Figure 1. Spanking featured in a panel of Wonder Woman, “Grown-Down Land.”
Sensation Comics vol. 1, #31 (July, 1944).

Wonder Woman is an eponymous superhero created by Dr. William Marston in. First appearing in American comic books in 1942, Wonder Woman was a controversial figure due to the elements of eroticism it featured, particularly BDSM, during what is called the Golden Age of Wonder Woman (1941-1947). BDSM a term used to describe a number of erotic practices, designated by a pair of linked terms, [with] each pair of terms appear[ing] in the larger acronym: bondage and discipline (BD), dominance and submission (DS), sadism and masochism (SM).”[1] Images of spanking, bondage, gagging, blindfolding, and so forth were featured in the Wonder Woman comics during this time period.

Contents

 

1. Origins

1.1 Personal Life

1.2 Involvement in DISC Theory and Assessment

1.3 Feminist Ideologies

2. Wonder Woman in the Golden Age

2.1 Beliefs and Fighting Style

3. Revisiting the Golden Age

4. Other Resources

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Origins

Wonder Woman was conceived by Dr. William Moulton Marston as a reflection of his personal life and values, his psychology research in the field of DISC assessment, as well as the Women’s Rights Movement and feminist ideologies.

  • Personal Life

Dr. William Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with both his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and his former student research assistant named Olive Byrne. The three of them lived together, collectively raising their five children. This nontraditional relationship compounded on Marston’s noted proclivity for bondage would make him a sexually radical individual during this point in American history.[2]

1.2 Involvement in DISC Theory and Assessment

Dr. William Marston and his wife worked together in the realm of DISC assessment, with Elizabeth acting as his assistant. DISC theory is acronym that stands for dominance (D), inducement (I), submission (S), and compliance (C) to describe the dynamic of virtually all human relationships, romantic or otherwise.[3] Dr. Marston believed that women were best suited to build loving, positive relationships based on their ability to be both dominate and to submit to others, a notion that is often excluded from male experience.[4] These women were called Love Leaders. Marston’s psychological research into DISC can be seen throughout the Wonder Woman comics during the Golden Age, with Wonder Woman standing in as the model for the ideal Love Leader; the perfect combination of kink and care.[5]

1.3 Feminist Ideologies

Dr. Marston and both of his partners were strong supporters of women’s rights. Elizabeth Holloway Marston was active in the suffrage movement while Olive Byrne sported a feminist pedigree: she was the daughter of Ethel Higgins Byrne and the niece of Margaret Sanger, notable advocates for birth control.[6] Following this theme of strong female presence in his own life, Marston imbued Wonder Woman with those same feminist ideals. Further evidence of feminism lies in the very first issue of Wonder Woman, which opens with a “Wonder Women of History” comic strip about Florence Nightingale life and accomplishments.[7]  Another example of this are the similarities between Wonder Woman and Rosie the Riveter.

  1. Wonder Woman and the Golden Age

The Golden Age of the Wonder Woman series is marked by its BDSM-related imagery. The average amount of bondage imagery in the overall comic series during the Golden Age is at 27%, with Wonder Woman #4 containing 41%.[8]

2.1 Beliefs and Fighting Style

Wonder Woman comes from the fictional land of Paradise Island, where she and the other Amazons consensual bondage and role-playing games, always focusing on careful bondage and loving submission. Wonder Woman’s key utilities are her Lasso of Truth and Bracelets of Submission. Her lasso allows Wonder Woman to help men lovingly submit to her while her bracelets offer protection and represent her voluntary submission to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, as well as to remind her of “the folly of men.”[9] Wonder Woman embodies loving submission. She is both tied down and ties down others and, unlike her adversaries, she almost always breaks through her bonds and finds a way to retake her position as dominate.

  1. Revisiting the Golden Age

While the Wonder Woman comics have fluctuated in popularity, there has been a recent resurgence into the kinky history of Wonder Woman as well as into the love and work of Dr. Marston. In 2015, Carson Kreitzer created a play called Lasso of Truth which focused on the life of Marston and the various details surrounding Wonder Woman’s creation.[10] In 2017, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, a film that centers on Dr. Marston’s polyamorous relationship with his partners, his interest in BDSM, and Wonder Woman.

  1. Other Resources:
  • Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Directed by Angela Robinson. Boxspring Entertainment, Stage 6 Films, and Topple Productions. 2017.
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. New York: Penguin Random House. 2014.
  • Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, Inc. 2014

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[1] Call, Lewis. (2013). “Introduction: BDSM + SF&F= Love,” BDSM in American Science Fiction and Fantasy, London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1.

[2] Saunders, Ben. Do The Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes. p. 42.

[3] Call, Lewis. (2013). “Introduction: BDSM + SF&F= Love,” BDSM in American Science Fiction and Fantasy, London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1.

[3] Hanley, Tim. (2014). “The Utopian Alternative,” Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, Inc. p. 15.

[4] Hanley, Tim. “The Utopian Alternative,” p. 16.

[5] Chavez, Maria, Chris Gavaler, and Nathaniel Goldberg. “Loving Lassos: Wonder Woman, Kink, and Care,” Wonder Woman and Philosophy. p. 188. 2017.

[6] Hanley, Tim. “The Utopian Alternative,” p. 12.

[7] Hanley, Tim. “Wonder Woman’s Extra Features,” Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, Inc. p. 74.

[8] Hanley, Tim. “Amazon Princess, Bondage Queen,” Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, Inc. p. 47.

[9] Bunn, Geoffrey C. “The Lie Detector, Wonder Woman, and Liberty: The Life and Work of William Moulton Marston,” History of Human Sciences. 1997 p. 107.

[10] Krietzer, Carson. Lasso of Truth. Marin Theatre Company, California. 2015.

 

— MM

MM is currently a student in WMST 595, Sexing the Body. Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section!