“Wonder Woman: Bondage and Liberation” opens with Ben Saunders speculating as to why interest in the comic has declined so steeply since its inception. One possible reason provided is the contradictions inherent in her character; the author cites another source when describing her as a “warrior-pacifist, a feminist sex symbol, a foreign-royal-turned American-immigrant, and a devout pagan living in a secular age” (37). He then goes on to argue the chapter’s central claim: that Wonder Woman defies binary oppositions and is instead “deconstructive,” meaning that the contradictions she embodies force her readers to remember that binaries restrict common understanding of concepts (such as gender). Challenging these ideas – by freeing them of the expectation that they must live in opposition to each other – allows us to widen our frame of thought to to include how “the difference between such paired terms can change” (38). Some of her seemingly contradictory attributes include:
- Although Wonder Woman is commonly recognized as a symbol of feminism and female agency, she is authored by a male. Saunders introduces criticism that Marston wrote Wonder Woman “to promote his own theories about gender, sexuality, and personality types” (45), specifically the idea that men deny themselves what women won’t – the pleasure that is found in embracing submissiveness – but that men can learn to embrace submission (if there is a willing “Love Leader,” a sexually “advanced” female, to teach them!) (50).
- This introduces a secondary paradox: If an individual desires submission, is it still possible to feel dominated by a more powerful authority?
- Wonder Woman’s ancestry – the Amazonians – conjures a variety of definitions and connotations, including “bitch,” “mannish,” “warrior,” and “fallen woman,” making it difficult to ascertain the intention behind – or reception of – her background.
- Wonder Woman challenges the opposition of man and woman by exhibiting physical strength and performing actions typically reserved for men. Similarly, Steve often takes on the role of “damsel in distress” and does not feel threatened by Wonder Woman’s strength but is attracted to it.
- Wonder Woman’s promotion of female empowerment paired with images of sexual bondage and eroticism that frequently depict scantily clad women captive in chains or ropes.
- Evoking images of spirituality, Wonder Woman teaches “submission-as-liberation, a freedom-in chains, that can only come from surrender to the loving authority of divinity” (64). To be truly free, one must embrace submission to a higher power. There is strength in obedience and surrender. The spiritual and the erotic are not mutually exclusive.
Some examples include….
|Is it….||Or is it….|
|Page 165, 2nd row, 1st column||Entrapment? Wonder Woman and Etta are enclosed in a net; their captors threaten to murder them as sacrifices to the “Sacred Elephants.”||Power? Wonder Woman argues that “sacrifice is good for the soul” and seems to believe they will benefit from this experience. She is also eager to visit the Secret Temple – of course, this could be an extension of her confidence that she is not truly captive because she can break free at will.|
|Page 154, last row, 1st column||Sexist? Wonder Woman is described as “any other girl,” implying not only that all “girls” are the same, but that despite her heroics, Wonder Woman is primarily interested in something as trivial as clothes.||Feminist? Wonder Woman’s new outfit is a signifier of her powers, which she will use to save lives, fight crimes, and right wrongs – all with strength and bravery that had previously been reserved for men.|
|Page 125, last row, last column||Reflective of typical gender roles? Wonder Woman’s clothing is revealing, while Steve is completely dressed in formal attire. Wonder Woman’s only reason for being on Earth is to gain proximity to Steve; she sacrificed all of the benefits of life on The Paradise Islands to follow him.||A challenge to typical gender roles? Wonder Woman regularly saves Steve, who takes on the role of “damsel in distress.” Steve recognizes that Wonder Woman’s strength surpasses that of both men and women, and is attracted to her regardless of her breach of traditional gender roles.|
- Is it possible for Wonder Woman to be simultaneously erotic and feminist? If so, does the comic successfully marry the two?
- Does Wonder Woman successfully promote the idea that there is freedom in submission? Is this a valid claim, or did we just step out of Wonder Woman and into 1984?
- Is anyone familiar with the “metaphorical interchangeability of sexual and spiritual desire” that “was established” in “Song of Songs”? (68). I’d love to know about this!
- Is it reasonable to view Wonder Woman as a Christ-figure?