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Fair use image. (l to r) William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Sheldon Mayer, Max Gaines (1942)

I Wonder If William Marston’s Conception of Woman Endangers That of Humanity


For Father’s Day, my youngest son treated me to dinner and a movie. I was curious to see Wonder Woman. For better or worse, we are living in an era the creator of that comic book heroine, William Marston, would have viewed with satisfaction. He was a staunch proponent of twentieth “feminism”, who reportedly said that:

Not even girls want to be girls, so long as our feminine archetypes lack 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.

This is, in many ways, the feminine ideal we should expect to see coming from an intellectually inclined male, living in a society mostly rooted in Eurasian nomadic cultures whose male archetype still exalted bodily prowess. It disrespected the relatively weak and wan appearance still often associated with a life of sedentary study and contemplation. According to that stereotype, intellectuals lack the muscularity of “real” men. They trod paths associated with the type of man who worships the power of words, murmured behind the scenes, whether in the mind or the cloister. They quietly despised the hardy rituals of war and battle. Indeed, in the years and centuries of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, they came more and more openly to reject and despise the blood-soaked martial spectacles that boisterously reiterated the pagan sense of obligation, which made the wholesale sacrifice of human life the decisive in determining who would rule over human beings.

Christian faith exalted the life of the spirit. It arises in the inner reaches of the mind, where, by the mediation of the Word, human being somehow springs from the touch of the invisible Being that conceives and informs its existence. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” Christ said to his disciples. And he promised that, to those who trust in the Word of God Incarnate, (i.e., the Son of God, but also Man) God would release His power to heal, complete and save humanity.

In Christ, this caring power fully expresses itself as the meaning of Love. Of all the definitive human attributes (virtues) of Christ’s disciples, Love is said to be the greatest. God first expresses it in Creation. For all the indivisible perfection of His absolutely wholesome being, He parts with it, in order to inform the universe of its multifarious possibilities. For the sake of realizing, and then redeeming, the image and likeness of Himself imparted to His creation, He submits, to the form of man, so as accept and make manifest the servile bondage arising because humanity chose to part from His perfection.

The wound opened by that departure from God’s perfect rule, He heals in Jesus Christ– once and for all, through Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross. That sacrifice fulfills the Love of God toward man, even as it perfects the model of humanity’s love for God. It calls on humankind to commend its spirit to God, and receive the more abundant way of living restored to all who consummate their love of Christ by consenting, in communion with Him, to be so consumed by the Spirit of Love that its flame enkindles Life, forever.

In Marston’s original conception of her, Wonder Woman is portrayed as “sculpted from clay by her human mother, Hippolyta and given life by Aphrodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek Gods.” Some more contemporary iterations of the character depart from this profile, depicting her “as the daughter of Zeus.” Though in fact more consistent with the conceptions of her human creator, these later depictions obscure Marston’s vision of a woman produced by her own kind, who is, therefore, sui generis, existing without reference to man. Later in the film, Wonder Woman will aver that she was brought up to believe that man is needed for procreation, but not pleasure. But what is the pleasure associated with procreation but the natural ornament that draws both males and females toward their service to humanity, even before they are fully conscious of their own will?

Thus Marston, and by that token the creator of the Wonder Woman movie, divorce the act of procreation from any pre-existing natural inclination. They make the perpetuation of the human race a matter of willful human choice, rather than natural necessity. This intellectualized conception of procreation implies that the fate of humanity depends, in this very elemental respect, on an intellectual decision that does not depend on an order, inherent in the universe itself, which cares for human life.

Yet if there is no such order drawing men and women to come together in service to the whole each, in its way, represents, what becomes of the sense of that, though disparate in appearance, they nonetheless form a whole? In the common experience of humankind, the body’s sensual plea surely drives men and woman to coition. The notion that some self-willed, intellectual conclusion is required makes as little sense as the ancient philosopher Socrates’ assertion that human laws are an essential prerequisite for that activity. Both assertions raise the question of what fate the human race will suffer if human willfulness somehow contrives to substitute Wonder Woman’s sex education, which severs the natural connection between coition and pleasure, for the “facts of life”, naturally understood?

Coition may involve momentary pleasure. But the vocation of childbearing and childrearing naturally involves physical and emotional pains. If and when a society willfully educates the young to focus on the fact that they may pluck the flower, and avert the guard of pain-tipped thorns surrounding it, I wonder what will become of the willingness to volunteer for the pain?

Epidemically declining birth rates in countries where this willful experiment is already under way suggest an answer ominous for the future of humankind. But even aside from that statistical omen, another question arises. It involves the theme of heroism that gives such films as Wonder Woman their powerful appeal to the heart. At the end of the film, Wonder Woman avows her desire to dedicate herself to serving Love. She does so even as she feels the pain of losing her beloved, because he chooses to sacrifice himself in order to save thousands of lives. Something in every decent heart rises to honor the nobility of that self-sacrifice, despite the grief it causes.

There is a kind of exaltation in the contemplation of such a deed. It seems to lift us up, in spite of ourselves, to a higher plane of existence. In one timeless moment of truth, all the beauty, nobility and peace we long for in the world somehow finds expression. It is a moment that speaks to the being within us that will endure, when all the fleeting, tinsel glories of the world have confessed their falsity. It is as if we are remembering a reality, hidden in those appearances, one in which we shall know ourselves even as we are known, in the light of God’s truth. For a moment, our will corresponds to that truth, accepting its plea that the meaning of our existence is more deeply rooted than any passing pleasure.

It betokens the mind, heart and spirit that arranged for pleasure to ornament the act of procreation. In that pleasure, our flesh mimics the more important glories of the Spirit, which we glimpse as well in the sacrifice of heroes. But it also foreshadows the times ahead when humans taste joys that come, uncalled for, in the midst of the long train of sacrifices required to serve and preserve the portion of humanity God entrusts to parental care, one person at a time.

Each of our children is an instance of the whole; a resounding of the Word that promises true human fulfillment. I wonder whether man or woman will imperatively comprehend its meaning if and when both have learned to seize the pleasure, while avoiding the responsibility that beckons in its call. Or will human survival still depend, as it always has, on accepting the truth that man and woman are made to unite in service to the whole of humanity, even as humanity as a whole is made to do, in service to God and His creation?


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