The global war against women: the struggles of Wonder Woman

From Jill Lepore’s exhilarating and, for me, educational article, “The Last Amazon: Wonder Woman returns,” in the September 22, 2014 New Yorker:

Superman débuted in 1938, Batman in 1939, Wonder Woman in 1941. She was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. A press release explained, “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men” because “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.” Marston put it this way: “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of women who should, I believe, rule the world.”

Superman owes a debt to science fiction, Batman to the hardboiled detective. Wonder Woman’s debt is to feminism. She’s the missing link in a chain of events that begins with the women-suffrage campaigns of the nineteen-tens and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later. Wonder Woman is so hard to put on film because the fight for women’s rights had gone so badly.

The year 1972 was a legislative watershed. “We put sex-discrimination provisions into everything,” Bella Abzug said. “There was no opposition. Who’d be against equal rights for women?”

A lot of people. In 1972, Wonder Woman was named a “Symbol of Feminist Revolt”; the next year, the Supreme Court legalized abortion. But the aftermath of Roe v. Wade didn’t bolster the feminist movement; it narrowed it. If 1972 was a legislative watershed, 1973 marked the beginning of a drought. The movement stalled. Wages never reached parity; social and economic gains were rolled back: political and legal victories seemingly within sight were never achieved. Then, too, the movement was divided, bitterly and viciously, radicals attacking liberals and liberals attacking radicals.

Wonder Woman ran for President in a comic book written by Marston in 1943; she ran for President on the cover of Ms. in 1972. She’ll run again; she’s never won. The Equal Rights Amendment never became law; in 1982, the deadline for its ratification expired. A century after [Margaret] Sanger started The Woman Rebel, even the fight for birth control isn’t over…

 

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