Saturday, March 14, 2020

Hey, It's Still Women's History Month

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore is a fantastic Women's History Month read, even if, like myself, you were not a Wonder Woman fan until Gal Gadot started carrying her shield. (I read most of my DC comics at a friend's house whose older brother purchased them. He must not have been a WW fan.) Wonder Woman is the most popular female superhero character and the third most popular superhero character overall, coming in only behind Superman and Batman.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman isn't really about Wonder Woman, though. It appears to be about William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman's creator. He's one fascinating guy, even though, according to Lepore, he was not nearly as successful as he appears on paper. Instead, he went from one academic job to another, usually in a downward spiral. He went from one project to another, Wonder Woman being one of them. Then there was his unconventional lifestyle. He lived with his wife,  Elizabeth Holloway Marston, a highly-educated woman who wanted both a career and a family. Even in the early part of the twentieth century, how women could do this was an issue under discussion. Elizabeth Holloway Marston managed this by accepting her husband's lover, Olive Byrne, into their home to raise her children with well as Byrne and Marston's children...while she worked.

Yeah, that is fascinating.

But what is also fascinating is the way Lepore pulls together the little aspects of Marston's life that turn up in the Wonder Woman story. He was in on the creation of the lie detector, for instance. Wonder Woman carries a lariat that forces people to tell the truth. There are photos of his companion, Olive Byrne, wearing bracelets similar to the ones Wonder Woman wears.

But what is the most fascinating is the way Marston was a sort of magnet for all sorts of pre-WWII feminism. His wife was an early working woman, for instance. His girlfriend was Margaret Sanger's niece.

All these Marton factors, both from his personal life and the feminism he supported, turn up in Wonder Woman in the mid-twentieth century.

Lepore says, "The suffrage campaign, from 1848 to 1920, is often thought of as the "first wave" of the women's movement, and women's liberation, in the 1960s and 1970s, as the "second wave." In between, this thinking goes, the waters were still. But there was plenty of feminist agitation in the 1940s in the pages of Wonder Woman."

I don't know what I was expecting when I bought this book. But I was delighted to be exposed to so much early- to mid-twentieth century women's history.


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