a widowed sister…who just happened to give birth to Marsten’s kids.
Both Olive and Elizabeth were children of the suffrage movement, with Olive’s mother having both opened the USA’s first contraception clinic and been the first woman in the US to go on hunger strike as part of the fight for suffrage. Elizabeth was similarly tied to feminism; 1 of just 3 women to graduate in her law class.
Marsten was also sexually liberal, a firm believer in contraception and an ardent BDSM lover and member of the BDSM community.
All of this trickled into Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman spent a lot of her time tied up, manacled, chained and gagged.
Though she used her lasso of truth to pin down bad guys, her main source of weakness was being captured and tied up…because…reasons.
Marsten was hands on, but he was particularly specific around art work that showed Wonder Woman bound (no idea why…)
His heroine was seen trussed up and tied in almost every issue, with Marsten enthusiastically telling his editors:
‘Women enjoy submission’
But not all women did. Dorothy Roubicek, the first female editor at DC, took issue with Wonder Woman’s treatment. Marsten shrugged off her concerns, explaining that:
‘Of course I wouldn’t expect Miss Roubicek to understand this…has been in comics only 6 months or so, hasn’t she?’
But despite all of this Wonder Woman’s origin story remained revolutionary for the time.
Ok – Yes, she does comes to America in part because she falls in love with a man. BUT she also goes because she’s heard that America is one of earths last hopes for female equality and that there’s a whole bunch of men trying to fuck that shit up; so naturally she needs to stop this through the medium of ass kicking.
Marsten said Wonder Woman was created for:
‘The new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.’
Now, lets all be in agreement, this is incredibly bad ass for the 1940s! Is it any wonder then that this new type of hero started to inspire girls to become real world heroes?
Then in 1947 Marsten died; his death was pretty much immediately followed by:
1) A psychological study which claimed violence in comics had a detrimental effect on youth. This led to comics putting more emphasis on soapy romantic storylines
2) The Dawn of the Silver Age of comics-which the internet has lovingly dubbed ‘super dickery’ for shit like this:
This all led to Wonder Woman spending a lot of the 50s writing a love advice column and dreaming of marriage, babies and a career as a model.
But that wasn’t to say Wonder Woman’s initial radicalism had been forgotten! The little girls she had inspired in the 40s were now all grown up and spear heading a new wave of feminism.
Wonder Woman was the cover star of feminist magazine Ms, in 1972. Gloria Stienham explained how vital Diana Prince was to this movement:
‘Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life’
In 1975 Diana Prince set out to inspire a new generation of children, when she made her TV debut with hit live action series ‘Wonder Woman’.
But Wonder Woman was more than a TV show, it soon turned into a national debate as to what exactly was proper attire for saving the world – a debate which has continued to this day… just now on a global scale!
The most recent actress to play Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, has faced plenty of criticism on her costume and physique – during a recent TV interview Gadot was told she was too skinny and flat chested to play Wonder Woman (no i don’t get this logic either). Fortunately Gal Gadot can read a bitch out, and told the reporter that Amazon women of old actually only had one breast so they could have more space for their bow and arrow.
Sadly this was far from the first time Diana Prince had to clap back.
In 1942 Wonder Woman was actually banned for a short time, all because of her dress attire. Wonder Women’s knee high skirt, bodice and knee high boots were seen as incredibly skimpy and likely to induce wide spread ‘lesbianisim’ among impressionable young girls.
Linda Carters 1970s Wonder Woman was as known for her tiny waist and low cut costume as she was her feminism and world saving.
In fact, just this year, Linda Carter had to slam sexism yet again, after Wonder Woman lost an honorary UN ambassador role, following complaints the character was too sexualised.
For those wondering, the role Wonder Woman lost was to fight gender inequality…
But if we can learn anything from Wonder Woman it’s how to keep on busting walls down despite the adversity. Now with the mammoth success of her solo big screen debut, it looks like Wonder Woman is set to become a hero to a whole new generation of girls.
Born from both suffrage and misogyny, she opened the door for female super heroes in comics, sparked the imaginations of fledgling female leaders and is now kicking the door down on the future of female led blockbusters.
She may be in her 70’s, but Wonder Woman’s got a lot of fight left in her.
This was interesting, where can i find out more? Jill Lepore has a fantastic book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which gives an in depth glimpse into how this iconic character was created and the effect her creator, Dr Masten, has on her. Worth checking out!