Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wonder Woman's Origins

I've just read this New Yorker article about Wonder Woman's creator and the character's secret feminist history. At first I thought it was just going to discuss William Marston being a psychologist, as well as his interests in the lie detector and bondage. But no, this tale goes much deeper. It talks about how the suffrage and feminist movements celebrated the utopian fantasy of the Amazon civilization as a better society, years before Marston created Wonder Woman.

Then the article revealed that Marston lived in a threesome with his wife Elizabeth Holloway, and their later partner Olive Byrne. They all believed in free love and feminism, and their unusual household solved the problem of how to balance having careers with raising children. It's kind of nice to see them sticking together for years, even after Marston died. The children probably didn't fully understand the arrangement, but they seemed to have been protected from scandal. The article goes on to talk about Marston basing Wonder Woman on Margaret Sanger, the birth control proponent, who turns out to be Olive Byrne's aunt. I don't know Margaret Sanger or the comics well enough to judge if the writer is right about the comparisons. But it is sad to read about how Wonder Woman got changed after his death and World War II ended; it's sad that after all these years she, and even Black Widow now, still don't have their own standalone movies yet.

But also, reading about this ménage à trois reminded me of the Dangerous Method movie I watched recently, with Freud and Jung. In the later part of the movie, Jung has a new mistress and his wife seems perfectly happy and content with the arrangement. So I do wonder if this kind of free love stuff was more common in that time period when people were experimenting with all sorts of radical sexual and psychological ideas.

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