The “Wonder Woman Was Created For Girls” Myth OR Beyonce’s Super Bowl Halftime Show As An Example Of William Moulton Marston’s Approach To Feminism

Last week, PBS aired their latest installment of Pioneers of Television and the focus of the show was superheroes.  It was an entertaining program, with lots of fun, behind the scenes information, and Wonder Woman got an entire section centered around an interview with Lynda Carter.  Near the top of the show, Carter said:

The creator of Wonder Woman really felt that girls needed a hero too, and developed Wonder Woman.

Which is what’s generally believed.  These days, Wonder Woman is an iconic symbol of female strength, embraced by women of all sorts.  Wonder Woman is THEIR hero, created for them.  However, Carter is wrong.

Wonder Woman became a hero for girls, largely because she was the only real female superhero for decades, but that wasn’t her creator’s original intent.  William Moulton Marston was a unique feminist who thought that women were superior to men.  Men were aggressive and cruel, while women were peaceful and kind, and so he thought that women should be in charge.  In fact, he thought that women WOULD be in charge.  To Marston, female rule was inevitable.  Girls didn’t need a hero, because they were well on their way to becoming heroes themselves.  Boys needed a female hero to prepare them for the coming rise of women.

In the early 1940s, superhero comics were full of men fighting and threatening and generally being dominant jerks, reinforcing exactly what Marston hated about men in power.  So he came up with Wonder Woman as an antidote for this “blood-curdling masculinity.”  Wonder Woman had all the power of her male counterparts, but was loving and kind.  He wanted boys to see how much better things were when women had power, but he needed something else to keep them interested.

For Marston, sexuality was a key component women’s power.  He thought that there was a thrill inherent in submitting to a woman and having her control you, which is why women would eventually take over.  Men would actually like life better with powerful women in charge.  This may speak more to his own sexual tastes than anything else, but it’s what he thought nonetheless.  So he filled Wonder Woman with bondage imagery, showing the Amazons tying each other up, Wonder Woman tying up people with her lasso, and Wonder Woman getting tied up herself.  This was a pretty common scene:

bondagesensation35

The bondage imagery was a metaphor for women being in control, and it was also intentionally sexual.  It was meant to excite male readers, to give them a small taste of how much fun it would be if women were in charge all the time.

Obviously, this is kind of a screwed up theory, and contradictory.  It’s feminism and fetishism all rolled into one, and it’s all sorts of bizarre.  However, at the core there was a feminist message.  It was just packaged in a manner that was overtly sexual and aimed at boys, and that in many ways objectified the character.

Which brings us to Beyoncé.

beyonce

While watching the Super Bowl halftime show, I was struck by the similarities between Beyoncé’s persona and Marston’s approach to Wonder Woman.  Because this is the sort of thing I think about when I watch a football game, because I’m a nerd.  There were some surface similarities, what with her outfit and boots roughly resembling Wonder Woman’s usual garb, but there were was more to it than that.

The show had a definite feminist vibe, or at the very least an incredibly strong message of girl power.  EVERYONE on that stage was a woman: the band, the dancers, everybody.  Beyoncé moved around the stage with the utmost confidence, singing songs like “Independent Woman” and others that embodied her perennial theme of what Nathan Rabin has labeled “Fuck you, I’m awesome.”  Beyoncé’s songs are very assertive in terms of her own power and desires, particularly as they pertain to her womanhood, and by surrounding herself onstage with an all-female team that message was thus extended to them as well.  All in all, it was a very empowering show.

At the same time, this was a show for boys.  Much like Wonder Woman was a lone woman in a sea of male superheroes, so too was Beyoncé a rare female presence smack in the middle of a testosterone-fueled, all-male event.  The sexy outfit, the shaking of her assets, the rolling around on stage, and the regular suggestive glances at the camera were, much like Wonder Woman’s bondage, intentionally sexual and aimed squarely at men.

(Or ladies who enjoy other ladies.  I’ve got some lesbian/bisexual women in my Twitter feed and the show went over huge with them too).

So what we’ve got is a message of female empowerment presented in a sexualized manner for male entertainment, which is basically what we had way back in the 1940s with Marston’s Wonder Woman comics.  Girls love Beyoncé too, just like girls loved Wonder Woman in the 1940s, but in both cases the presentation is aimed much more at a male audience.

Some would say that one side trumps the other: The message of female empowerment rises above the objectification of the heroine OR the blatant sexualization of the heroine contaminates any message of female empowerment.  I think we should just let the contradiction stand.  The world is complicated, things are bizarre.  Wonder Woman represents female superiority AND her creator’s fetishes.  Beyoncé is all about the power of women AND her show was meant to turn on a male audience.  It doesn’t have to be either.  Wonder Woman and Beyoncé encapsulate both sides, for numerous and complicated reasons.

So whenever someone says that Wonder Woman was created for girls, just think of Beyoncé.  It shouldn’t be too hard, really.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve had “Crazy in Love” stuck in your head off and on for the last decade.

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8 Responses to “The “Wonder Woman Was Created For Girls” Myth OR Beyonce’s Super Bowl Halftime Show As An Example Of William Moulton Marston’s Approach To Feminism”

  1. Kerin A. Prince Says:

    The halftime show had me thinking about Wonder Woman also ! I believe Beyonce once said she should to play the part of Wonder Woman.

  2. IronBerserk Says:

    Unfortunately, the comparison of Beyonce and WW does not work anymore. You compared the Beyonce of now to the WW of the 1940’s. WW has higher standards, and how she was depicted back in the 1940’s would be unacceptable today. WW is a classy woman, kind and yet strong, and her sexy outfit is not used to turn men on but as a statement that she is not scared to wear and show what she wants. She is not ashamed of her body. This also was said in one issue of Gail Simone’s run (yeah, as you could tell I’m a huge fan of Simone :P). You could argue its an excuse…but it seems like a legitimate one. LOL

    • Tim Hanley Says:

      Well… I sort of disagree. As much as WW is classy and the outfit has been portrayed as empowering and people have written her saying as much, she’s still a character most often written and drawn by men for men who wears skimpy outfits and is regularly posed to accentuate her lady parts. Think Ed Benes on Justice League, or even Jim Lee’s recent run on the book. She’s definitely still sexualized for men’s enjoyment. Certain stories may have her saying otherwise, but the way DC uses her and depicts her has a definite intentionally sexual component to turn men on.

      • Darklantern00 Says:

        Then I would say that the depiction/treatment of WW by DC et al can be compared to Beyonce but not the character of WW herself and what she was created to stand for. From what I understand Marston created her specifically to challenge the traditional idea of femininity,the BDSM trapping were originally to illustrate that point I think the fact that it was titillating to male readers was a happy side effect for the publishers , I seriously doubt Marston was putting it in there for that express purpose. For Beyonce on the other hand titillation and the male gaze is an intrinsic part of what she does/has to do (and this goes for the majority of female pop stars) in order to be successful, especially at a male-dominated event like the Super Bowl.

      • IronBerserk Says:

        I agree with you both, Hanley and Darklantern. Beyonce is doing the show in order to turn male audiences on, while WW is still to this day being drawn by artists who want to excite male audiences.

        However, my point was more towards writing standards and how great writers like Simone, Rucka, and Azzarello portray WW. I’m also guessing that writers have a say in how they want the character to be drawn and they would never put WW in a provocative pose for no reason but to simply make male audiences horny. They have better standards than that and I expect to see those kinds of standards in my WW comics. This is not like in the 40’s anymore where they would have WW tied to a phallic missile on the front cover. They might have that inside the pages of some comics of today…but those are usually terrible or below average writers who simply do not understand WW. Great WW comics are not comparable to Beyonce…but that’s just my opinion :P

  3. Your Senior Drill Instructor Says:

    Excellent piece, Tim. This is why I can’t for “Wonder Woman: Earth One” because Morrison said that he’s going to take the same approach towards WW that Marston did, but in a more contemporary way. The thing I’m most interested in seeing is his take on her relationship with Steve Trevor. He says that he really worked hard on making Steve “worthy” of her love. LOL

    I know you were disappointed that Morrison got this gig instead of Rucka, but I actually think you’ll like it. :)

    • Tim Hanley Says:

      Yeah, I’m dreading that book :) I mean, you never know… it might turn out fine. But from everything I’ve read so far about it, I don’t think Morrison gets the Golden Age Wonder Woman at all. Plus I just don’t care for his work generally. I think Rucka would’ve absolutely killed it.

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