The Kinky History of the Man Behind ‘Wonder Woman’

By Christianna Silva

Like some other feminist celebrity icons in American cultural history, Wonder Woman was a female hero with a large, looming, and slightly creepy male creator looming off-stage.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, written by Harvard professor and The New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, could easily be mistaken for a feminist manifesto. But it would be just that: mistaken.

The book is a trade-off between a history of pop culture’s most beloved feminist icon, Wonder Woman, and a biography of her creator, William Moulton Marston.

Throughout the book, I could never decide if Wonder Woman provided a gauge with which to compare my favorite women’s rights activists, or another strong female character created, described and depicted by a man, to Lepore+Wonder+Womanstack in the “feminism as a fetish” pile.

The man behind the woman, Marston, was a remarkably intelligent, inventive, creative, startlingly confident, repellent loser. Marston calls himself a feminist in the early 1900’s, not to champion for the equality of women, but to get away with being a marginally sexist, entitled man.

Lepore digs through Marston’s kinky historical past and brings up the reasoning behind Wonder Woman’s consistent climax of landing at the feet of men with bandages garnering her wrists. Marston, his wife, and his two lovers were part of a fairly secret BDSM club.

Aside from feminism, Lepore walks readers through other activism at the time and how Wonder Woman and Marston affected each. When milk pricing skyrocketed in real life, it was mirrored beautifully through the comic strips. Textile workers, Margaret Sanger’s labor activism, and low wages of female employees throughout the U.S. were all depicted..

Odd subject matter aside, the book is interesting, captivating, and powerful. Lepore brilliantly weaves two cohesive story lines together to build on the podium on which modern-day feminism now stands. While some chapters are rocky, and some are off, the book is an outstanding read that I would recommend to not only my feminist cohorts and comic-book lovers, but to anyone with a grain of interest in American cultural history.


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