Marston’s Wonder Woman might have worn a bustier, hot pants, and “kinky boots” (as Lepore puts it)—not a bad way to ensure that you’re wildly popular in the ’40s—but her actions were undeniably feminist. In one episode, she organizes a big demonstration against profiteering industrialists, inspiring poor mothers and children alike to march in protest against the “International Milk Company.” In another episode, she ties up a department-store owner with her golden lasso and challenges her unfair labor practices.Yes, let's.
Wonder Woman stood firmly against societal ills, from low wages to pointless aggression to bossy husbands who expect to be served by their docile wives. (For his part, Marston was married to an educated, confident woman, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, and as to the question of domestic docility . . . well, read on.)
But just as the mind reels at how progressive and bold Marston was, we spin the disappointment wheel yet again. Because soon, people naturally began to ask, Why does Wonder Woman, in her kinky boots, end up tied up or chained in every story? According to Marston, Wonder Woman—like all women—loved to be tied up.... As a Tufts professor, Marston had discovered an undergraduate student named Olive Byrne, whose pep and unbound force impressed him enough that he involved her in his studies into whether women find being bound pleasant or titillating. (Guess what? They do!)Ok, well, how did that work out?
Soon after, Marston brought Byrne home to his wife, so that her pep and unbound force might be put to good use in a more domestic setting. According to Lepore, Marston told Holloway she had a choice. “Either Olive Byrne could live with them or he would leave her.” Holloway consented, Byrne moved in, and five children arrived over the years, three by Holloway and two by Byrne.
Marston’s wives seem to dote on him. Marston’s children don’t believe that bondage was part of the sexual routine in their happy (albeit unusual) household. Byrne, the daughter of hunger-striking feminist Ethel Byrne and niece of contraceptive-rights crusader Margaret Sanger, gave no indication that she felt demeaned by her role. Indeed, she wrote repeated, rapt profiles of Marston for Family Circle magazine, in which she “visits” Marston’s house (i.e., her own house), marvels at the well-behaved children (whom she is actually raising), and is charmed by the man of the house (her life partner).Well, then. I suppose all's well that ends well, as the saying goes.
Yes, this is truly a household of bullshitters. Even so, although only a few trusted friends knew of Marston’s strange domestic arrangement, those who visited the house spoke in glowing terms of the joy and fun they witnessed there. Holloway and Byrne must have agreed; they lived together for more than forty years after Marston’s death from cancer in 1947, at the age of fifty-three.