I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

This book is more than about a famous female superhero of the comics who debuted in 1941, which is also the longest running comic next to Batman and Superman.  It follows the beginning of the science of psychology, which got its roots in philosophy and broke free with William James (brother of the author James Henry).  Its mostly about its highly unusual and eccentric founder William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the lie detector test (not the polygraph test, which would come decades later and involve testing many variables) which tested the blood pressure and pulse of the person being interviewed.  He was the first one to try to bring the lie detector to court only to have it ruled down in the now, not so famous Frye case. 

Marston began his academic career a huge supporter of both the suffragette movement and the feminist movement.  The distinction between the two is that the suffragettes only wanted the vote while the feminist demanded equality.  He would marry Sadie Holloway, who would wind up being the main source of the household's income, as Marston continued on a downward spiral in his career with his support of the lie detector test and his connection with the feminist movement. Both were highly intelligent people with multiple degrees between them.  Sadie even gets a job as an editor at the Encyclopedia Britannica, a high honor.

In the 1920s, the Marstons take in Olive Byrne, the niece of Margret Sanger, the famous campaigner for birth control, along with her sister, Olivia's mother, who went on a hunger strike in jail when the police closed down the birth control clinic.  Marston is in love with his student and wants her to live with them.  Sadie goes along with this, as she is now thirty-four and wants to have children, but wants to leave them in the care of someone mentally capable and a trained person, so she can continue with her work.  Sadie, in a warped way, is the only woman to perhaps have a life where she gets it all.  Yes, she shares William with Olive, with whom he has two sons with (they tell everyone the father is dead), but for some odd reason she finds this acceptable.

Olive is the one who had the large bracelets on her wrists that would become one of Wonder Woman's iconic features along with the lasso that makes people tell the truth, like Marson's lie detector.  Wonder Woman was a feminist and allowed Marston to let out his frustrations on the world and the people in it without anyone being the wiser.  Some have said that the chaining of Wonder Woman, which happens in about every comic, is very sado-masochistic, but in reality, at the start of the feminist and suffrage movements, their were cartoons in the papers and magazines showing women suffering of being under a man's rule.  Marston believed that women were the superior sex and that there would be a female president within forty years and will be running things in the world. 

Sadly, when Marston died in 1947 and his collaborator and supporter the same year, Holloway insisted on being put in charge of Wonder Woman, but instead it went to a man who hated feminism and wanted Wonder Woman to be submissive to the man and be helpless. This set back Wonder Woman for many decades until the re-emergence of feminism in the 1970s, where Wonder Woman was featured on the first cover of Ms. Magazine.  After that, Wonder Woman was revitalized and became a Super Hero again. 

I am more of a Marvel comic book girl that a DC comic book girl, but Wonder Woman is one of the few exceptions.  I fell in love with her while watching the television series with Lynda Carter who showed that women could do anything and fight the toughest foes and win.  While mostly about the writer of Wonder Woman and his life, it shows a flawed man who loved and admired women, even including Great Women of History inserts in the comics to educate the children about real life heroes.  In the 1940s, with the formation of the Justice League, Marston held a vote for whether or not Wonder Woman should be allowed in this all-male bastion of freedom fighters, and received a resounding "yes".  Though she was only a secretary for the League, she still fought her own battles saving the earth time and time again.  Yes, Wonder Woman is my hero.

Note: Margeret Sanger had been a femistinst icon of mine and I am not able to look at her the same way again.

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Secret-History-Wonder-Woman/dp/0804173400/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472836342&sr=1-1&keywords=the+secret+history+of+wonder+woman

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