Cheeseburger in Paradise, by Martha Thomases
It’s Women’s History Month, and time to confess that I’m inordinately interested in the daily lives of the Amazons. Not the historical/mythological Greek Amazons (although I’m somewhat fascinated at the idea of required semi-mastectomies to improve one’s archery prowess), but the DC Comics Amazons who live on Paradise Island, birthplace of Wonder Woman. In my opinion, DC has never handled the Amazons in a believable way. I suspect that’s because Wonder Woman was not consistently written nor drawn by women.
Women, left to their own devices, will develop their own language and customs, much like twins or the Amish. I know. I went to a girls’ boarding school for four years, then lived in a women’s dorm off and on when I went to a co-ed college. With some adjustments for the differences between life in classical Greece and the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I can imagine what Paradise Island would really be like.
In Wonder Woman stories, we often see certain groups of Amazons. The Queen has her court of advisors. The army trains to be ready for the frequent attacks from Man’s World. The priestesses perform the rituals demanded by the gods. Doctors heal. Librarians study. Although we don’t see them, I assume there are also cooks, seamstresses, architects and engineers, cobblers and clowns and musicians.
At my school, we had girls who were interested in all kinds of things. With no boys, there was very little jockeying for male approval (although there was a boys’ school with the same faculty and administration, where girls in the upper forms often had classes). There were athletes and scholars, actresses and musicians, rebels, writers, gossips, manipulators and nerds. But, unlike the Amazons we see on Paradise Island, sometimes these roles could all be found in one girl.
There were groups of girls who were friends, who perhaps shared an interest in riding horses or choir or drugs. However, these were not cliques in the sense we see them in popular movies. It was easy for a nerd to be friends with a jock, to find some common interest they both shared, whether it was Asian history or the Grateful Dead.
I can’t recall seeing where any of the Amazons lives other than the Queen in her palace. If there are apartments, or homes, or dormitories where the other Amazons keep their personal positions, I’ve missed it. As students, our rooms were one of the few places we could display our individuality. We had to wear uniforms (as the Amazons seem to have to wear draping gowns), so our rooms were the place we could be creative. Posters, collages made from magazine images, books and records were our decorating tools. We’d move our standardized furniture to create little private nooks, and write out poems to hand over our desks. Do Amazons have desks?
Fads would start and stop at our school. For a while, it was cool to braid your hair while it was wet in hundreds of tiny braids, then unbraid it to reveal crinkly waves. It’s the closest I ever came to looking like Janis Joplin. Then there was the humming craze, where someone would start humming during a meal, and soon everyone in the dining hall would hum, driving the dean crazy. It was fun because there was no way to tell where it started, a simple act of rebellion with no risk.
We had our own language, based on the rules of the school. For example, we were required to wear “sturdy tie shoes in brown or black leather,” which we called sturds. Clothes were uni or non-uni (as in uniform), with non-uni for Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday afternoons, when there were no classes or chapel. Breaded veal cutlets, a popular dish in the dining hall, were called elephant scabs. If you got caught breaking a rule, you were "stung" an "hour," hours being our form of detention.
Larry Hama once suggested that Wonder Woman would be a more successful comic if it were written more like Charlie’s Angels, which at the time was a top-rated television show. He may have been right, but that’s just replacing one male fantasy with another. I don’t know if Gail Simone plans to make Paradise Island an important part of her story, but, if she does, I bet her time working at a hair salon will help. She’ll know how girls talk.
Martha Thomases, Goddess of All Media at ComicMix, continues her Amazon obsession in an up-coming episode of Munden’s Bar.