Wonder Woman and Her Bondage Roots

By now, anyone who has ever been a fan of DC Comics was aware that early Wonder Woman comics had some bondage themes. This was largely, in part, due to William Marston’s BDSM and polyamory lifestyle.

BDSM has been practiced in various forms since ancient times. One of the earliest known references to the practice of bondage is The Tomb of Whipping near Tarquinia in Italy. The tomb’s walls depict scenes, said to have been influenced by followers of the Greek god Dionysus. One of those scenes painted on the wall is the depiction of two men flogging a woman who stands between them, bent over, grabbing the hips of one, possibly performing fellatio as the other stands behind her.

Tomba della Fustigazione, fresco painting inside the tomb where two men are portrayed flagellating a woman with a cane and a hand during a sexual encounter. From Travel Tuscany

Tomba della Fustigazione, fresco painting inside the tomb where two men are portrayed flagellating a woman with a cane and a hand during a sexual encounter. From Travel Tuscany

In Sparta, 9th century BC, young men were gathered and whipped by priestesses in a ritual called diamastigosis in one of the cult rituals that alleged to have made the men strong. It makes sense for the Amazonian women who fled ancient Greece to have these same traditions. In addition to the physical portrayals of Bondage, Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadomasochism, most historians forget to include the one thing that made BDSM so vital then and today still, and especially with regard to Wonder Woman.

In Greece, truth and sex were linked, in the form of pedagogy, by the transmission of a precious knowledge from one body to another; sex served as a medium for initiations into learning.

This is one of the primary reasons Wonder Woman’s main weapon is the golden Lasso of Truth. Marston, a Harvard graduate, psychologist and inventor of the polygraph lie detector test, understood the importance of the character he was creating in his particular era of 1941. Wonder Woman, for Marston, was a symbol of everything our society lacked then: free love and equality for women.

Marston was in school during the Suffragette Movement, where women, borrowing from the abolitionist movement, chained themselves to the gates of the White House in protest for the right to vote. In this way, every time Wonder Woman was tied up or chained, this symbolized her need to escape men’s power over her. In the comics, she is often referred to as Mistress and for another to dominate her is a power struggle that she always wins. And to this, Marston believed that:

The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound... Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society... Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element.

Loving submission. In other words, learn to love bondage and you will become powerful. It’s one of the tenets of modern BDSM: a submissive who gives up control willingly holds the power because it’s a choice.

Though, feminists today who have very little knowledge of Wonder Woman from the Golden Age of comics tended to turn their nose up and feel offense over the Wonder Woman Earth One graphic novel series. Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette wanted to return Wonder Woman to her bondage roots in their 2016 Earth One series.

The Earth One series, unfortunately, was the first time in decades that the Wonder Woman stories actually worked (it still had its problems, but that’s for another time). Why? Because Wonder Woman’s costume and bondage go hand in hand. As mentioned earlier, she uses the Lasso of Truth to bound her foes, which makes them tell the truth—they submit to her. Her bracelets are a defense against bullets but look like wrist shackles. So, when the Comics Code Authority of 1954 decided to ban “horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, and masochism” and directly addressing Wonder Woman, saying “Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes, as well as sexual abnormalities, are unacceptable” the stories just didn’t seem to recover. Though, DC tried.

Deviating from Wonder Woman’s bondage past is part of the reason her storylines just havn’t been as good as it was during the Golden Age of comics. If DC can reconcile the feminist icon with her BDSM roots, Wonder Woman could finally reach her full potential. She could be what she was meant to be.

How do you view the themes of Golden Age Wonder Woman?