Most people know a lot more about Wonder Woman than I do. Even those who thought they knew a lot about her have been surprised to learn that the character’s creator, a psychologist named William Moulton Marston was a true-believing feminist, well before second-wave feminism landed on our shores.
In a brief review of Jill Lepore’s new book on Wonder Woman the Economist explains Marston’s view of women:
Her creator was an eccentric consulting psychologist, William Moulton Marston. “Not even girls want to be girls,” he wrote in his pitch to DC Comics, “so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power…Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones.” Wonder Woman was to be the magic bullet who, without bullets, would silence comics’ critics and, as Marston put it in 1945, act as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”
Strangely, now that feminism has made all women into strong, powerful creatures … girls no longer want to be girls. They think it's demeaning. Having been told to value activities that have traditionally been a man’s domain, they no longer want to be girls or, at times, even women.
Following Betty Friedan they no longer want to associate themselves with anything that smacks of traditional femininity.
As it happens, feminists did follow Marston’s lead in one area. They decided that they needed to recreate the archetype or the idea of womanhood, endowing women with force, strength and power.
That is why you can barely go a day without hearing one woman or another described as strong and empowered.
The feminist movement is based on the notion that you can change reality by changing an idea. And that you can change an idea by policing everyone’s thought and language so that everyone ceases referring to women with any term that denotes weakness.
Today’s modern feminist is a strong, empowered woman.
Up to the point when she is not.
In truth, if a woman, like a man wants to be stronger and more powerful she should do some weight training and perhaps learn to practice martial arts. If she wants to be powerful in business or politics she will need to work her way up a status hierarchy.
And yet, this poses a problem. Regardless of what they do, most women are still going to be weaker than most men. You do not make yourself stronger by saying you are strong. You do not make yourself stronger by forcing other people to say that you are strong.
After all, when a woman declares that she is as strong as a man, she is bluffing. Unfortunately, some men are going to call the bluff.
If you convince women that they are stronger and more powerful than they really are, they might make decisions that would be appropriate for the strong, powerful being that they are not. They might convince themselves that they are invulnerable when they are not.
When women convince themselves that they are stronger than they are, they sometimes engage in activities that are risky, reckless and even dangerous.
If they get hurt an army of feminists will rise up to scream that it is not their fault. True enough, it is not their fault. It's their feminist consolation prize. But, did anyone think that it might be better to figure out how not to get hurt.
Putting this aside, today’s strong, powerful feminists seems also to be more likely to need protection. From hookup culture to rape culture, we are now implored to reject the sexually liberated hookup queen in favor of the woman who is a victim of the rape culture.
Surely, as cultural attitudes go, this is strange. From one extreme to the next, from hyper-invulnerable to hyper-vulnerable.
In fact, today’s liberated women are so vulnerable to predatory males that even the criminal justice system is not sufficiently powerful to protect them. Some colleges have felt obliged to invent new sets of rules and new ways to try those accused of rape. Men accused of felonious activity are, according to those rules, deprived of the right to due process.
But, why have today’s women living under constant threat? One might say that today’s men are especially prone to rape women. One suspects that in the bad old days, the 1950s and early 1960s there was less rape, but that might have been because women in college were protected by parietal rules that obliged them to sign in to their single-sex dorms at midnight or 1 a.m.
Similarly, at that time, men and women were not allowed to visit their respective dorm rooms, except in very limited and controlled circumstances.
At the time, there was no sexual revolution. Hooking up had not yet been invented. Men were obliged to follow codes of gentlemanly behavior and women aspired to be ladylike.
Today, we have gone from the image of the strong empowered feminist to that of the helpless female victim of male lust.
It’s almost as though reality were saying that the archetype of the strong, powerful woman was a lie and that women needed to remain in touch with their vulnerability in order to feel like women, even to like being women.
It should not come as a surprise, as Lepore discovered by studying Wonder Woman that the character who embodied strong, empowered womanhood was often depicted as bound up or bound down… in submission.
The Economist explained:
But his [Marston’s] was an unusual brand of feminism. “Hardly a page”, Ms Lepore writes, “lacked a scene of bondage. In episode after episode, Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled.” Suddenly she began to appear a little less family friendly. Complaints were made, but Marston was resolute. “The secret of woman’s allure”, he apparently told Gaines, his boss, is that “women enjoy submission —being bound.”
Like a good feminist, Marston wanted to liberate women from domestic chores and kitchen duty. But, for what purpose? Did Marston want to move women from the kitchen to the boudoir, from a place where they exercised authority and bore responsibility to a place where they could be bound and gagged, tied, fettered or manacled... for his pleasure.