Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

October 30, 2014

More press about the feminist poly origin of Wonder Woman

Is polyamory inherently feminist? These days it is, at least in the self-identified poly movement. And you can argue that a philosophy based on equal freedom of relationship choice across genders — to choose to be poly or mono without apology, to be sexual or not without apology, and to enter or leave relationships by your own decision — has to count as feminist compared to mainstream society.

Maybe that's why women outnumber men more than 3 to 1 among the authors and co-authors of the 40 nonfiction books on polyamory published since the movement took shape 30 years ago.

Or maybe it's because of a founder effect. The movement was birthed and shaped largely by such women as Ryam Nearing, Deborah Anapol, and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart in the 1980s and 90s, following the burnout of the male-dominated free-love movements of the 1960s.

But maybe some of the founder effect began earlier. The polyfamily that created the Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s was on a visionary feminist mission to remake the world, as Jill Lepore explores in new depth in The Secret History of Wonder Woman just out this week. The book continues to get heaps of mainstream press. One theme that many reviewers are dwelling on is the weird tension between the family's advanced ideals and the fact that for decades, the two women stayed in the background — one bringing home the paychecks, the other running the home and raising the children — for a man who seems to have been a perpetual screwup but got all the recognition.

To continue from last week's press roundup

● If I had to pick the best article so far, it would be Paradise Lost, the big five-pager by Jenny Diski in the November Harper's magazine. It's behind a paywall for non-subscribers, but a friend sent me a copy. Excerpt:

The history and creation of Wonder Woman has [this] effect on me: astonishment at how little women seem to have achieved after so many brave battles. And frankly, it’s a comfort to tell the comic-book story rather than to face the rebellious, revolutionary, real-world hope that accompanied the creation of Wonder Woman, and to see how, again and then again, women struggled and failed to wrest the narrative from men....

Everything about Wonder Woman — her creators, her story, her style, her attitudes, and her development — speaks in undertones to the century-long failure of feminism to gel. Not that things haven’t gotten better for women; they have.... But look more carefully at women’s day-to-day lives — aping male behavior and affect while still being paid unequally, watching the top jobs go to men while suffering the shortfall of energy and effectiveness brought on by combining child care and work — and we can see that we are cartoon versions of liberated women... drawn in broad strokes that mesh perfectly with male fantasies of dominance and submission....

● On the National Public Radio website: The Freaky, Fabulous, Feminist 'Secret History' Of Wonder Woman (Oct. 26, 2014).

By Etelka Lehoczky

[William Moulton] Marston had been a committed feminist for decades by the time he created Wonder Woman in 1941. He'd been exposed to the women's suffrage movement while in college, and Sadie [Elizabeth] Holloway, whom he married in 1915, was "something of a revolutionary," Lepore writes. 25 years later, Marston's determination to depict Wonder Woman in chains was partly inspired by women's suffrage imagery. (He had a rather forced argument for why the chains actually represented liberation.) Wonder Woman's first artist, Harry G. Peter, had himself once drawn suffrage cartoons.

Without fail, Marston sought to make Wonder Woman an icon of a new, triumphant phase of female rule in human history. Like the suffragists, he believed women were inherently more peaceful and benevolent than men, and in 1937 he convened a press conference to predict that women would one day rule the world.

"Women have twice the emotional development, the ability for love, than man has," he told The Washington Post. "As they develop as much ability for worldly success as they already have ability for love, they will clearly come to rule business and the nation and the world."

This vision of womanhood was shaped by both Holloway and Byrne....

Lepore has assembled a vast trove of images and deploys them cunningly. Besides a hefty full-color section of Wonder Woman art in the middle, there are dozens of black-and-white pictures scattered throughout the text. Many of these are panels from Marston's comics that mirror events in his own life.... Many of the photos Lepore collected depict the Marston family's happy, if unconventional home life....

● The Christian Science Monitor: 'The Secret History of Wonder Woman' combines biography and cultural history to tell the story of Wonder Woman and her creator (Oct. 29).

One of the central challenges of 20th-century feminism was to reconcile the competing demands of motherhood and a career. The women Marston lived with did not solve this dilemma so much as subdivide it; Byrne handled the home front and Holloway had a career. Marston benefited from the situation without seeming to realize what it suggested about the ideal that women should not have to choose between a family and a career.

Time magazine: 7 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Wonder Woman (Oct. 28).

By Eliana Dockterman

...The book comes just as Wonder Woman is swooping back into the cultural consciousness with her invisible jet. Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman in 2016’s Batman vs. Superman and will get her own solo film in 2017.

Here’s just some of what Lepore uncovered:

1. Wonder Woman was inspired by Margaret Sanger (and other suffragists)....

...When Marston hired a woman named Joy Hummel to help him write Wonder Woman, Olive Byrne handed her one book to use as background: Margaret Sanger’s Woman and the New Race.

2. There’s a reason she’s bound up all the time....

3. Wonder Woman was partly a response to the rise of the Nazis....

4. The Lasso of Truth had a real-life parallel in Marston’s life....

...Marston broke from the rest of popular culture by asserting not only that kids would be interested in reading a comic about a woman but that she would be essential to their education in teaching them about gender equality.

“Like her male prototype, ‘Superman,’ ‘Wonder Woman’ is gifted with tremendous physical strength,” Marston wrote in the press release announcing her creation. “‘Wonder Woman’ has bracelets welded on her wrists; with these she can repulse bullets. But if she lets any man weld chains on these bracelets, she loses her power. This, says Dr. Marston, is what happens to all women when they submit to a man’s domination.”

He concludes: “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; and to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men.”

6. Despite that, she started out in the Justice Society as a secretary....

● An interview with the author (a Harvard historian) appeared in last Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine: Wonder Woman’s secret history and surprising lessons (Oct. 26).

Boston Globe: Wonder Woman “ran” for president in 1943, and we may finally have a female presidential nominee. Yet you end up on a dismal note about how far we’ve come.

Jill Lepore: Many women feel not that feminism has failed but that certain political and economic objectives have not been achieved, and many gains have been lost lately. Women and girls from 7 to 70 really adore Wonder Woman; many have an emotional or personal attachment to the character. Maybe that’s because we have so few female icons that are sources of strength and power  —  if you’re looking for a female superperson, there aren’t a lot of other choices. That’s not heartening.

● In the Kansas City Star: Wonder Woman is revealed … or at least her odd creator is (Oct. 24).

Gathered through years of historical sleuthing, Lepore’s material is solid, but her tone sometimes borders on breathless. This isn’t yellow journalism, and it isn’t yellow scholarship, but occasionally Lepore seems overly caught up in the juicier parts of what she found.

Still, this book is important, readable scholarship, making the connection between popular culture and the deeper history of the American woman’s fight for equality.... Lepore restores Wonder Woman to her rightful and righteous place.

● Flavorwire: Discover Wonder Woman’s Queer, Kinky Feminist History (Oct. 29).

The women in Marston’s unconventional life shaped the values and ideals found throughout his comics: his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston; his (scandal!) long-term live-in mistress and the mother of several of his children, Olive Byrne; and Byrne’s aunt Margaret Sanger, the pioneering feminist and founder of Planned Parenthood, who worked to make birth control affordable and available for women.

Sanger denied her influence on Wonder Woman; and the bohemian set-up between Holloway, Byrne, and Marston was, essentially, the hidden identity behind the psychological forces that created Wonder Woman. There’s a part of reading this book that’s frustrating — clearly Lepore had wonderful access to the Marston family, but she’s coy about what went on between the three. We’re only allowed to infer.* But going into the book, Wonder Woman was just a comic; where Lepore succeeds is when we close the book, with our visions of Wonder Woman changed completely. A true American weirdo, she’s a symbol laden with heady philosophies and ideas: bohemians, feminism, sex radicalism, suffrage, free love, androgyny, and the scariest idea of all — what would happen to the world if women were truly liberated?

*Actually, in a New Yorker article Lepore quotes Holloway, who was usually reticent about her household, as saying later in life that among the trio there was "lovemaking for all"."

● A Slate blogpost: The Gloriously Strange, Kinky, and Feminist History of Wonder Woman (Oct. 28):

Photo illustration: Slate
By Amanda Marcotte

...Last week, Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced that they are seeking a female director to helm the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. The announcement buoyed hopes that we might actually get a genuinely good Wonder Woman movie, something many of us doubted would ever happen after Joss Whedon was fired from a previous attempt. Still, the character has a notoriously inconsistent history, and there are many wrong turns any director could take. So what's the surest route to creating a 21st-century version of Wonder Woman worthy of her lasso of truth? Go back to the original Wonder Woman comics, which debuted in 1941, for inspiration.

And there are now reports in the entertainment press that the first of three WW movies will be set in the 1920s, and the second in World War II. A return to roots?

● The Wall Street Journal: Wonder Woman for President (Oct. 24; behind a paywall).

The New York Review of Books: Wonder Woman: The Weird, True Story by Sarah Kerr (issue dated Nov. 20).

● The Buffalo News picked it as "one of the most notable books of 2014." (Oct. 25).

Cosmopolitan lists it as one of 12 New Books All Twentysomething Women Will Be Obsessed With (Oct. 28).

Highlights from an NPR interview with the author (Oct. 27; text and audio).

Update: Jill Lepore is interviewed on Colbert (Oct. 29).

You can search up lots more.


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