Women are finally starting to make their way up the ladder in the comic book movie department. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has slowly become a favorite in the Marvel Universe, and the female Captain Marvel has now been confirmed for a standalone flick in Phase 3 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Then there is Wonder Woman, a Justice League and DC Comics staple who is confirmed for an appearance in Batman V. Superman and a standalone Wonder Woman picture in July of 2017. With all these iconic female superheroes making their way to the screen in a big, bad way, women are finally starting to get their due on the big screen in the tights and cape department.
Wonder Woman, it turns out, while influential to young girls worldwide in a positive way, has a secret origin that is revealed in the book entitled The Secret History Of Wonder Woman. In her interview with the author of the book, Jill Lepore, Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air podcast breaks down why this spearhead of feminine powers has such a strange and ironic origin story.
“The creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, led a secret life with his wife and his mistress. He fathered children with each of them, and they all lived together. His vision for Wonder Woman reflected his interest in the women’s suffrage movement, and in Margaret Sanger, the birth control and women’s rights activist who was also his mistress’ aunt. Wonder Woman’s costume was inspired by his interest in erotic pinup art.”
It was a different time, to be sure, but it is difficult to gauge what the goal was for a man like Marston who seemed simultaneously interested in both the best and worst side of humanity in respect to women. Jill Lepore elaborates on that very paradox.
“There’s no simple story here. 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?'”
In an interview with Newsarama, Jill Lepore discusses how she became interested in the subject of Wonder Woman in her book. In short, it was a result of her trying to write on three separate subjects: the history of privacy, the history of Planned Parenthood, and the history of evidence. While sifting through research, she discovered the strange connection each had with Wonder Woman.
“But the people who write about the history of feminism aren’t necessarily the same people who write about the history of comics. So no one had ever put these pieces together before! Then I went back and read the comics, and saw how they all fit together. I mean, they really fit. You read Wonder Woman comic books alongside Margaret Sanger’s Woman Rebel, or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist utopia Herland, and it looks completely different than when you read it against Superman and Batman.”
In one final twist to the whole story, Lepore even states that the Wonder Woman comics from 1941 to 1947 are loosely autobiographical for creator William Marston. This changes how comics historians should be reading certain comics, for they often read Wonder Woman in the context of the 1940s as opposed to the context of the 1910s and 1920s, Lepore states.
With all this in mind, there is definitely a whole lot more to the character of Wonder Woman than first meets the eye.
Does this newfound history change your perspective on Wonder Woman? Or are these characters too timeless to be bound and beholden to any point in history, even if it’s the history of their conception?