It’s no secret that I am a Wonder Woman fan. She is strong, beautiful, and complicated. Everything we all aspire to be. So where did she come from? It turns out her history is just as complicated as she is.
Wonder Woman was created by Wiliam Moulton Marston in the early 1940s. Marston was a feminist. A number of articles have come about how peculiar he was, and he was an oddball but all the best people are oddballs. You see in addition to his feminist beliefs he had a thing for bondage. A number of Wonder Woman’s early depictions have wonder woman in bondage (it was her kryptonite) but the reasoning was because he wanted to normalize the fetish. But beyond normalizing a fetish, Wonder Woman owned her sexuality.
Many articles seem to be focusing on these aspects of the creator but there are other influences that played an important role in creating, such as the suffragette movement. There was a time when even sharing information on birth control was illegal. As a member of the Harvard Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, he was involved with inviting controversial suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. It created a controversy akin to the recent UC Berkley issues. Pankhurst was considered a radical for doing such things as chaining herself to the English prime minister’s fence. It was an element that has come up over and over again in Wonder Woman, having to break the chains that bound her.
But why the Greek Mythology references? Well, his wife, Elizabeth Holloway’s favorite book was by the Greek poet Sappho. For those unfamiliar with Sappho’s writing, it deals a lot with Amazonian culture which is intermixed with lesbian culture.
Though it is true that he lived with both his wife Elizabeth and his mistress Olive Byrne the women were not submissive by any means. Elizabeth was one of the first women to be able to go to college. She had a masters degree and a law degree. She was a modern career woman who became the assistant to the chief executive of Metropolitan Life Insurance in 1933 and was an intellectual in her own right. She had 3 children. One was stillborn and another was named after Olive.
Olive came from a prestigious feminist lineage. Her mother, Ethel Byrne and Aunt Margaret Sanger were the co-founders of Planned Parenthood. Margaret instilled in Olive the idea that women should be able to save themselves. Emmaline Pankhurst was a big influence on Ethel Byrne as well. While she was in prison for teaching women how to use a diaphragm, she started a hunger strike saying, “With the Health Department reporting 8,000 deaths a year in the State from illegal operations on women, one more death won’t make much difference, anyway. No amount of votes for women ever get will do as much as the solution of this age old problem.” (Secret History of Wonder Woman, pg93)
Olive and Elizabeth were such good friends that they continued to live together after Marston’s death.
With such strong influential role models, it’s no surprise that Wonder Woman has become the fierce femme that she is.