On Wonder Woman and Female Jealousy

When educators rip on the comics, I sigh. I surely do wish they and other literature lovers would take a closer look.
For example, Wonder Woman. How did she come to be, and why was she created?
Before I start on that, let’s go back almost twenty years ago now, when someone who I thought was my best friend left my life.
It happened in increments. We’d spoken habitually at least three times per week, but she stopped calling. And when I’d call her, she started throwing little jabs at the new things I was doing or planning to do. I didn’t notice at first, and then I couldn’t help but notice. But I thought—hoped—that I must be taking her comments the wrong way. Finally, when I still didn’t get the broad hints that she no longer wanted to be my friend, she engineered an argument—one she knew me well enough to guess I’d take the bait for—and … that was it. A friendship which had lasted nineteen years, the same nineteen years my marriage had, in fact, was over.
It took me longer to come to grips with the loss of that friendship than it did to come to grips with my divorce. I relied on that friend. I believed in and trusted that friend. Her desertion was soul-crushing. Mostly because, though I knew why my marriage had failed, I didn’t know why my closest friendship had failed. When and why had she stopped, well…loving me?
After a long while, I figured it out.
Leaving my abusive marriage put me on the road to being happier and healthier. I dropped twenty pounds. I started writing, something I’d always longed to do. I developed a better center of self, a center from which I met better-balanced people who saw me in a more flattering light than I’d seen myself, than my ex-husband had seen me. They treated me with more respect, as a result, a respect I grew to understand I’d earned and deserved. And eventually, I found love—the real deal this time.
My friend didn’t see any of this as something to celebrate with me. In fact, it shook her equilibrium. What had happened was that I had broken a between us, a pact I wasn’t aware I’d made, the pact of, “Let’s always stay miserable together.”
And so, when I changed my life for the better, she saw that as a betrayal. She was psychologically and emotionally unable to do what I’d done. Therefore, witnessing that achievement by one of her closest didn’t inspire a desire in her to change her life for the better as well— what it did instead was incite fear, envy, and resentment.
Those feelings are inharmonious with true friendship, aren’t they? But she couldn’t change her feelings any more than she could change her life, so she found a way to justify dumping me. And while I understand why she felt she had to do it, I am still, all these years later, hurt and angry by the cold, cruel way she did it.
On the other hand, I’m reassured by all the other women in my life who’d never dream of utilizing such tactics, women who lead their own dynamic lives. Whether they’re stay-at-home mothers or CEOs, famous writers or hobbyists, thin or not-so-thin, young or no-so-young, rich or not, married or single, straight or gay—whoever they are, whatever they do, they’re loving, supportive, encouraging, and inspiring. They show up for me and for each other, reveling in each other’s victories, celebrating each other. These are the real world’s Wonder Women.
Whereas women like my former friend who try to diminish or crush another woman for being what they themselves fell they can’t be…well, they just might be the real world’s Cheetahs.
Wonder Woman, and her arch enemy, Cheetah, were created by an American psychologist turned comic book writer, William Moulton Marston (May 9, 1893 – May 2, 1947), also known by the pen name Charles Moulton. During his lifetime, Marston championed the latent abilities and causes of the women of his day. From his psychological work, he became convinced that women had some superior qualities to men, and that there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent, while an opposing feminine notion based on “love allure” leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.
But, in a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, Marston wrote: “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. They don’t want to be tender, submissive, and peace-loving as good women are.”
(I know that “submissive” and “good women” stuff might be problematic, but remember, his words and research are coming to us from over seven decades ago.)
Marston thought the obvious remedy would be to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman, plus all the allure of—here we go again—“a good woman.”
And when he discussed an idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would conquer not with fists or firepower, but with love, it was his wife, Elizabeth, who suggested making that superhero female. Marston introduced that idea to Max Gaines, co-founder with Jack Liebowitz of All-American Publications. With their go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman, basing her character on the unconventional, liberated, powerful modern women of his day.”
Through his experiences as a psychologist, Marston formulated other theories, theories which might explain the differences between the women in the world who rejoice in the achievements of other women versus those who feel threatened and diminished by them. He stated the following:
“Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment.
Inducement produces activity in a favorable environment
Submission produces passivity in a favorable environment
Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.”
And this is how Wonder Woman’s arch rival, Cheetah, came to be. She was created by Marston as an allegory of the folly of abnormal emotions such as—ahem—jealousy, as well as to be another embodiment of what he called ‘less actively developed women’, women who are “emotionally misaligned” and who needed “emotional reform by a love leader, such as Wonder Woman.”
If this doesn’t prove there is more to comic book characters and their storylines than meets the eye, I don’t what does.
So, to all out there who identify as female, let me ask: Based on the above, who are you—Wonder Woman or Cheetah?


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