The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

  • Feminism made wonder woman and wonder woman made feminism — then it remade feminism, which wasn’t great for equality
  • wonder woman’s debt is to the fictional feminist utopia and to the struggle for women’s rights
  • creator was William Marston — a polymath who invented the lie detector test — had a secret life, 4 children with two wives, lived together under one roof
  • the women he loved were suffragists and Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists in the 20th century, was part of his family
  • “Amazon” — woman rebel in the early 1900’s who left home and went to college — Elizabeth Holloway (Marston’s future wife) was one, in a sense — went to Mt. Holyoke, which was a hotbed of suffragism
  • the word “feminism” was everywhere in 1913 — advocacy of women’s rights and freedoms and a vision of equality markedly different from that embraced by the 19th century movement
  • all feminists are suffragists but not all suffragists are feminists
  • full and equal participation in politics, work, and the arts, on the grounds that women were in every way equal to men
  • broad political goal (suffrage) — feminism was broader, more radical and more difficult
  • feminists wanted to separate sex from reproduction — pleasure, not sacrifice — woman’s right to control her own body, the right to be a mother regardless of church or state (Sanger)
  • the lie detector test that Marston invented is all over Wonder Woman
  • WWI silenced the women’s movement — Espionage Act, Sedition Act
  • Marjorie Huntley, key figure — suffragist but believed in “love binding” — importance of being tied and chained — had an affair with Marston while he was married
  • Frye v US — landmark case in the law of evidence and one of the most cited cases in the history of american law — Frye test = to be admitted as evidence, a new kind of scientific principle has to have gained general acceptance — to be “Frye’d” is to have your experts testimony deemed inadmissible
  • case law obliterates context, and experimental science repudiates tradition; their rise marked a shift away from the idea that truth can be found in the study of the past
  • Marston wanted his lie detector used in the case, but it was denied
  • after Frye, Marston gave up the study of law, which made it possible for him to create Wonder Woman
  • Margaret Sanger and Ethel Byrne were sisters
  • Sanger dug Olive Byrne out of a snowbank when she was a baby, and Olive would end up marrying Marston (two wives, 4 children under one roof)
  • Byrne was arrested for giving out information on contraceptives, went on a hunger strike in jail and was freed on the condition that she not ever participate in the birth control movement — she never forgave Sanger who made the deal with the NY governor — Sanger ended up taking most of the credit for the movement and never gave enough back to Byrne
  • Picturing and talking about women as chained and enslaved was ubiquitous in feminist literature, a carryover from the nineteenth century alliance between the suffrage and abolitionist movements
  • Sanger wrote a book called women and the new race which would turn out to be the philosophy of Wonder Woman — Women should rule the world, Sanger, Marston and Holloway thought, because love is stronger than force
  • “read this and you’ll know everything you need to know about wonder woman” — Olive Byrne, speaking to Joye Hummel, who helped Marston write Wonder Woman in later years
  • Marston was fascinated with the study of sex
  • Lewis Terman invented the IQ test to measure masculinity and femininity — purpose was to identify deviance
  • using birth control, weather women were having fewer children — were expected to devote more attention to them, needed to be taught the science of mother hood — Parents Magazine founded in 1926
  • Marston had a mistress (Byrne), Holloway had a career and Byrne would raise the kids — that was the deal — kids never knew about the arrangement until years later
  • between 1900 and the 1930’s, the percentage of phd’s awarded to women doubled — then for three decades it fell
  • many women were barred from the top ranks of academy — many quit, many were kicked out, most gave up because they knew they couldn’t get anywhere
  • in 1928, Byrne began wearing a pair of close fitted, wide banded bracelets — she never took them off — WW wore the very same bracelets
  • Byrne, over the years, wrote magazine articles about Marston — never revealing their situation, pretending they didn’t know each other — she also pretended he was a brilliant psychologist, and other things
  • Marston, over the years, wrote many arguments about women’s superiority — drew on centuries of women’s writing and borrowed especially heavily from the philosophy of the 19th century women’s movement, with its emphasis on women’s moral superiority, angelic natures
  • in the 1930’s, Margaret Sanger was the best known feminist in the world
  • US v One Package of Japanese Pessaries, second circuit court of appeals ruled that contraception did not violate obscenity laws if prescribed by a physician — ruling effectively removed contraception from the category of obscenity
  • 1937 — AMA endorsed birth control
  • direct result of Sanger’s actions
  • comic strips appeared in the 1890’s — books came in the 30’s (Maxwell Charles Gaines)
  • by 1939, almost every kid in the US was reading comic books — sold everywhere
  • May 1939 — US v Miller — concerned the const of the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Federal Firearms Act
  • NRA supported legislation (at the time they were a sportsman organization) — gun manufacturers challenged it on the grounds that federal control of gun ownership violated the second amendment
  • FDR’s solicitor general said the 2nd had nothing to do with individual right to own a gun — had to do with common defense — court agreed
  • after this, Batman’s origin story changed — parents shot and murdered, and Batman hated guns — hating guns made him Batman
  • Gaines hired Marston at All American Publications as a consulting psychologist after reading one of Byrne’s articles about him
  • Marston convinced Gaines to counter the attack on comics (that they were fascist — Superman) with a female superhero
  • “strength of superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”
  • Harry G Peter was the artist who brought experience drawing suffrage cartoons
  • WW wore red white and blue because of Captain America
  • Marston created a character to answer every critic — she was strong, hates guns, relentless but spares victims, believes in the US, equal rights for women, fight facism with feminism
  • WW banned in 1942 — decency crusades, worried about youth reading them — she wasn’t wearing enough clothes
  • WW still sold like crazy, and she joined the justice society — still only as a secretary as WW had a new author who didn’t like feminism — Gardner Fox
  • some racism in WW — accents, dialect — although all villains share an opposition to women’s equality and WW fights them
  • 1942, over Sanger’s objections, Birth Control Federation of America changes name to Planned Parenthood — birth control was too radical — men ran it
  • WW as it’s own issue took off as well, by the third full issue it was selling more than half a million copies — featured pieces of women’s history
  • Dorothy Roubicek — DC’s first women editor was credited — also came up with kryptonite for Superman — wanted him to be more vulnerable
  • strength of WW was one theme, the bondage was another — it was pervasive — all women were bound at some point — they always escape, but first, they are tied up
  • Marston’s idea of feminine supremacy was the ability to submit to male domination — bondage led to trouble with the advisory board of WW
  • WW went to newspaper syndication (comic strip) — only one not Superman or Batman — 10M readers in 1944 — cancelled in 1945 after Marston got polio and died soon after — writing wasn’t the same — grew domestic and written by Joye Hummel, not Marston
  • 1948 Winters v New York — court declared unconstitutional a section of the New York penal code banning printed material that appears to glamorize crime
  • comic books started to be banned in states — bad for kids, heroes are white men, villains are foreigners pushed homosexual ideas and relations (Batman and Robini)
  • Comics Magazine Association came up with a new code for comics and most didn’t survive — WW lived on but wasn’t recognizable after the war — women stayed home, lost jobs, got married
  • WW became a babysitter, fashion model, movie star
  • women went home, women rights went under ground and homosexuals were persecuted
  • Sanger never mentioned WW as part of her story
  • 1965 — Griswold V Conn — banning of contraception was unconst
  • MS magazine launched in 1972 — WW, a MS book, appeared in 1972 as well as a MS publication
  • aftermath of Roe V Wade didn’t bolster feminist movement, it narrowed it
  • comic book industry found it nearly impossible to respond to the women’s movement
  • 70’s and 80’s women’s movement stalled — wages never reached part, social and economic gaines were rolled back, political and legal victories seemingly within sight were never reached -
  • feminists were divided, radicals attacking liberals and attacking radicals in a phenomenon so widespread it had a name — trashing
  • 1972 — Betty Friedan distanced her self from Steinem by accusing her of telling women they had to be “superwomen”
  • while the women’s movement floundered in the late 70’s it did regain a semblance of its history
  • WW, however, was carefully and deliberately hidden from the history, the true origin stories
  • Byrne never mentioned it/for a long time, no one paid much attention to the fact that the creator of WW as the inventor of the lie detector test
  • ironically, the polygraph test doesn’t work either
  • the secrecy of the history of WW led to a distortion of it but also the course of the women’s history and the struggle for equal rights
  • WW was a product of the suffragist, feminist, and birth control movements of the 1900’s and 1910’s and became a source of the women’s liberation and feminist movements of the 60’s and 70's
  • began on a winter day when Margaret Sanger dug Olive Byrne out of a snowbank

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Adam Marks

Adam Marks

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.