Jill Lepore’s impeccably researched history of William Moulton Marston and Wonder Woman never fails to entertain and engage, but ultimately her book reveals both the dubious implications of Wonder Woman’s symbolic power and the questionable notions, political illusions, flagrant hypocrisy and straight up idiotic nonsense at the center of contemporary left feminist thought which fueled it. The details of Marston’s colorful professional exploits are fascinating but one is left with the impression that he was little more than a high functioning charlatan. More importantly, his unconventional libertine polyamorous lifestyle ended up revealing itself on the panels of the strip and offers a slice of insight into the dubious phenomenon of the male feminist.
Ultimately, this is a story of pop culture myth making which encompasses both Wonder Woman’s origins in suffrage and birth control; the two central pillars of contemporary (left) feminism, and the character’s subsequent cultural legacy on the movement itself. While Ms. Lepore is engaging in some myth making of her own for feminism itself, the story produces the inverse effect. It exposes contemporary feminism for the empty farce that it is.
Worse, the story reveals something even more toxic. Wonder Woman represents pop culture’s terrifyingly effective ability to synthesize nationalism and state propaganda and present it in a manner that lends it mythic and divine authority. Through the appropriation of mythic storytelling and pop iconography conjoined with contemporary political activism, Wonder Woman’s significance as a symbol of female power is arguably immeasurable. Power which is the result of an unfailing belief in self perfection and emancipation obtained, preserved and ultimately defended through the democratic process. And worst of all, it reveals a loyalty to that ideal which rivals any religion or cult.
Ms. Lepore is peddling a boilerplate left feminist editorial throughout the book, but in her insipid attempts at drawing attention to scandalous sexism and indignities suffered at the hands of a retrograde male patriarchy end up as unintentional parody when measured against current events and the infantile whining of the contemporary movement.
Over and over again, the disconnect reveals itself.
When Elizabeth Holloway attends law school and attention turns to “something like rape”, female students were asked to leave. Jill Lepore wants to convey a sense of outrage over this paternalistic sexism, but when this is stacked up against the rising tide of active avoidance of controversial and triggering subject matter in contemporary rape law courses, this sad attempt at manipulative propaganda is both laughable and contemptible. Perhaps Jill Lepore should have gotten some feedback from Jeannie Suk on how well today’s feminists are dealing with contemporary rape law courses at Harvard.
Ms. Lepore sanctimoniously aligns the peace movement with the suffrage movement while ignoring the flagrantly racist views of the latter as well as the left’s impotence in curtailing the excesses of the war machine. In a typical display of misplaced liberal faith in politicians, Lepore simultaneously attributes Woodrow Wilson’s victory to support from suffragists while downplaying early support for suffrage from Republicans only to have this faith crushed by a declaration of war signed by an indifferent head of state and a federal bureaucracy intent on silencing their voices. Fast forward to present day, feminists placed the exact same faith in Barack Obama to be a peacemaker only to have it trashed in the exact same fashion.
Ms. Lepore’s greatest sin is perhaps the manner in which she glosses over the connection between Margaret Sanger’s socialist ideals and her ideas on eugenics and population control and the razor thin difference between her agenda and the eugenics program carried out by the Nazis. Not a single word is written about Margaret Sanger’s flagrant racism nor the grand scale irony of Sanger’s denunciations of state power and her simultaneous advocacy for its acquisition to carry out a population control agenda with terrifying ramifications.
Here, Jill Lepore is promulgating a trite, idiotic and destructive narrative of socialism as the embodiment of libertine sexual mores, defiance of authority and social justice.
In reference to Sanger and her socialist cohorts, Lepore’s swooning description of them as living a world of “free love, heterodoxy, Amazons and breaking chains” is especially moronic because she fails to mention that socialism was itself an agenda of enslavement.
The full extent of her intellectual dishonesty is laid bare in one chapter. She openly acknowledges that Margaret Sanger wanted to make birth control available “by force, if necessary”. But a mere couple pages later, she attempts to whitewash Sanger’s open authoritarianism by claiming that “love is stronger than force”. Right. We’ll just ignore the fact that Sanger was totally cool with government force.
The details of Marston’s professional life are indeed sordid and are hardly the legacy of one who possessed any meaningful skills. Given his obsession with dominance, submission, and identifying truth telling, one certainly questions the underpinnings of his polyamorous lifestyle with Olive Byrne, Elizabeth Holloway and Marjorie Wilkes Huntley. Once again, the delta between Lepore’s romanticized exaltation of the spirit of free love that all of these self-proclaimed feminists espoused and the repressive, neo-Puritanism of contemporary movement is enormous.
Aside from maintaining three relationships with women and fathering children from two, they engaged in all kinds of kinky sex games that expose many contemporary feminists for the repressive prudes they are. In contrast to UK feminists who agitate to ban pornography, joyless Puritans like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine McKinnon, insufferable cultural authoritarians like Anita Sarkeesian or advocates for affirmative consent laws, Byrne and Holloway lived their convictions rather than imposing their self-righteous notion of feminist virtue on others.
Marston’s life opens a window of insight into the outrageous hypocrisy of male feminists. To use contemporary parlance, Marston would undoubtedly be referred to as a “feminist ally”; a pretentious douchebag who grandstands about feminist issues in order to ingratiate and aggrandize himself amongst feminists. This was an individual who made a dubious prediction that women would rule the world while flitting from one failed endeavor to another while Holloway earned the money on which his polyamorous family depended.
Not only did Marston coast off the sole income of Holloway for years, he exposed his hypocrisy in other ways. He penned an article for Life magazine called “What are your prejudices?” in which he condemned prejudice, but proceeded to reveal his own prejudice in his portrayal of different ethnic groups in the Wonder Woman comics. All of his sanctimonious bullshit is indistinguishable from the idiotic notion of “privilege” that’s promulgated in feminist circles today or the propagandistic twaddle that can be found throughout the feminist mediasphere. In the current political environment, few factions are as sanctimonious as feminists and it’s fairly clear that this contemptible charlatan contributed to their smug self-righteousness in more ways than I ever knew.
It’s unsurprising that the polygraph he invented, a device whose efficacy has been discredited, ended up in widespread use by the government. Hey! Let’s use the device that doesn’t detect lies and put it in the hands of professional liars! What could go wrong?
The Marston incarnation of Wonder Woman is all by itself a toxic, frightening and infantile fantasy of his notion of matriarchy and by extension, the fantasy feminists (including Lepore) have assigned to feminism. By placing Wonder Woman in the military, running for president for a 1000 year term, and wrapping her in nationalist regalia, Wonder Woman represents little more than fascism with a uterus. Lepore laughably asserts that Wonder Woman was “fighting fascism with feminism”, but no matter how much moronic drivel Marston attached to her, fascism is exactly what she represents. Furthermore, the choice to not use a gun feeds right into this hollow fantasy of the benevolent application of feminine power because it ignores the true nature of state power. This disconnect is fully embodied by the cover of Wonder Woman Number 1. Wonder Woman is charging into a battlefield full of Nazis and everyone has a gun except her. Right.
Because somehow when a woman wields the state gun it’s not REALLY a gun. Because…uterus!
Marston’s toxic delusions are on full display in a response to early criticism of Wonder Woman.
The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound-enjoy submission to kind authority, wise authority, not merely tolerate submission. Wars will only cease when humans enjoy being bound.
Oh, really? Wow. How progressive!
Fuck you, Marston.
Of course, these charges of fascism go way back and were first leveled in 1945 by Jesuit priest, Walter J. Ong. I suspect Lepore wants the reader to be appalled by these repressive, retrograde sentiments because after all, what could some religious asshole have to say that’s of any value on the issue of women’s liberation? But the iconography and written words of Marston as well as those of Sanger from which Marston drew inspiration, speak for themselves.
The book also reveals the cult of legitimacy accorded to academics. Lepore certainly leaves the reader with the impression that despite Marston’s credentials, he had little to nothing of value to offer and his professional career was more or less a confidence game, she seems intent on aggrandizing academics and by default, people like herself as heroes of social justice and champions of virtue. “Wise authorities” to whom us lower life forms should joyfully submit.
Her book concludes with a recap of the idiotic sniping that occurred amongst feminists upon Wonder Woman’s pop culture resurgence of the 70’s. When one considers the current state of feminism, it’s pretty clear that little has changed. For a movement allegedly predicated on equality, its adherents seem more successful in fomenting discord and division than anything resembling equality, let alone peace. As long as feminism relates to equality as a product of federal power, feminism cannot be viewed as a movement agitating for equality. It must be viewed as a movement dedicated to enshrining privilege for women with the explicit and open embrace of government force at the expense of men. As fascinating as this story is, I’m unenthusiastic about Jill Lepore’s open embrace of this agenda.