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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wonder Woman in Knights!

Knights! explores the mythic dimension of the knight as a superhero, leading to our exciting inclusion of Batman in the exhibition. Batman, the Dark Knight, uses power for good, but we are still left with the dilemma that arms and armor—weapons—empower a patriarchal, often violent, culture, a fact that we have explored in the photojournalism displays within Knights!

This year we decided to present a female superhero by adding a Wonder Woman comic. We soon discovered in the recent bestseller by Jill Lepore, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, that Wonder Woman’s development was fascinating, including roots in the early 20th-century women’s movement. In the comic currently on view, Wonder Woman epitomizes the mythological struggle between Venus and Mars, the gods of love and war, and between women and men.

 Created by William Moulton Marston in 1941, Wonder Woman is the most popular woman superhero of all time, a feminist icon inspired by the women in Marston’s life. Marston collaborated with his wife Sadie Holloway in developing the lie detector test. Marston and Holloway lived in an extended relationship with Olive Byrne, collectively raising the children of both couples. Byrne was the niece of another influential woman in Marston’s world, Margaret Sanger, an early 20th-century proponent of free love and voluntary motherhood, and the founder of the modern birth control movement.

Like most superheroes, Wonder Woman has weapons, but they are mostly non-lethal, like her bracelets and her lasso (which compels truth telling, like Marston’s lie detector test!). Her Amazon bracelets bring to mind early suffragettes who shackled themselves to the railings of government buildings. In the comic currently on view in Knights!, Wonder Woman warns that “violence is a boomerang turning against you.”

Wonder Woman ties together various threads in our approach to arms and armor, encapsulating questions of gender and violence explored in the comic book and in the historic armor on display in Knights! She introduces a female point of view, opposing the militarism and violence of traditional patriarchy in ways that emphasize love and nonviolence. Additionally, Wonder Woman, like Batman, makes clear the connection to today’s pop culture, bridging centuries-old arms and armor to the contemporary imagination.

Learn more about the exhibition Knights!

- Marcia Lagerwey, Curator of Education

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