The Secret History of Wonder Woman

16 Nov


As per my list of International Woman of Mystery Must-Haves, I recently decided it was time to start looking for outside inspiration. The answer arrived rather serendipitously on my day off. While wandering through a bookstore downtown and glimpsing the shelves, a book caught my attention: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.

Admittedly I’ve never been a comic enthusiast, but I was intrigued. Even in 2015, women superheroes are hard to come by. It seems like even when we do see women in superhero lore, they exist only to be the scantily clad sidekick to a more prominent, more powerful male superhero. Why is that?

But Wonder Woman was more or less the original, no? Or at least kind of a badass? This book seemed like a perfect way to kick off my International Woman of Mystery book club. Membership: One. For now.

For starters, Wonder Woman is an Amazonian from an all-woman planet. Unlike her monster-clobbering, uber-violent male comic counterparts, Wonder Woman leaves her home planet and comes to the U.S. to fight simply for peace, justice and women’s equality. In order to keep her secret safe, she spends her days pretending to be a mild-mannered working girl (sound familiar?) by the name of Diana Prince. It’s a sort of alter ego in reverse, but she is actually a powerful super heroine who fights the enemy using only her impenetrable bracelets and her lasso of truth.

If Wonder Woman lets any man affix chains to her bracelets, she loses all her strength. (Again, sound familiar?) Thus she is cautious against letting any man have too much power over her. Most editions find her fighting evil nemeses, such as an aptly named “Dr. Poison.” But in one particular episode Wonder Woman loses all her Amazonian prowess after agreeing to marry. Her new betrothed then chains her to a desk and demands that she henceforth become his docile little wife. Luckily, Wonder Woman then wakes up and finds it was all a bad dream. She resumes making the world a better place, sans husband.


Wonder Woman comics, though shockingly progressive and enlightened, aren’t perfect. She’s a superhero who frequently finds herself gagged and bound. In the 1940s, despite her popularity among readers and her place on the Justice Society of America – a league of superheroes – Wonder Woman is relegated to the secretarial side of things. Her contributions consist of taking meeting minutes and doing banal office work while the male superheroes go out and fight. And don’t get me started on her superhero costume. Bracelets aside, it’s more enticing to males than empowering to women.

Even still, her mysterious origins, feminist devotion and unconventional pursuits make Wonder Woman a fine role model for the International Woman of Mystery. She has exactly the kind of independent and fierce spirit I aspire to cultivate. She gives me hope that I’m not the only woman out there, fighting to find my power. Wanting never to find myself chained again.

Jenny G.


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