In order to encourage us while we learn some knots I thought it would be fun to have pictures of tied-up damsels-in-distress, you know to remind us why we are learning knots in such painful detail. Since finding the right kind of pictures for this blog wasn't working so well, I started searching for tied up superheroes, like drawn version of Batman and Robin captured and placed in some ingenious but evil trap.
As I looked, I started to notice a trend - Wonder Woman! She was the damsel-in-distress. She was tied up at everywhere I looked. And I thought to myself, "This is ridiculous! The hero who was designed to as an tool for empowering women, is constantly shown helplessly bound and absurdly sexualized." This from the creator of WW, a guy who said: "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power... The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." And I thought, "What a dick! He talked about empowering women but really just had bondage fantasies that he couldn't express."
Boy was I wrong!
I did some digging into WW's past in order to understand this paradox. Everything that you need to know about Wonder Woman can be found in a study of her creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston. He's often called alot of things: a feminist theorist, inventor of the lie-detector, a comic book author who created the character Wonder Woman. But you have to understand a few things: he was a psychologist but to call him a feminist is a little misleading since he pre-dates modern feminist thought. He was instrumental in creating Wonder Woman but much credit should go to his two wives, Olive Byrne but especially Elizabeth Marston. He didn't invent the lie-detector(which is a misnomer, by the way). He invented the systolic blood-pressure test which is one component of a polygraph. According to a review of a book written by Marston in his FBI record, he seems to have gone out of his way to convince people that he created the lie-detector and that his method was infallible.
A Woman's World
That being said, he actually seemed to trust his test to a fault. After he and Olive took the lie-detector on the road, he became convinced that it proved women were more honest, more reliable and could work better than men. He was quoted as saying, "Women have more emotional power than men, they have greater endurance and more resistance to disease they live longer, and they can endure pain far better." So what was his conclusion? The problem with the world is that it is ruled by men! If women were in charge the world world would become perfect. In this new world, "loving submission" would replace war and passion would replace violence.
Wonder Woman was the embodiment of this belief. She was designed as propaganda to convince the world. How to convince girls? Give them "... a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." How to convince the boys? "Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!"
So what does this have to do with bondage on comic book covers? In Marston's view, women already seemed to hold the secret of "loving submission" and needed to seduce men into accepting it. Once women did that, men would realize that they preferred such a world over the current, violent one. Marston minimized violence in Wonder Woman books. Instead of focusing on violent enforcement thrashing criminals into line, Wonder Woman books showed binding by loving submission. There was definitely sexual context. He envisioned women ruling by feminine charm. It's no coincidence that the Amazon's famous rule "that they must never surrender to a man for any reason" is Aphrodite's Rule. Marston said, "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."
And that's the story of why Wonder Woman spends so much time tied-up by her rogue gallery. And to help herald in the new era, let's learn some knots.
If you want to read more check out
- Adventures of a Comic Book Girl whose posted school essay got me thinking
- AntiPolygraph.org who discuss and have copies of Marston's FBI files
- The Wonder Woman Pages who print Olive's interview with Marston from Family Circle
- League of Substitute Superheroes who have a great essay arguing why Marston was not a feminist
- DC Message Boards: WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON especially the posts by jameslm which finally made me get my head around the idea of "loving submission". Expect some of the normal bickering that accompanies reading forums.