Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wonder Woman Bondage Book

I recently read Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948 by Noah Berlatsky. This publication is pretty new; it just came out this year. I read it as part of my research for a class I’m taking this summer.
 
All Star Comics #8 illustrated by Harry G. Peter.
(I can only guess why he used his middle initial. Seriously, why would someone name their child "Harry Peter?")
Before I read Berlatsky’s Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism, my main source of knowledge about Wonder Woman came from my husband’s series of lectures on the Justice Society of America. I knew that Wonder Woman’s non-hero name was Diana, she was supposed to be an Amazon, she was the JSA’s only female member so they made her the secretary, and the creator was a polygamous man who was really into bondage. Noah Berlatsky’s book included all of this information, but he flushed out many more details with background information to make the reader more interested in Wonder Woman as a character and the early publications.

I really wonder who the target audience is for this text. I read it as part of my research for my Master of Fine Arts degree, and the author referenced other writings that I was only exposed to during graduate school. Berlatsky’s writing style was less formal than many of the other art history and art theory texts I’ve have to slog through during the last few years. He’s text was actually quite enjoyable to read, and his sense of humor showed through especially when he critiqued contemporary media that featured female lead characters. While I’ve never read or watched Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, I enjoyed how Berlatsky tore them apart by analyzing the tropes and stereotypes they fulfilled.

Berlatsky began his text by addressing that most people are familiar with the icon of Wonder Woman, but many have not read the original stories. The bulk of the book was about William Moulton Marston, Harry G. Peter, and their stories about Wonder Woman. Harry Peter was an illustrator who drew other comics and Gibson Girls. William Moulton was known for his work as a pop psychologist, and he wrote Wonder Woman under the nom de plume of Charles Moulton. When compared to other superheroes, Wonder Woman is tied up the most by a large margin. 27% of stories by Marston and Peter included bondage. Captain Marvel, which placed second, only has 3% of its stories featuring characters bound. Wonder Woman was tied up so often because Marston personally enjoyed it, and he wrote “Women are exciting for this one reason – it is the secret of women’s allure – women enjoy submission, being bound.” Tying up Wonder Woman wasn’t just a way to appeal to the male gaze, but Marston thought it would be a good way to teach readers the joys in submission and restraint!

Despite the themes of submission and bondage, there are some radical and empowering themes. In Wonder Woman # 13, she declares, “You see girls, there’s nothing to it! All you have to do is have confidence in your own strength!” Marston and Peter constructed their stories so readers could identify with the heroes and victims regardless of gender. This is unique because most people who create comics, fine art, movies, and television follow the idea that men are the ones who look and women are the ones who are looked at. Having a strong female hero during the 1940s was pretty important too, especially since World War II required women to break traditional gender roles.

Overall, I feel as though I am expected to like Wonder Woman just because she is a female superhero. There is a huge shortage of female representation in comics and other forms of media, but I’m not going to enjoy Wonder Woman just because I have a lack of choices. While I think it’s great that there is a female superhero who is as strong as her male peers, I have a difficult time looking beyond flaws. Noah Berlatsky also addressed contemporary Wonder Woman comics, and he did not like the “New 52” reboot. I remember Ash griping about the “New 52” event when it was happening, so I found Berlatsky’s rant particularly amusing.

At the very least, I can appreciate Wonder Woman because she isn’t a one-dimensional character. Berlatsky wrote, “Wonder Woman had to be a supersoldier and an icon for peace – which is sort of like having to do everything Captain America does but backward and in heels.” After reading Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, I feel like I should go through Ash’s comic hoard to see if he has any Wonder Woman stories. 

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