All tied up in world peace

April 7, 2006

The 1970s TV show portrayed her in satin tights fighting for your rights, but Wonder Woman has a far more radical history, according to an academic paper.

Chris Murray, an English lecturer at Dundee University, revealed Wonder Woman's feminist side at a workshop held last week to celebrate the pre-launch of the university's Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research.

Dr Murray said that Wonder Woman was created as a comic strip in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, a Harvard University graduate, to promote radical feminist notions.

Central to this were images of bondage and domination, which he believes played an important political and psychological role in empowering women and controlling men. Frequent pictures of Wonder Woman being tied up attracted excited letters from soldiers, among whom the comics were popular, but Marston wrote articles in academic journals explaining why these were included, Dr Murray said.

"Marston thought that women had the power to bring peace to the world by being sexually alluring, seemingly submissive to men's desires and thereby neutralising male aggression," he said.

However, Dr Murray said, Wonder Woman made it clear that weakness and submission were only a pretence. Wonder Woman invariably broke free, and was rarely rescued, usually extricating herself through her own ingenuity, strength and intellect.

Wonder Woman was depicted in many different ways over the decades, from dominatrix and fashion plate to patriotic pacifist, Dr Murray said.

"Wonder Woman's power is that she gets us thinking about issues of gender and power. Maybe in doing so we can start to break out of some mental shackles," he said.

Dundee will launch the new centre in September. The centre will bring together every faculty, including life sciences, medicine and law.

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