Sunday, August 08, 2004

Action figures: Writing for Toronto's Globe and Mail (registration required), author Andrew Kaufman examines the culture of the superhero, focusing on Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes, Girls Who Bite Back and The Kryptonite Kid:

"[Feminist scholar Lillian] Robinson argues that the rise and fall of feminism in the 20th century is mirrored in the rise and fall of Wonder Woman, the comic-book heroine. It's a heady argument, but Robinson manages to provide serious insights without taking the fun out of the whole thing.

"Using the pen name Charles Moulton, U.S. psychologist William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman to illustrate his belief in the superiority of the female sex. Marston believed that women are naturally less aggressive, and disposed to making peace over war. This is not exactly cutting-edge feminism today, but it was radical when the first Wonder Woman comics were published, in 1941.

"The origin of Wonder Woman sees Marston borrowing indiscriminately from both Greek and Roman myths. It presents the story of an Amazon princess who left her beloved Paradise Island to fight the Nazis in the United States. This parallels what happened to U.S. women at the beginning of the Second World War; they were urged to leave their homes and enter a depleted work force. These women were fighting the Nazis by keeping homeland industrial production going. When the war ended and women were urged back into the home and back into traditional gender roles, things didn't fare much better for Marston's Amazon warrior. The comic was taken over by writers and illustrators who didn't share Marston's feminist vision. Wonder Woman's costume got skimpier and her body went from athletic to voluptuous. The content didn't fare any better, either. Robinson illustrates how Wonder Woman was forced back into the domestic sphere."