While I on vacation this week I have a series of guest posts from readers, bloggers and other writers. This guest post is by Josie Campbell whose name you may recognize from her work writing news at Comic Book Resources. Josie is writing on the importance of Wonder Woman. It’s a terrific essay and I ask that you read the whole thing. Her thoughts follow,
Of all the superheroes in all the world there is only one, in my eyes, who has fundamentally changed our culture as a whole — and it ain’t Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or any of the other superlative-Men who get trotted out in that capacity.
That superhero is Wonder Woman.
Created in World War II by William Marston explicitly to tackle discrimination in the real world, Wonder Woman has been and still is a feminist symbol, a rallying cry that has helped make our world what it is today. The inventor of the polygraph, Marshton believed that women were more trustworthy than men, and was constantly upset that what he characterized as woman’s inherit goodness was considered a weakness by mainstream American society. “Not even girls want to be girls,” argued Marston, “So long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power…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.”
Thus he invented Wonder Woman, the very first super-powered super-heroine. Targeted specifically to girls (also a first) her mission was not to defeat the Axis Powers — as was so many of her compatriots — but to bring peace from the all-female Paradise Island to the “Patriarch’s world,” contemporary America, and to fight “fearlessly for the downtrodden women and children in a man-made world.”
Being an academic Marston wrote issues that were one part action, two parts allegory: the origin issue is a feminist re-telling of the Theseus and Hippolyta myth, turning the pro-patriarchy Greek story on its head to equate women with enlightenment and civilization and masculinity with barbarism, as well as equate marriage with slavery (as symbolized by the bracelets the Amazons wear) and set up Wonder Woman’s main foes as the concepts of sexism and war.
Yeah, that’s a lot for a kid’s book.
While so many heroes of the Golden Age emerged from wish fulfillment or a need to fill pages, Wonder Woman from the get-go had a political agenda, a radical feminist one that would give Fox News palpitations. Marston believed that the war effort was a vital step in women’s liberation; he believed that after realizing their inner-strength women would refuse to be put back as second-class citizens. He also believed that women were sexually superior to men, was famously kinky, lived with his wife and mistress, and espoused the notion that if men submitted sexually to women the world would be a better place.
Yeah, that’s also a lot for a kid’s book.
Marston was a complicated man who made a complicated character, one that encouraged dissent and caused vicious debate. Mainstream public authority figures of the time hated Wonder Woman. She was trotted out during the Congressional Kefauver anti-comic book hearings as a cause of lesbianism and has her own section of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s “Seduction Of The Innocent” where the good doctor rails that the women in the comic dare be single, working and happy: “They are not homemakers. They do not bring up a family. Mother-love is entirely absent,” he groused. There’s even an urban legend that Marston provided a feminist character bible explaining where to go with Diana, which was promptly destroyed by publishers after his death.
No male hero got such violent reaction, but then no other hero was trying to do what she did — encourage real-world women to challenge real-world male authority. You can’t separate the Wonder from the Woman. Any talk about her as a character must always include a reflection on gender because that’s what she was born to do.
And that’s precisely what she’s done. When the feminist movement exploded in the ‘70s Wonder Woman was their symbol, gracing the cover of “Ms. Magazine,” protest signs, and hailed as an inspiration by feminists like Gloria Steinem who declared her a character girls could identify with, “Beautiful, brave, and explicitly out to change ‘a world torn by the hatreds and wars of men.’” She was Lynda Carter kicking butt on TV and she was the new American woman, unafraid to make her opinions known.
As was in my own life. I became a comic book reader because of Wonder Woman, and remained one because of her, no matter how difficult. I was a kid of the ‘90s and the ‘90s was not a kind time to be a female comics fan, even a young one. Walking into a comic book stores elicited responses from polite confusion to, in one particularly awful instance, a shopkeeper kicking me out of his store by angrily telling me “girls don’t read comics.”
But I couldn’t put her down. Diana was a woman fighting bad guys when the only other role models I had were Strawberry Shortcake, and whatever token women got tacked onto action movies — and I didn’t want to be a love interest, I wanted to be the protagonist. It opened the door to a wider world of geekdom too, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to online fandom, and while I was often the only girl in the conversation I was determined to be part of the conversation. I was a feminist before I knew what the word meant because of Wonder Woman.
And today, 70-odd years after she was created, we still need her. In Wisconsin it’s now legal for employers to pay me less than a man for the same exact work. In Florida if I stand my ground against an abusive ex I’m not covered under Stand My Ground laws. In Arizona I’m always considered two-weeks pregnant by law (who knew a state could be my baby daddy?).
The vicious prejudice, bigotry and hate Marston wished to combat is alive and kicking today — but Wonder Woman, by her very existence, encourages us to kick back.
So forgive us Wonder Woman fans if we seem obsessive. If we bicker over the symbology of pants versus no pants; over whether the Amazons should be peacemakers or warriors; whether Diana’s origin should be biological or remain a goddess virgin birth. To the women who read her, Wonder Woman is not just a fictional character. She is not here to patrol a space sector for some mythical organization. She is not here to stop muggers in a back alley. She’s not here to fight super-teams or save perky journalists or combat sea-dwelling monsters.
Wonder Woman is here to save me.
She’s here to save my mother, my grandmother, my sisters and friends. She’s here to save us from being humiliated and silenced; from having our achievements ignored; from being considered less than human. The Patriarch’s World isn’t the New 52 — its here, today, right now.
As beautiful as Aphrodite, as strong as Hercules, as wise as Athena, her name is Wonder Woman — and she’s here to save us all.
Josie Campbell is a bona-fide geek and staff writer for Comic Book Resources where she reports on the wide world of DC. Besides comics she is also a freelance comedy writer and has worked for Warner Brothers and ghostwritten for comedians such as Norm MacDonald and Jay Mohr.