Wonder Woman Creator Was Steeped in Hypocrisy

“Wonder Woman for a day: Affect, agency and Amazons” has Matt Yockey examining how William Marston’s creation of Wonder Woman has been used as a vehicle to spark “real-life social change,” while also pointing out how the creator himself was steeped in hypocrisy.

Yockey begins by taking a look at Wonder Woman Day, which is an annual charity event that has raised upwards of $100,000 over its five years of existence for local nonprofits serving domestic violence victims in the Portland area. Yockey writes about how Wonder Woman’s ethos of “loving submission symbolically embodies the conflation of affect and agency determined by participation in a collective utopian fantasy.” I couldn’t agree more.

Here, annually during this event, Wonder Woman is being used a best-case, utopian scenario to combat egregious social norms like domestic violence. Wonder Woman is the conduit and agent to combat that change, which in this case would be to combat domestic violence to its demise through social activism and humanity as shown in this gathering of people raising money to fight the issue. I believe that Yockey could have benefitted from saying something to the effect of Wonder Woman being a representation of a beacon of hope to empower and inspire women who have been victims of domestic violence. Seeing Wonder Woman in all her strength, beauty and glory could be an inspirational image and concept for victims of domestic violence looking to regain that strength that might have taken a hit during their respective unfortunate incidents.

As I continued to read Yockey’s examination and deep dive into the character and ideals of Wonder Woman, I couldn’t help but feel that Marston was awfully hypocritical with what he said and believed and what he delivered via the actual Wonder Woman comic. For example, Yockey cites a November 1937 New York Times article, in which Marston is quoted as saying: “The next 100 years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy — a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense.” The thought of a governing body or society being run by women was thought-provoking, powerful and an advocating agent for positive change — especially during the time right before World War II.

But as strong as that viewpoint was, Marston failed to keep that same energy when tackling the cover of Wonder Woman No. 7 during the winter of 1943 roughly six years after that New York Times article. The cover of that issue is adorned with the words  “Wonder Woman for President,” and accompanied by the text, “Wonder Woman 1000 Years in the Future.”

‘My man, William,’ I thought to myself. In the Times article just six years prior, he painted the picture of a utopian society by projecting the next 100 years to be the beginning of an American matriarchy, where women and their thoughts are leading the way for the country. But then when he had the opportunity to elaborate on that, he squandered it with the “Wonder Woman 1000 years in the future” tagline. Why would Wonder Woman run for president in 1,000 years and not 10, 20, 30 years from that point? Now, any of the latter numbers would have been envelope-pushing and truly empowering for women at the time to see, even if they were far-fetched for the time because once again, they’d represent hope.

-Why do you think Marston’s quote to the Times and his cover of Wonder Woman No. 7 are so different?

-Marston has a man hiding his face behind the sign that says “Wonder Woman 1000 years in the future.” Why do you think that is?

-Was Marston playing it safe or being bold at the time?

-Why did it always feel like as progressive as Wonder Woman was at the time, she was still being controlled by men (i.e. bondage)?

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6 thoughts on “Wonder Woman Creator Was Steeped in Hypocrisy

  1. Mark, I think you bring up a great point when you question just how progressive early Wonder Woman actually is, since she is still written by a man and has to conform to then-male-dominated formulae in a patriarchal culture. Does hindsight diminish just how monumental a leap forward Wonder Woman was? Is to be ‘progressive’— by design—never truly enough? Because if it was enough… there wouldn’t be anything to be progressive about.

    Part of me questions whether the 100 vs. 1000 years for a female president is nitpicky, as both seem like astronomical numbers and there might be specific plot elements to Wonder Woman No. 7 that explain why such a long-time frame is needed. But, then again, we’re inching close to 100 years since 1943… and there isn’t a female president, and no front-runners in sight.

  2. Mark, thanks for your summary of Yockey’s article—the title particularly grabbed my attention as you openly called out Marston for being a hypocrite. I liked your questions about whether he was playing safe or being bold at the time. I actually think it was neither. Because of last week, I go into reading this comics with the question, “okay, what are you selling?” I actually think a big part of that comes from WW origin’s story. BASICALLY, her entire comic book scene has WWII as the center. Without WWII, what would Wonder Woman’s main cause be. After all, she is sent to defend democracy! OKAY so what is Marston doing then? What idea is he selling? Is he a total societal badass or was he going with the times?
    I think, whether consciously, or subconsciously, he was aiding the patriarchy. I know it may not seem this way, but think about it. During WWII, women NEEDED to enter the workforce. They NEEDED to be slightly independent. Why? For the country to win the war! Wonder Woman allowed regular women to think they could win the war on their own. It was propaganda for women, like the posters that hung on the wall that said “Uncle Sam Wants You…” So if the women were supposed to feel empowered in order to keep the country running, what’s the point of all the bondage? Well, the men would have to come back from the war right? Women, remember, you may be all powerful, but even Wonder Woman likes to feel tied down and submissive to men. So when your men come back, remember who’s really in charge.

  3. Your question – was Marston playing it safe or being bold?- does not have a simple answer.
    I’m torn between two options, the first: believing he was playing it safe under the guise of being bold. His true intention, although may seem bold- to encourage female readers, to emphasize the importance of equality, and so forth – does not mean he wasn’t trying to sell us something, as Mary pointed out, and therefore playing it safe. War efforts on the homefront needed the help and sacrifice of women. Playing it safe here means to sell to this idea of American exceptionalism, that even girls can be apart of! Yay! It is not a question of ‘why does it feel like Wonder Woman is being controlled by men”, she most certainly is. She was created by men, motivated by her love interest, can be stopped by men (powerless when chained.) She is at the mercy of men on and off the page. Whatever he stated in interviews about Wonder Woman are not what readers see in the comics. Therefore, Marston can’t possibly be truly progressive, right?
    But I think it is important to look at the idea of progressiveness then vs. now. Marson was definitely progressive for the time, no? Encouraging words from Wonder Woman about girls/women getting an education, implying that one day women could actually be President, even just the idea of what Wonder Woman is and represents… That is bold! And maybe Marston was only progressive for his time, not ours.
    So, I don’t have an answer and I’m not even sure which side I am leaning towards.

  4. I believe Marson was playing it bold at the time because in a world where men had more rights than women I believe he did this for the reason being that women should feel equal to men. Women should know that they too can also fight for their rights, or be able to speak their mind, or be able to work. I think having Wonder Woman empowers woman to be strong individuals and overcome the obstacles that stand in their way placed by society. Even though there are times in the comics where Wonder Woman was submissive to men which would probably be the times he played it safe he still created the character and women were empowered by her. The character according to Yockey “Perhaps the most significant strategy by which the seemingly impossible future ideal of Wonder Woman can be realized is a turn to the past and the affective power of nostalgia, a turn to history’s wonder women in order to inspire women in the present.” Wonder woman also inspires the women in this era as it did in his own.

  5. Mark, I think you raise very good points about how Marston possibly undermined himself later on. Though I don’t think that completely cancels out his intent to create a more forward thinking character. He created the character under the premise that she would not abandon her “feminine traits” despite being in an action oriented genre. He wrote that women contained an abundance of love that men simply do not have and it was that love that was necessary to rule the world. Many modern female protagonists in action films are stripped away of any femininity so they’re more easily digestible for male audiences. This way, men don’t have to confront this fusion of both gender traits and don’t have to confront seeing a woman “taking a man’s role”. Wonder Woman does retain some femininity and that’s something that male readers/viewers will have to reconcile.

    So I would say that he was bold in the mindset that he took on with the creation of this character. And current iterations (like Gal Gadot’s portrayal) do proudly display loving and empathic qualities. Showing feminine characteristics as a positive in a male centric genre goes a long way.

  6. Hi Mark,
    I’m having difficulty answering your question about whether or not Marston was playing it safe or being bold. I think he was being bold for his time period. From history books, it seems that women just started to find their place in the work force and were being accepted and respected as more than just mothers and housewives. However progressive Marston was, maybe he didn’t realize the possible progression women would make… hopeful, yet unsure of their (our) power within.

    I’m sure there would be a Twitter war had Marston said, “woman lacks [the] dominance or self assertive power” in 2018. I imagine Amy Schumer or Sarah Silverman having some strong words about their ever apparent dominance and power.

    I think he was walking on our side.

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