The lowly comic book would not usually be thought of as a medium of human awakening, but it was and can be still. Jill Lepore, the author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, notes that in 1939 almost every kid in the U.S. was reading comic books. William Moulton Marston, the creator of the Wonder Woman comic, estimated that over 40 million youngsters (mostly male) were hooked on comics. “Marston developed a patriotic (and erotic) formula that made Wonder Woman ‘the most popular female comic-book superhero of all time,’ read by 10 million followers and rivaled only by Superman and Batman.”
Marston marketed his heroine’s vision as saving the world from hatred and wars, but he had a hidden agenda. “Her secret mission, however, Marston explained, was ‘to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls.’”
As proof of Marston’s objective was a four-page feature entitled “Wonder Women of History,” stapled into the center of each issue profiling such pioneering women as Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, Carrie Chapman Catt and Amelia Earhart. “Marston called Wonder Woman ‘psychological propaganda’ for seducing his mostly male readers into seeing that ‘Man’s Superiority, prejudice and prudery’ were detrimental to the nation’s health.”
Modern feminists have also been fans of Wonder Woman long after Marston’s death in 1947. For example, Gloria Steinem put her on the first regular cover of Ms. in 1972. Unfortunately, despite Marston’s idealism and Steinem’s crusade, a new feminist story has yet to emerge. Before anything changes for either men or women, they need to shift to the same story that will give them both an identity that will achieve the goals that both Marston and Steinem longed for.
References and notes are available for this essay.
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