In “Introducing Wonder Woman” William Moulton Marston builds the foundation of Wonder Woman mythology—of which one of the cornerstones is the Amazon origin story. According to the queen of the Amazons and Wonder woman’s mother, Hippolyte, Hercules was insulted by barbs that even he could not vanquish the Amazons, so he traveled (with his army) to Ancient Greece to battle them and secure his reputation as unbeatable (Marston 13). Although Hippolyte bests Hercules, he steals the Magic Girdle (gifted to her by Aphrodite) and enslaves the Amazons (Marston 13).
According to Hippolyte, “Aphrodite, angry at me for having succumbed to the wiles of men, would do naught to help us! Finally, our submission to men became unbearable—we could stand it no longer—and I appealed to Aphrodite again. This time not in vain, for she relented and with her help, I secured the magic girdle from Hercules” (Marston 13).
With her magic girdle restored, Hippolyte and the Amazons successfully battle Hercules and his men. In exchange for her aid, Aphrodite demands that “we leave the manmade world and establish a new world of our own! Aphrodite also decreed that we must always wear these bracelets fashioned by our captors, as a reminder that we must always keep aloof from men” (Marston 14).
Marston consistently asserted that Wonder Woman is a feminist figure and he shaped her mythology to reflect those principles (in his view, compassion and equality were among the most important). We see this reflected in the Amazon origin story and is most apparent in Marston’s choice to make Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, responsible for assisting them from their enslavement to men, and, most notably, in Aphrodite’s insistence that the free and undefeated women “keep aloof from men” (14).
Defined as “not friendly or forthcoming” and “cool and distant,” aloof indicates that the Amazons must strike a particular position to men (“Aloof”). Interestingly, the Amazons exclude men from Paradise Island in a hyperbolic interpretation of Aphrodite’s rule.
It is this exaggerated isolation that creates Wonder Woman. As soon as American pilot Steve Trevor crash-lands on the shore of Paradise Island, Hippolyte’s daughter rescues him and seems to instantly fall in love with him. Her immediate feelings are not only a violation of Aphrodite’s provision, but they drive her to choose to leave Paradise Island and the immortality of being an Amazon for America.
By contrast, the Amazons’ ruling goddesses Athena and Aphrodite call Hippolyte to send her fiercest warrior to America to “[…] go forth to fight for liberty and freedom and all womankind” (Marston 18). Coincidentally, her daughter proves to be her fiercest warrior.
Marston’s inability to imagine a powerful woman driven by something (anything) but romantic love and his insertion of the deus ex machina* moment that forces Hippolyte to relinquish her daughter to America creates an irreconcilable contradiction that continues to haunt Wonder Woman.
Is she leaving Paradise Island because she has fallen for Steve Trevor or because she is driven to use her Amazonian knowledge and skills to bring equality and peace to the manmade world?
Tell us what you think in the comments!
*Note: deus ex machina was a device used by Greek playwrights who found themselves with stories that could not be nicely wrapped up without the unexpected intervention of a god who was typically dropped onto the stage by a crane (hence the translation: god of the machine).
“Aloof.” Oxforddictionaries.com. 25 Apr. 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/aloof.
Marston, William Moulton. Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus Volume 1. DC Comics, 2016.