You know, I enjoyed our broadcast on this book, and intriguingly, the book is setting ever more weirdly with me as time goes by.
Wonder Woman was conceived as an ultimate expression of female power by William Moulton Marston, a mostly failed academic psychologist who invented the lie detector and fathered children with the founder of Planned Parenthood’s niece.
(Lynda Carter in 1978, she mostly ain’t.)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman is meticulously researched by Harvard professor Jill Lepore, to the point that a full quarter of it is notes and citations. Superficially it seems positioned as a typical pop culture title, but it reads much more like an academic text. She does a good job with neutral presentation of ideas here. There are several opportunities for her to inject her own views, but she remains committed to exposition without particular passion.
Marston is consistently interesting, though it was difficult for either of us to find much to admire about him. I’d think a fellow so ostensibly enamored of women that he would submit fully to their authority would find a way to treat those in his life with more respect.
Wonder Woman is conceived and presented as strong, noble, just, loving, and patriotic, which struck me. The idea was that only America was enlightened and enabling enough to bring forth this female power. This is perhaps at odds with modern feminism, which may regard such patriotism with ambivalence (at best) or even hostility.
This is a history book, a women’s studies book, and a biography at least as much as it is a superhero book. Moreover, though not difficult to read, it is dense. This is not a good candidate for just before bed.
I mostly enjoyed reading this book, but I’m rating it as highly as I am more for its craftsmanship. The amount of work represented here is substantial, and the polish impressive. I give it 8 out of 10.
I think what most disappointed me about the book, was the lack of the later Wonder Woman history. Even though she apparently has taken several sharp turns through her decades, we only get an in-depth view of her creation story. I suppose that is the purpose of this book, but I want to know more. Maybe that is the mark of a truly successful history book – feed me enough to make me hungry.
Still, because this book is obviously targeted toward pop culture interests and not strictly a history text, I am only going to give it a rating of 5. It did not quite do it for me.
- How can we resolve Marston’s treatment of the women in his immediate life with his supposed feminist ideals?
- How is the feminism that informed Wonder Woman similar to feminism of today? How is it different?
- What, if anything, does academia’s consistent rejection of Marston have to do with how Wonder Woman ultimately debuted?
- Wonder Woman ranks right up there with Superman as one of the most popular and enduring American comic Super Heroes of all time. Why is that?
- Does Wonder Woman continually have to evolve to keep her audience? Have the male characters had to change significantly?