- Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.
- -- William Moulton Marston
Early life and career
Born in Saugus, Massachusetts, William Marston was educated at Harvard University, receiving his B.A. in 1915, an L.L.B. in 1918, and a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1921. After teaching at American University in Washington D.C. and Tufts University in Medford MA, Marston traveled to Universal Studios in California in 1929, where he spent a year as Director of Public Services.
Psychologist and inventor
Marston is credited as the creator of the systolic blood-pressure test used in an attempt to detect deception, which became one component of the modern polygraph. According to their son, Marston's wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, was also involved in the development of the systolic blood-pressure test: "According to Marston’s son, it was his mother Elizabeth, Marston’s wife, who suggested to him that 'When she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb' (Lamb, 2001). Although Elizabeth is not listed as Marston’s collaborator in his early work, Lamb, Matte (1996), and others refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth’s work on her husband’s deception research. She also appears in a picture taken in his polygraph laboratory in the 1920s (reproduced in Marston, 1938)." This would be the basis for Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth.
From this work, Marston had been convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men, and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of women of the day.
Marston was also a writer of essays in popular psychology.
In 1928 he published Emotions of Normal People, which elaborated the DISC Theory. Marston viewed people behaving along two axes, with their attention being either passive or active, depending on the individual's perception of his or her environment as either favorable or antagonistic. By placing the axes at right angles, four quadrants form with each describing a behavioral pattern:
- Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
- Inducement produces activity in a favourable environment
- Steadiness produces passivity in a favourable environment
- Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.
Marston posited that there is a male notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent, and an opposing female notion based on "Love Allure" that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.
In an October 25, 1940, interview conducted by former student Olive Byrne (under the pseudonym 'Olive Richard') and published in Family Circle, titled "Don't Laugh at the Comics", Marston described what he saw as the great educational potential of comic books (a follow up article was published two years later in 1942.) This article caught the attention of comics publisher Max Gaines, who hired Marston as an educational consultant for National Periodicals and All-American Publications, two of the companies that would merge to form the future DC Comics.
In the early 1940s the DC line was dominated by superpowered male characters such as the Green Lantern, Batman, and its flagship character, Superman. According to the Fall 2001 issue of the Boston University alumni magazine, it was his wife Elizabeth's idea to create a female superhero:
“ William Moulton Marston, a psychologist already famous for inventing the polygraph (forerunner to the magic lasso), struck upon an idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. 'Fine,' said Elizabeth. 'But make her a woman.' ”
Marston introduced the idea to Max Gaines, cofounder (along with Jack Liebowitz) of All-American Publications. Given the go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman with Elizabeth (whom Marston believed to be a model of that era's unconventional, liberated woman). In creating Wonder Woman, Marston was also inspired by Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in a polygamous/polyamorous relationship. Marston's pseudonym, Charles Moulton, combined his own and Gaines' middle names.
Marston used a pen name that combined his middle name with that of Gaines to create Charles Moulton. Marston intended his character, which he called "Suprema", to be "tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are," combining "all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso. Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Byrne.
Editor Sheldon Mayer replaced the name "Suprema" with "Wonder Woman", and the character made her debut in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941). The character next appeared in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942), and six months later, Wonder Woman #1 debuted. Except for four months in 2006, the series has been in print ever since, and now appears monthly. The stories were initially written by Marston and illustrated by newspaper artist Harry Peter. During his life Marston had written many articles and books on psychological topics, but his last six years of writing were devoted to his comics creation.
William Moulton Marston died of cancer on May 2, 1947 in Rye, New York. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together until Olive's death in the late 1980s; Elizabeth died in 1993, aged 100.
Marston's Wonder Woman is often cited as an early example of bondage themes entering popular culture: physical submission appears again and again throughout Marston's comics work, with Wonder Woman and her criminal opponents frequently being tied up or otherwise restrained, and her Amazonian friends engaging in frequent wrestling and bondage play (possibly based on Marston's earlier research studies on sorority initiations). These elements were softened by later writers of the series. Though Marston had described female nature as submissive, in his other writings and interviews he referred to submission to women as a noble and potentially world-saving practice, leading ideally to the establishment of a matriarchy, and did not shy away from the sexual implications of this:
- 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.
About male readers, he later wrote:
- No special notes.
- No trivia.
Links and References
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