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

June 14, 2017

Wonder Woman's real-life poly origin movie, "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women," to open in theaters October 27

Now that the Wonder Woman movie has turned into a surprise hit, with sequels all but guaranteed, things look mighty good for Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, an indie biopic on the polyfamily who created her in 1941. News just came out that Annapurna Pictures will release it via Sony on October 27th.

We may hope that it'll be reasonably true to reality. I'm guessing it will bear about the same relation to the truth as the cartoon above does to actual photos of Wonder Woman's creator triad:

Seated from left are Olive Byrne (note the bracelet), Elizabeth Holloway Marston,
and William Moulton Marston, demonstrating his invention the lie detector in 1938.

Wonder Woman's bracelets were no coincidence.
In case you're not up to speed: Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston was, for his day, a utopian feminist — convinced of women's superiority to rule civilization if they could break the psychological and cultural chains of male bondage. He also had a thing for the liberating power of sex-bondage play, based on a well worked out psychological theory of power and control.

No ordinary college professor, Marston was an outspoken character who had trouble keeping a job. He was also an inventor and promoter with at least a touch of the con. After he married the groundbreaking female academic and lawyer Elizabeth Holloway, they set up a lifelong triad household with a former student of his, Olive Byrne. All three played a role in sneaking Wonder Woman into existence in 1941 — under the guise of civilizing superhero comics to mollify disapproving authorities. Their real mission was to spread the message of women's rights, freedom, power and goodness. Especially to girls.

Marston died in 1947 at the relatively young age of 53. Holloway and Byrne remained partners for the rest of their very long lives.

There are many ways this story could be played wrong, as were many later incarnations of Wonder Woman herself. The whole tale was long swept under the rug, known only to serious comics-history buffs and, of course, parts of the poly community. But growing attention to it in recent years culminated with New Yorker writer Jill Lepore's book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which was widely reviewed and remarked when it came out in 2014. If Professor Marston and the Wonder Women messes up the story now, it'll never get away with it.

If you've seen Wonder Woman in a theater in the last couple weeks, you may remember this brief teaser for what's coming:

Here's a longer teaser, said to be fan-created:

The comic at top is the only thing right now on the movie's official website, ProfessorM.movie. But a Google News search on the movie's name brings up much more.

Of note: the movie's director is Angela Robinson, described by Slashfilm as

a lesbian filmmaker who previously directed the underrated 2004 movie D.E.B.S. It’s cool that this material is going to be explored from someone who doesn’t come from Hollywood’s default setting: a white male.

● While we're at it, last Sunday (June 11, 2017) National Public Radio's "Sunday Morning" replayed a "Fresh Air" segment that first aired in 2014 when Lepore's book came out. Here's some of the accompanying article. The audio and full transcript are at the link below.

The Man Behind Wonder Woman Was Inspired By Both Suffragists And Centerfolds

..."I got fascinated by this story because I'm a political historian and it seemed to me there was a really important political story that had been missed that's basically as invisible as Wonder Woman's jet," Lepore tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Marston... was interested in the women's suffrage movement and in Margaret Sanger, the birth control and women's rights activist — who was also his mistress's [Olive Byrne's] aunt.

A feminist icon, Wonder Woman was an Amazon who forced people to tell the truth with her magic lasso. She was a controversial figure in the 1940s because of her overt sexuality and her link to bondage. Her costume was inspired by Marston's interest in erotic pin-up art.

"There's no simple story here," Lepore says. "There are a lot of people who get very upset at what Marston was doing. ... 'Is this a feminist project that's supposed to help girls decide to go to college and have careers, or is this just like soft porn?' "

..."It's so bizarre. I think they thought it was very funny. In a certain way it is very funny — like that they're putting one over on everybody. The funniest thing of it all to me is [they have] this really triangular family arrangement, but in the '30s [Marston's mistress] Olive Byrne takes a job as a staff writer at Family Circle magazine writing advice for housewives. Family Circle, which starts in 1932, [is] a giveaway at the grocery store [and] the stories that she writes are sort of a "how to raise your children" in the most conventional possible way.

...Marston has all kinds of ties to the early progressive-era suffrage and feminist and birth control movements ... [They] begin when he, as a Harvard freshman in 1911, is caught up in a big controversy on campus. In the fall of 1911, the Harvard Men's League for Women's Suffrage invites the incredible Emmeline Pankhurst to campus to speak in Sanders Theatre, which is like the largest lecture hall on campus. The Harvard Corporation is terrified — women are not allowed to speak on campus ... so [eventually ] Pankhurst is banned from speaking on campus. And this [is] kind of a big fracas across the country.

...One of the things that's a defining element of Wonder Woman is that if a man binds her in chains, she loses all of her Amazonian strength. So in almost every episode of the early comics, the ones that Marston wrote [Marston stopped writing Wonder Woman in 1947], she's chained up or she's roped up ... and she has to break free of these chains. ... That's [what] Marston would always say — "in order to signify her emancipation from men." But those chains are a really important part of the feminist and suffrage struggles of the 1910s that Marston had a front-row seat for.

...[During the suffrage movement], women chained themselves to the gate outside the White House in protest. There were suffrage parades, women would march in chains — they imported that iconography from the abolitionist campaigns of the 19th century that women had been involved in. ...

Chains become a really important symbol. Women in the wake of emancipation in the aftermath of the Civil War really turn to the imagery of chains and enslavement and the language of enslavement to talk about the ways in which they have not yet been fully emancipated.

The whole article, with the transcript and 45-minute audio (originally aired Oct. 27, 2014).

● All of this site's posts about Wonder Woman (including this and future ones; scroll down).

More stuff:

● As early as last October the Los Angeles Times took note of the upcoming biopic: 'Wonder Woman' is getting an indie film treatment that will focus on her polyamorous creators (Oct. 7, 2016):

Comic book fans have been waiting a long time for a Wonder Woman movie. Now it seems they’ll have two as an independent film about the unconventional trio who created Princess Diana of Themyscira heads into production.

In addition to “Wonder Woman,” the 2017 Warner Bros film starring Gal Gadot, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has just bought “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women,” a biopic about William Moulton Marston, the psychologist and inventor who created Wonder Woman for DC Comics in 1941 with the help of his wife, psychologist Elizabeth Marston, and Olive Byrne, a former student with whom the couple shared a polyamorous relationship.

Written and directed by “True Blood” writer Angela Robinson and executive produced by “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway’s Topple Productions, the feature will star Luke Evans as William, Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth, and Bella Heathcote as Olive. The film, which was packaged by WME Global and first reported on by Deadline, will depict how Elizabeth and Olive’s feminism influenced the creation of the iconic character. During his life, Marston was forced to defend his superheroine against charges of 'sexual perversity' while concealing his own unusual home life. After William died in 1947, Elizabeth and Olive remained living together until Olive’s death in 1988, raising the four children he had, two with each of them.

Wonder Woman’s sexuality has long been a matter of speculation among her fans -- after all, she hails from an island paradise free of men. Last month the character’s current writer Greg Rucka confirmed that Wonder Woman is officially queer, telling the website Comicosity, “Diana has been in love and had relationships with other women.”

● Of all those articles in the fall of 2014 prompted by Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman, here's one in Yes! magazine that wraps it up: Everything You Need to Know About the Radical Roots of Wonder Woman (online Dec. 10, 2014).

● From Elle Collins in Comics Alliance, On Elizabeth Holloway Marston, And Telling The Truth About Wonder Woman (Feb. 22, 2016):

...It’s time that we in comics stop feeling uncomfortable with the circumstances of her creation, and the lives of her creators....

The era of the obligatory closet is over, even in media traditionally aimed at children. We know that Where the Wild Things Are was created by a gay man, and that Goodnight, Moon was written by a bisexual woman, and we know just as certainly that Wonder Woman was the creation of a polyamorous family.

Perhaps because of a certain immaturity in comics culture, or because polyamory is still more controversial that queer identity, we like to downplay it. We need to stop.

● This provocative article appeared in The Guardian after most of the attention to Lepore's book had died down. It takes apart some of Lepore's own prudery: Super sexy Wonder Woman shows that violence isn't the only way to battle evil (May 14, 2015):

By Noah Berlatsky

...As more women have become fans of superheroes in recent years, this sexualization has come in for criticism. Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, repeats some of the objections in a recent review of the new all-female Avengers title A-Force. Lepore looks at the A-Force cover, stuffed to the brim with superheroes from She-Hulk to Dazzler, and notices a certain similarity. “They all look like porn stars,” she complains.

...Wonder Woman’s creator, though, had a different take. As Lepore notes, Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their polyamorous lover Olive Byrne, wrote a letter together in which they explained: “This family believes [pornographic magazines] furnish splendid material with which to teach children that the most lovely and sacred thing in the world is a real woman’s body.” Marston believed that looking at women’s bodies was a healthy, pleasurable and even sacred activity – and not just for men. In that softcore Julius Caesar novel, Marston referred to lesbian love as “perfect” – in his scholarly books he argued that women who slept with other women were superior lovers and mothers. Marston lived in a polyamorous relationship with two almost certainly bisexual women. Eroticized images of women, for him, were never just for men.

Lepore sees eroticized images as ridiculous, unpleasant and opposed to women’s interests. For Marston, though, the problem with comics was not eroticism but “blood-curdling masculinity”. Sex, for Marston, was great; the downside of superhero comics, though, was that they featured lots of men hitting each other.

Wonder Woman was meant, deliberately, to undermine both the masculinity and the violence. Her magic lasso was later downgraded to a lasso of truth, but originally it was a lasso of control – whoever was bound by it had to do what the wielder said. The original Wonder Woman comics (drawn by artist Harry Peter) mostly eschewed fisticuffs; instead, they featured vertiginous bondage romps, in which Wonder Woman tied people up, and then got tied up in turn, and then tied those other folks up again. The lasso itself, Marston explained, was a “symbol of female charm, allure, oomph, attraction” and of the influence that “every woman has … over people of both sexes”. Since the lasso is also a fairly glaring yonic symbol, the message is clear; Wonder Woman battles evil not with violence, but with erotics. She is, literally, super sexy.

...Lepore seems to think that sex and heroism can’t go together; that if women are presented as erotic or attractive, then their heroism is automatically undermined. Allure is not power, Lepore insists, but “the absence of power”. When superheroines are sexy, she says, “their bodies are not their own. They are without force.” But that default assumes that the only kind of force that matters is violence, and that sex or love are automatically less valid, less interesting and less ennobling than hitting people. Superhero stories often present that as truth – but, as you’d think Lepore would know, Wonder Woman had a different vision.

● And to close, here are some totally obvious bondage scenes in the original Wonder Woman comics, at MoviePilot.com (August 13, 2015).


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Blogger Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca said...

Pretty interesting outline of an often overlooked origin. Thanks for sharing.

December 30, 2017 8:58 PM  

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