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Jun 7, 2017
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What do the polygraph (the machine used in lie detector tests) and Wonder Woman have in common? Well, they were created by the same person: William Moulton Marston, an internationally renowned American psychologist. In Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman, she tells the story of how Marston saw the great potential in the comic book medium, and wanted to create his own superhero—one that did not win battles with violence, but with love. And it was his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, who suggested that it should be a woman.

In the comics, Wonder Woman was sculpted from clay by Hippolyta (in most timelines), and given life by Zeus, and was meant to be “Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules.” When she was created, she was spoken of as having strength and power equal to that of Superman’s. Marston seemed to have put as much thought into what ideologies she should be made from as the gods who gave her life.

In his development of the systolic blood pressure measuring apparatus, a crucial component in lie detector tests, Marston found that women were more honest than men in almost every situation, and having learned this, decided that his heroine would have to be a symbol for the type of woman who could lead society.

Marston drew inspiration from feminism and feminist leaders like Margaret Sanger, who popularized the term “birth control” and pioneer of the reproductive rights movement, but it is arguably the women in his life who were the greatest inspirations; his wife, Elizabeth, who earned a law degree in 1918, two years before women had the right to vote in America, and their lover, Olive Byrne, a feminist as fierce as her aunt, Margaret Sanger, and whose bracelets were the appearance for Wonder Woman’s.

William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and Olive Byrne all lived together in a single house, hiding the nature of their relationship by explaining to those curious that Olive was Elizabeth’s widowed sister. William Moulton Marston had two children with Elizabeth, Pete and Olive Ann (named after Byrne), and two children with Olive, named Byrne and Donn. It was 1930s, and if polyamory is controversial now, it was unimaginable how scandalous it would have been back then.

Nevertheless, this didn’t stop them from other controversial practices, most notably bondage and submission. In interviews, William Moulton Marston even openly praised BDSM as a “noble practice,” and was even quoted as saying:

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"The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound...Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society... Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element."  

His fascination with BDSM gave rise to many of the elements of Wonder Woman’s powers, such as the Lasso of Truth, and what her original weakness used to be, once called “Aphrodite’s Law.” According to Aphrodite’s Law, any time that Diana’s bracelets are bound by a man, she loses her Amazonian super strength. This drew ire from many feminists and is no longer canonical to the comics, but many would argue that Wonder Woman would often escape from the bonds of men herself, with Marston never allowing for her to be reduced to the damsel-in-distress trope while he still had creative control.

With the huge success of the Wonder Woman comics, the universe was expanded, and other writers began to write for the iconic female superheroine, much to the chagrin and rage of its creator. Wonder Woman was considered one of the founding members of the Justice Society, the first alliance of superheroes in comics, but was written to be their secretary, and was depicted as having been overjoyed at having that position. She was also often nauseatingly depicted as lovesick over Steve Trevor, her love interest.

Around this time, William Moulton Marston’s health began to decline, but despite this, he fought hard to regain creative control of Wonder Woman. This did not sit well with DC comics, and as such, Wonder Woman was relegated to the background. She was written as having given up her powers to stay in man’s world, and would stay behind in the Hall of Justice as her superhero compadres went off to fight and save the world.

She was later returned to her original strength at the demands of a disappointed audience, and was finally given equal standing with the superheroes of her caliber. And even despite her constant objectification, shines as one of the greatest superheroes ever created. Through the years of suppression and regression, through the glass ceiling, Diana of Themyscira broke through, into the starlight, and remains to this day, one of the most iconic comic book characters ever created. There is no denying that Wonder Woman has been revolutionary as a comic book character since her debut in 1941, all because of the three kinky people behind her creation, and the progressive ideas with which they've shaped Wonder Woman.

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