“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. 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.”
At first it sounds like the quote above is given by a typically misogynistic man from the 1940’s. Only partly true, however, as the quote was given in 1943, but the speaker was a staunch supporter of women’s rights, and would go on to create an enduring and important cultural icon.
The most famous female superhero: Wonder Woman.
I know only very little about Wonder Woman as a character, having read a few Justice League comics that feature her, and almost none of her own solo series. I know she’s an Amazon, has a lasso of truth, and could give Superman a good fight, and that her real name is Diana. But beyond that? I’m more aware of her importance as a cultural icon than I am her history within the comics themselves.
First appearing in 1941’s All Star Comics #8, Wonder Woman was created by psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston
(the same man who came up with the polygraph test, or the lie detector test, which probably inspired the Lasso of Truth) she was based in part on two women; his wife Elizabeth Marston, a woman who he considered to be a model of women for that era. Elizabeth earned three degrees in an era where many women failed to even attend higher education, and would buck many trends of society by enjoying a full career in the time when women were considered to have their place in the kitchen, and not the work force. Dr. Marston was also inspired by Olivia Byrne, who lived with the married couple in an open relationship; Dr. Marston had two children with each woman, and upon his death Olivia would raise all four children whilst Elizabeth would bring home the bread. For more information on what an incredible woman Elizabeth was, please click here.
Wonder Woman was created as an alternative to the then current crop of superheroes who would best their foes using weapons or powers. This new kind of superhero would triumph with love, and at Elizabeth’s suggestion, Dr. Marston made her a woman.
Remaining in continuous publication since her debut (aside from brief a brief hiatus in 1986 and again in 1992) , Wonder Woman is one of the longest running comic books to date – surpassed by Batman and Superman only. Although she has suffered some dubious story choices over the years, Wonder Woman has endured, indeed she has thrived. One of her earliest weakness (long since ignored now, thankfully) was that if a man was able to tie her bracelets together then she was rendered utterly powerless, but she never once failed to out wit her captors, escape her bonds and save the day. While you can infer not-so-subtle implications of bondage from this – indeed her early stories contained an awful lot of bondage, with Dr. Marston explaining that “binding and chaining are the one harmless, painless way of subjecting the heroine to menace and making drama of it.” – you can also infer that Dr. Marston is telling us that you don’t need super powers to be a hero. Like Wonder Woman, who is more than her super powers, you too can rely on your inner strength to be great.
Wonder Woman has been at the forefront of championing feminist ideals for decades, and today she is an icon that has been used by many women’s movements across the Western World. In a 1972 Ms. book published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston about the character entitled simply Wonder Woman Gloria Steinman wrote for the opening essay “looking back now at these Wonder Woman stories from the forties, I am amazed by the strength of their feminist message… Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream.”
I couldn’t tell you what Wonder Woman’s origin story is; it has been revised more times than I care to remember (which, to be honest, is any number more than two). What I can tell you, though, is that for nearly seventy five years Wonder Woman has been an icon for people of all walks of life, fighting both in the comics and outside of them for “liberty and freedom for all womankind.” As important as she is to comics for thriving for so long in a traditionally male dominated industry, what Wonder Woman stands for outside of comic books is just as integral in society.
When creating such an iconic character as Wonder Woman, Dr. Marston created her to show that we can win not with firepower and weapons, but with love and by using our wits to over come challenges. Wonder Woman represents the very best of humanity. Dr. Marston believed that women were more honest and reliable than men and could work more efficiently. He created Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”
That such a paragon of humanity is a woman we can all look up to is no bad thing.