feminism 8 Secret Calls to Feminism Hidden in Wonder Woman's Costume  

Cynthia Griffith
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Wonder Woman was born of suffrage. She was created by William Marston, a man who was fiercely pro-feminist. Marston fought for women's suffrage while at studying at Harvard. He graduated in 1915, and though Wonder Woman's debut in All Star Comics #8 came 11 years after the 19th Amendment was passed, he drew inspiration from famed suffragettes when creating the character.

Marston snuck several secret threads into his graphic novels to create a tie between Wonder Woman and feminism. Many of those threads are craftily hidden in the patchwork of Wonder Woman's costume. As you read on, you will see the irony not just in her costume but also in her origins, because Wonder Woman was never born at all; no man was, in any way, shape, or form, involved in her creation. Nevertheless, she came to be.

Feminism, by today's standards, is difficult to pin down and near impossible to define, but for good reason: with the advent of social media, women from different cultures and backgrounds can have a discourse about what feminism means to them. We're learning that not every person's experience with and relationship to feminism is the same. But there was a time before it was so easy to communicate with women from across the globe, when feminism, for better or for worse, meant the same thing to pretty much everyone, including its male supporters. Tons of people wore it well but perhaps none wore it better than Wonder Woman.

From her boots to her crown, from her lasso to the very threads holding her uniform together, she will remain an icon of what feminism once was - a female voice in a courtroom, a line of shackled protesters, a scream for the right to regulate pregnancy and a call for a hera, a female hero and Wonder Woman's favorite word. This acclaimed character arrived while a nation was on the cusp of a new beginning. She may have even tipped the scales a bit. Here are some of the most feminist aspects of Wonder Woman's costume.

Wonder Woman was born of women's rights. She was created by a man who was fiercely pro-feminist and he snuck several secret threads into his graphic novels to create a tie between Wonder Woman and feminism. Many of those threads are craftily hidden in the patchwork of Wonder Woman's costume. As you read on, you will see the irony, not just in her costume, but also in her origins, because Wonder Woman was never born at all; no man was, in any way, shape, or form, involved in her creation. Nevertheless, she came to be.

Feminism, by today's standards, is difficult to pin down and near impossible to define, but for good reason: with the advent of social media, women from different cultures and backgrounds can have a discourse about what feminism means to them. We're learning that not every person's experience with and relationship to feminism is the same. But there was a time before it was so easy to communicate with women from across the globe, when feminism, for better or for worse, meant the same thing to pretty much everyone, including its male supporters. Tons of people wore it well but perhaps none wore it better than Wonder Woman.

From her boots to her crown, from her lasso to the very threads holding her uniform together, she will remain an icon of what feminism once was - a female voice in a courtroom, a line of shackled protesters, a scream for the right to regulate pregnancy. This acclaimed character arrived while a nation was on the cusp of a new beginning. She may have even tipped the scales a bit. Here are some of the most feminist aspects of Wonder Woman's costume.

Her Ensemble Was Designed by Judge Magazine's Feminist Cartoonist


Her Ensemble Was Designed by J... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 8 Secret Calls to Feminism Hidden in Wonder Woman's Costume
Photo:  Heritage Auctions

When a Harvard-educated pro-suffragist like Wonder Woman’s creator William Marston wants to build a cartoon that fully encompasses his ideology on women's issues, who do you think he turns to? If you guessed a fellow feminist and Harvard grad, you were correct. Marston reached out to none other than illustrator Harry G. Peter, a feminist most known for his role at Judge magazine where he frequently drew pictures of “the modern woman.”

Marston explained his vision and requested a draft of his heroine in full costume. The end result is pictured above and the only thing Marston asked to switch out was the shoes. While initially, Marston wasn't a fan of the tiny, binding, strap-adorned sandals they still made a few appearances in the comics. The sandals, like the figure and everything in between, were symbolic of the battle for equality.

Her Chains Were Inspired by an Emmeline Pankhurst Protest


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Photo:  DC Comics

In the comics, if you meet Wonder Woman in issue one, you quickly learn that she was once a slave and that her people (a society comprised entirely of women, by the way) freed themselves. This takes not just Wonder Woman but her entire clan far from the damsels in distress depiction of women that the media was accustomed to seeing in the ‘40s. Despite the fact that Wonder Woman was free, the bracelets from her time of enslavement remained on her hands, now unshackled and serving as weapons against her rivals, many of whom were male and anti-feminist. The bracelets themselves were inspired by Olive Byrne, William Marston's partner, but images of Wonder Woman in chains - of which there are many - are actually a nod to a groundbreaking suffragette.

During a protest for women's suffrage in 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst and many other women chained themselves up in the streets, refusing to budge until their voices were heard. Later, a college-aged Marston would hear this story and find Pankhurst and her chains for freedom inspiring enough to be written into the feminist costume of his favorite heroine.

The Color Red Is Historically Associated with the Female Revolution


The Color Red Is Historically ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 8 Secret Calls to Feminism Hidden in Wonder Woman's Costume
Photo:  DC Comics

Wonder Woman was adorned in the stars and stripes of the American flag in order to go head to head with Captain America, at least in terms of popularity and comic book sales. Note, however, that her boots, leather-bound wonders so tight they have to be pulled on, making them more like stockings than boots, make the costume dominated by the color red. At the time, red was the color of the liberal left, the group that was bent on breaking new ground for women.

It's important to mention here that whenever Wonder Woman’s freedom is jeopardized in the comics, her red stocking-like boots disappear and are replaced by the pair of strappy shoes Marston despised. When the boots disappear, her ensemble is dominated by the color blue, a color that represented feminist opposition during the first wave of feminism.

During the second wave of feminism, a group called the Redstockings used a caricature of Wonder Woman as part of their image. Clearly, they were also in on the joke.

WW Stands for More Than Just Wonder Woman


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Photo:  DC Comics

The feminist movement began in the 1800s, but it really picked up momentum when World War II put women in the workforce in big numbers. It may not have been intentional, but Wonder Woman's initials were serendipitous. Thousands of newly employed women looked at Wonder Woman and saw a reflection of the era and their place in it: it was World War II, and they were women working. Wonder Woman showed up right when female laborers were looking for a hero and she was wearing their names just above her belt.

You might be wondering why she had a belt on in the first place. In a letter to illustrator H. G. Peter, creator William Marston notes, "Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as a belt? I thought Gaines wanted it - don’t remember." He was referring to Max Gaines, the pioneering comics publisher at All-American Comics (which later merged with DC) who gave Marston a shot and greenlit Wonder Woman. In the letter, Marston seems to be implying that Gaines felt Wonder Woman's bare stomach was too scandalous and needed to be covered with a belt.