As an ardent film fan and passionate feminist, I watch the movie world like a hawk for a glimpse of women telling their stories through film. I subscribe to Women and Hollywood for updates and was severely dismayed when I read this article about the upcoming biopic about Wonder Woman creator, William Moulton Marston. Overall, I’m not a fan of superheroes but have taken special care to avoid the Wonder Woman movie. Even before I knew about her creator, I took issue with her overtly sexual portrayal in comics and on film.
Following the success of the Wonder Woman movie, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women will explore the relationships between Marston, his wife, and his (their?) girlfriend(s). With a commitment to realism, filmmakers cast Luke Evans in the role of Mr. Marston.
While the real Marston has been hailed as a feminist, I don’t think he deserves that title. Marston has been quoted as saying that “women enjoy submission” and “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.” It didn’t surprise me to learn that he hired a male artist to capture his heroine. She is supposedly a combination of the suffragists and the Varga girls of the 1940’s.
The trailer makes it look as though Marston’s wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, wanted to bring another woman into the marriage just as much as Marston did but according to an NPR interview with historian Jill Lepore, Marston threatened to leave Holloway if she did not acquiesce to his wishes. There is also, at some point, a third woman who enters the picture and lives in the attic. There’s mention of what sounds like a sex cult that the four of them are a part of in which women
“in their relation to males expose their bodies and use various legitimate methods of the love sphere to create in males submission to them, the women mistresses, or love leaders, in order that they, the mistresses, might submit in passion to the males.”
Lepore giggles a lot during the NPR interview but seems sincere about telling Marston’s story as truthfully as possible. However, I do not find Marston’s story very compelling. The only part of the story that was compelling was that Holloway and the younger mistress, Olive Byrne stayed together decades after Marston’s death. What was it that made their relationship endure?
To me, Marston doesn’t sound any better than any of the other misogynists who need a harem of women surrounding them at all times. I think a lot of people who preach sexual empowerment for women through a sort of cavalier attitude towards sex have a lot more in common with the religious fundamentalists they claim to defy.
There’s nothing “progressive” or feminist about Marston’s set-up. Religious fundamentalists from Osama Bin Laden to Mormon leader Warren Jeffs were polygamous/polyamorous as were cult leaders Charles Manson and David Koresh. While the comparison might seem outlandish, we need to think about the people who shaped our views on sex and sexuality. These views are heavily influenced by the patriarchal culture we live in, one in which the interests of men are paramount. Alfred Kinsey, the father of the sexual revolution and lead promoter of the “anything goes” attitude towards sex, did not publish data he didn’t find useful and he also wrote about children’s sexuality with information gathered from pedophiles.
I do not believe Professor Marston & The Wonder Women should be touted as feminist or in any way benefitting women. I think it needs to be examined the way all popular media should be: as patriarchal propaganda. Women and Hollywood, while some of its articles are illuminating, tends to publish stories about ANY movie that’s even remotely related women without regard for whether or not the movies actually help women as a whole. I am not content to subsist off of crumbs when it comes to seeing women’s stories represented in film. And with as much influence as movies and celebrities exert in our society, we need to hold filmmakers and actors to a much higher standard.