Chance Lee's Reviews > The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
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Mar 15, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: true-story

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is like a real-life Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay but with less war and more bondage, which is saying a lot because the Escapist was always in chains too but for entirely different reasons. Lepore's book is an insightful entertaining look into the history of Wonder Woman, and a perfect read for anyone interested in comics, feminism, early psychology, BDSM, or the simple craziness involved in any of these topics and the sheer insanity of a person fascinated with all four things.

I'm surprised Wonder Woman was ever popular. Maybe it's just the examples chosen by Lepore, but her "adventures" -- infiltrating misogynistic colleges, fighting against high milk prices -- seem like they would be so boring to children. But it's amazing that a lot of this every actually happened. It's amazing that the feminist movement ever happened, that people were united. That doesn't seem to happen much anymore (the feminist movement of the 60s, with Gloria Steinhem and Shulamith Firestone, more resembled the angry divided feminism of today), and even then they were concerned about being on the wrong side of history, a judge being told by a critic "It will be hard to make the youth of 1967 believe that in 1917 a woman was imprisoned for doing what Mrs. Byrne did." Mrs. Byrne was on hunger strike after being arrested for protesting for the right to use contraception. She was later marginalized by her own sister, Margaret Sanger, so perhaps the movement wasn't as united as I'd like to believe; they were just better at hiding their divisions. Sanger does make an interesting, if a bit sad, point -- true rebels cannot succeed. There must be some compromise and conformity.

It's also crazy how Olive Byrne was able to sell so many fawning articles about Marston to Family Circle magazine. This only stoked Marston's ego, I'm sure, which was his main problem. He was always tripping over himself.

Marston's hypocrisy, he championed for equality between genders, yet he forced his wife to take his name name (who said "We are stuck with either our father's name or our husband's. There's no such thing in this civilization as 'your own name'"), had no qualms about taking credit for his other live-in "wife's" work, and populated his comic books with the racism of the time, making Wonder Woman's antagonist evil blacks, darkies, and Jews. Also, the critic who later points this out, Fredric Wetham, criticized the racism /and/ the homoeroticism, blasting Wonder Woman (and Batman) for turning kids gay. Also, Wertham, who is criticizing comics for being anti-Semitic, calls them "worse than Hitler." Um, honey, no. I do enjoy that his rival, Lauretta Bender, blames not comics, but Disney films--" The mothers are always killed or sent to the insane asylums in Walt Disney's movies." I agree that Disney is much more damaging than Wonder Woman.

It's darkly comic how Wonder Woman is made to serve as the Justice League's secretary when turned over to another writer, but that treatment of her is, at its core, no different than Wonder Woman's original intentions. She was intended to lead a movement, but she's just a character, and was always only a figurehead and a tool.
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Reading Progress

March 15, 2015 – Started Reading
March 15, 2015 – Shelved
March 18, 2015 – Shelved as: true-story
March 18, 2015 – Finished Reading

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