Even though this book is titled The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman is a relatively small part of the story, which stretches from the suffrage movement in the early 20th century through the character’s resurgence in the 1970s.
William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator, was an odd duck, to say the least. In addition to WW, he was also one of the men responsible for origination of the lie detector test (although someone else later got the patent). Marston had very little success in his life. He failed at law, psychology, teaching, advertising, fiction writing, and more.
But, more interesting – and relevant – than his professional life is Marston’s personal life. Marston married Sadie Elizabeth Holloway (Betty) and, later, invited a student, Olive Byrne, into their home. The three lived together (along with their 4 children, all Marston’s) until Marston’s death. Betty and Olive lived together until Olive’s death in 1990. Whether the two women were romantically involved remains unclear; it is likely that they had become so accustomed to one another in their lives, it made no sense to separate after Marston’s death.
Marston was interesting in another way, as well: He was a lover of women. Not just in the sense of loving women so much that he lived with two. Marston believed in the power of women. Marston believed that a matriarchal society is inevitable. And why shouldn’t he? In the years leading up to his creation of WW, Marston lived amongst the suffrage movement. Olive Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger, founder of the Birth Control Movement (later Planned Parenthood). Her mother was Ethel Byrne who, although her name is not as well know as Sanger’s, was actually much more revolutionary than her sister. Ethel Byrne was arrested in 1917 for promoting feminist material, and while in jail, went on a hunger strike of epic proportions.
In preparation of writing this review, I dog-eared and marked with post-its probably 100 pages. Yet, I find myself not needing nor wanting to refer to these marks, because sound bites and snippets could not accurately portray the reactions I had while reading. I recommend this book for anyone interested in feminism and women’s history, and most especially for girls (I use the word purposefully) like Shailene Woodley who don’t like the word “feminist” because they think it takes “power” away from men. The Secret History would make an excellent primer for those like Woodley, as they clearly do not understand the history behind feminism.
Such as this gem: “If a woman is not willing to die in childbirth, she shouldn’t have sex.” This came from a judge presiding over Sanger’s trial for promoting obscene material.
It’s no secret that WW has gotten the short shrift when it comes to the superhero explosion. Her last truly successful outing was Lynda Carter’s television show in the ’70s. DC has failed many times to get a WW movie off the ground; a TV reboot starring Adriane Palicki never made it to air. Evidently, the suits can’t figure out how to market WW to the superhero-movie-going masses.
They, too, should read this book, then go back to the beginning, before WW was white-washed after Marston’s death. Embrace her status as a feminist icon. Make her villains those government loons who think “legitimate rape” is a real thing, or anyone who agrees that women should be willing to consider a death sentence in order to have sex. Hell, make her first outing a down-and-dirty with the Duggars.
WW could hunt down rapists and molesters. Sex trafficking rings. Polygamists. Really, there are many options. Of course, the boys’ club that is the comic book movie industry probably isn’t interested. Even today, fanboys are (sometimes violent) misogynists who prefer their women half-naked and well away from gaming and comic book communities. Check out this episode of Law & Order: SVU to get a very disturbing idea.
That said, it is unlikely that WW will get the treatment she deserves. At the very least, not without the intervention of some feminist-minded, superhero advocate.
Just FYI, I am available.