Editorial: The Men are Talking: Women as Second-Class Superheros (pt.1)

Amy Counts and Matthew Sutherlin

In light of a recent discussions on The Nerdpocalypse podcast and articles posted the blog, I thought I would tackle another controversial topic of interest concerning women in comics. That is the topic of the female superhero. Let’s start at the beginning, the beginning of Western history that is...In Genesis (the book of the Bible, not the band), God created man on the sixth day. God took from man a rib and from that part of his body he created woman. Man and woman were partnered together to create a whole. This is a patriarchal story that gives women a secondary role to that of men. Yet in the “good book” woman is considered to lead to the down fall of man. The serpent (a.k.a the devil, a.k.a. old scratch, a.k.a. Beelzebub) in the Garden of Eden convinces Eve to partake in the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking, she gains knowledge of both good and evil and persuades Adam to take a bite. Women are vilified by this action which leads to a flaw in the conception of women as less than man and susceptible to coercion and capable of manipulation. This is an argument that has been presented over and over, lest we forget Samson and Delilah. Delilah cutting off Samson's hair to rid him of his superpowers is no accident.

So why go into a biblical diatribe of temptation and downfall? First of all, the story of Adam and Eve is contradictory. According to this story, women became knowledgeable and therefore unworthy of pure faith. If women were the first to have the knowledge of good and evil, they would also be the first to recognize its forms. And now for the conceptual leap but stick with me here. In many ways, they should be the first superheros rather than a subsidiary version. However, the rib story sticks, this has more to do with the conception of women as part of man and therefore a lesser version. The (his)story of comics is one in which men come first. In relation comics as part of the larger male dominated cultural paradigm,  it sets the stage for the lack of value placed on the creation of original superhero comic characters that are women. They are many times setup as a subsidiary to a more well known male superhero or placed in the role of partner.

From SUPER MAN to WONDER WOMAN 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 (American Scholar, 1941).


First of all, Wonder Woman does not make sense. She is an Amazonian that wears the colors of the American Flag. The only difference between her colors and that of Superman is the color white. In fact in Kingdom Come (2009), Superman and Wonder Woman have children together. I also take issue with the statement "all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." Who gets to decide what is good and beautiful? In a male dominated society, that still resides in the hands of men. So how did Wonder Woman become the icon for feminism?

Wonder Woman was developed in the early 1940’s psychologist and feminist, Dr. William Moulton Marston. His goal was to create character that gave girls a positive role model. Marston was famous for several bestselling books and the invention of the lie detector prior to the creation of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman’s message was that of love, peace, and sexual equality. Instead of fighting with a villain, the first step was always to try to reason with them. When reason failed, force was used. Her lasso was a metaphoric extension of Marston’s own lie detector. Her only weakness was being bound by a man. According to some sources, in Marston’s story’s she always was able to break free from the symbolic patriarchal bondage. It is felt that the complexity has been lost in later iterations of the character’s Achilles' heel (Crawford, 2007).

Although she has origins in feminism, I would argue that today she is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In 1947, Marston died and his character was handed off to writers who had little knowledge or did not care about the feminist aspect of Wonder Woman’s persona. Her major concerns became marriage anxiety and battling clones. Even her creator is somewhat of a hypocrite. He lived in a poly-amorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne. This leaves the concept of sexual revolution somewhat convoluted. He never had to commit but the two women were essentially bound to him. He once wrote:

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".[Wikipedia]

Apparently for Marston, sexual progressivism meant being open to a threesome and preferably one with a little kink.