When it comes to Golden Age Wonder Woman, people have devoted a great deal of attention to creator William Moulton Marston’s unconventional lifestyle and his beliefs. A lot of that attention is paid to the number of scenes in which Wonder Woman is tied up and must escape. Bondage is certainly a primary source of punishment in the early comics. It is also the source of one of Wonder Woman’s costume elements—her bracelets. One of Marston’s partners, Olive Byrne (famously the niece of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger) inspired Wonder Woman’s bracelets: “The heavy bracelets she wore, so like Wonder Woman’s “bracelets of submission […]” (Pollitt). These bracelets are a necessary element of Wonder Woman’s powers and costuming, and their history reveals some important elements of the character.
How it Began
In “Introducing Wonder Woman,” the reader learns that when Hercules tricks Hippolyte and wins her magic girdle, the Amazons are taken hostage. With Aphrodite’s help, the Amazons fight their captors and win, but, as Hippolyte tells Princess Diana, “Aphrodite also decreed that we must always wear these bracelets fashioned by our captors” (Marston 13). In the “Count of Conquest” Wonder Woman is taken hostage (along with Steve Trevor) by Martian Lord Conquest. During the action, Lord Conquest commands his soldiers to weld her bracelets together to insure that she cannot break loose. After this happens, the narrator tells us, “But it wasn’t the strength of her chains that made Wonder Woman weep as she gazed at her fetters, it was the knowledge that men had welded links to her Amazon bracelets!” (Marston 51). Wonder Woman then tells us, “My strength is gone—it is Aphrodite’s law! When an Amazon girl permits a man to chain her bracelets of submission together she becomes weak as other women in a man-ruled world!” (Marston 51). When Etta Candy responds to Wonder Woman’s telepathic radio call for help, she demands to know why Wonder Woman cannot break loose and she reveals to Candy that, “Why—er—because I’m being punished for letting a handsome man deceive me—“ (Marston 53). Etta Candy then frees Wonder Woman.
A few issues later in “The Railroad Plot,” Wonder Woman again finds herself facing a villain who demands the welding of her bracelets. The villain tells his minion, “Weld chains to these bracelets! Baroness von Gunther tell me when ssso chained, Wonder Woman become helpless!” (Marston 67). When Wonder Woman regains consciousness, she demands to know who welded her chains and upon hearing a young man has done it worries that she has been stripped of her powers but reassures the villain that she is okay with the chains because she says, “I think they’re cute!” (Marston 67). Strapped to a machine and electrocuted, Wonder Woman struggles to free herself until a woman reveals that she chained Wonder Woman. Breaking free Wonder Woman exclaims, “I have not lost my power—a girl chained me!” (Marston 69).
These scenes are compelling because they affirm for us that despite the surrender of her Amazonian powers and immortality, Wonder Woman is still bound by Aphrodite’s law. It is also compelling to observe the powerful Wonder Woman without her strength. This is particularly true in the scenes in which she believes that a man bound her when she is able to free herself because a woman bound her.
Why the superheroine didn’t attempt to break her chains before that moment is unclear, but what we do find out is that Wonder Woman’s weakness is submission to men. This is consistent with the discussion of Marston’s personal life and interests, but is it consistent with Wonder Woman’s mythology? If Wonder Woman surrenders her birth rites, how is she held to Aphrodite’s laws?
Marston, William Moulton. Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus Volume 1. DC Comics, 2016.
Pollitt, Katha. “Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots: The Odd Life and Psyche of the Man Who Invented Her.” The Atlantic. Nov. 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/wonder-womans-kinky-feminist-roots/380788/