Mindy Newell: B Is For Bondage

Wonder Woman BondageWonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world. There isn’t love enough in the male organism to run this planet peacefully. Woman’s body contains twice as many love generating organs and endocrine mechanisms as the male. – William Marston Moulton

When I saw Wonder Woman being constantly put in positions where she’d get tied up with her own rope, or held hostage, even as a kid, my reaction was ‘C’mon, she’s too smart for that. – J. Michael Straczynski

Last week both Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times reviewed The Secret History Of Wonder Woman, written by Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Lepore’s Book Of Ages, about Benjamin Franklin’s sister, came out last year.

I vaguely knew some of what Lepore writes about, so the reviews weren’t entirely an eye-opening “holy shit!” read for me, but I am confident that the book will surely engender that reaction for those fans of Diana who think of her as the comic book version of Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, as well as (unfortunately) eager browsing of the more libidinous pages by those who get off on thinking of the Themiscryan as a “Score!” on Superman’s yellow belt. And yes, that is a reference to that infamous t-shirt. See my column on ComicMix, along with that of Martha Thomases, of a few weeks ago for enlightenment, if needed.)

Here’s a short course on William Mouton Marston:

  • Harvard graduate
  • Psychologist
  • Inventor of the polygraph, i.e., the lie detector.
  • Creator of Wonder Woman.
  • Married to one woman, but his mistress lived with them fulltime. Both women (Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olivia Byrne) served as templates for the Amazon princess.)
  • Serial liar.
  • Sadomasochist in love with bondage.
  • Hypothesized that the masculine concept of “freedom” is violent lawlessness, while its feminine counterpart is based on what he called “love allure,” which leads to idyllic submission and a love of authority.

Bondage, i.e., “idyllic submission,” is a common theme in early Wonder Woman stories; in nearly every one she is tied to a chair, or forced into a strait jacket, or manacled and fettered, or chained, or gagged, or caged, while her fellow Amazons, when they appear, engage in wrestling and bondage play. And while we all know about Diana’s “golden lasso of truth,” which she was not above using as an instrument of bondage against her enemies, did you know that her belt is actually the “Venus girdle,”    Marston’s allegory for his theory of “sex love” training, i.e., embracing submission through eroticism?

Marston believed in female submission, calling it a “noble practice,” and was not shy about its sexual implications: “The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound…only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society…giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element.

Oh, by the way, I left out this out:

  • A feminist. (?)