The odd life and psyche of the man who invented her
Wonder Woman did not grace the very first cover of Ms. magazine (spring 1972), although many remember it that way. That honor went to the many-armed Hindu goddess Kali, holding a frying pan, a typewriter, a mirror, and other tools of the hyper-multitasking modern woman. The most popular superheroine ever had to wait for the next issue to stride through the sky in all her 1940s Amazonian glory under the headline “Wonder Woman for President.” Below her is a divided scene—one half a war-torn landscape, the other a pleasant street featuring a billboard that reads Peace and Justice in ’72. William Moulton Marston, the inventor of Wonder Woman, would have loved that cover. He believed women were superior to men and should run the world—and would do so in, oh, about a thousand years.
In her hugely entertaining new book, Jill Lepore sets out to uncover the true story behind both Wonder Woman and her creator. Make that creators: not the least of Lepore’s revelations is that Marston had a lot of help from his wife, Elizabeth Holloway (we have her to thank for “Suffering Sappho,” “Great Hera,” and other Amazonian expostulations), as well as from his former student Olive Byrne, with whom he and Holloway lived in a permanent ménage à trois that produced four children—two from each woman. And Lepore adds another catalyst to the mix. Olive Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger, whose youthful brand of romantic, socialist-pacifist feminism was formative for Marston. Sanger’s influence is perhaps the most important of the connections that Lepore teases out between Wonder Woman, the early-20th-century women’s movement, and Marston’s fascinating life and odd psyche, in which the liberation of women somehow got all mixed up with bondage and spanking.
The only scion of a once-grand Boston family, Marston was equal parts genius, charlatan, and kinkster. As an undergraduate at Harvard just before World War I, he was thrilled by militant suffragists like the ones who chained themselves to the fence outside 10 Downing Street. Maybe that’s where his fusion of feminism and bondage started—imagery of slavery and shackles abounded in the movement’s demonstrations and propaganda. His experiences in the psychology department left their mark, too. Marston was a lab assistant to the prominent Harvard psychologist Hugo Münsterberg, a rigid German who opposed votes for women and thought educating them was a waste of time. Münsterberg would surface in the comics as Wonder Woman’s archenemy, Dr. Psycho. (“Women shall suffer while I laugh—Ha! Ho! Ha!”) Busy strapping Radcliffe students to blood-pressure machines in Münsterberg’s lab, Marston invented the lie detector—a forerunner of Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, which compels those it binds to speak the truth.
Devising the lie detector was the high point of Marston’s rather erratic pre-comics career. He seems to have lost every job he held. His venture into business ended in an indictment for fraud; his brief stint as a lawyer saw the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reject lie-detector tests as evidence. In 1929 Universal Studios hired him to give its films psychological realism and let him go a year later. His academic career, pursued alongside these and other ventures, went swiftly downhill; he plummeted from chairman of the psychology department at American University to roving adjunct. His brash egotism—and his affair with Olive Byrne, his student at Tufts and Columbia—may have been part of the reason for his academic failure, but so was the fact that the only psychological theories that interested him were his own. And the only people who took his mishmash of matriarchy and masochism seriously were Holloway and Byrne. His 1928 tome, Emotions of Normal People, defended “abnormal” sexuality—homosexuality, fetishism, sadomasochism, and so on—as not only normal but fixed in the nervous system. (He may have been a bit of a charlatan, but he was also way ahead of his time.) The book received little notice, except for a rave by Byrne, writing under a pseudonym. As with his other academic work, Byrne and Holloway were mostly uncredited collaborators.
Marston had a sweet thing going: two remarkably smart, adoring women to cater to his every need, each apparently believing she’d landed in feminist heaven. Indeed, it was Byrne’s hero worship that rescued his career. As a staff writer at Family Circle, she frequently interviewed him as a great expert on child psychology (without, of course, revealing their connection). One article, “Don’t Laugh at the Comics,” caught the eye of Maxwell Charles Gaines, the head of what became DC Comics. Hired in 1940 as a consultant to head off attacks on comic books as harmful to children, Marston saw his chance to advance a cause: the problem with comics was simply their “bloodcurdling masculinity.” As he put it a few years later in an essay in The American Scholar, “Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics”: ...
LAST month it was California, this month New York. States across the country are trying to figure out how to address the problem of sexual assault more effectively, and more often than not, they are looking to redefine the scope of sexual misconduct.
California’s new law requires universities receiving state funding to switch from a “no means no” approach to a “yes means yes” standard, requiring partners to make an “affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” before having sex, and making clear that silence or a lack of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced that the State University of New York would similarly define consent as an affirmative act on all its campuses, one that requires “clear, knowing and voluntary” participation.
With an effort also underway by the American Law Institute to reconsider when an assault becomes rape, some legal experts predict that changes to criminal laws in many states may not be far off.
As a social issue, sexual assault has seen a significant uptick in attention over the past year or so. There have been a flurry of federal actions, for example, aimed at countering rape in the military, prisons, immigration detention centers and on campuses.
But there is still little uniformity on how to define rape, which makes counting rapes, and countering and even discussing the issue, difficult. In many contexts, such as the major federal law on prison rape, “sexual assault” is used instead of “rape” because it covers nonconsensual acts like kissing and groping that fall short of many people’s definition of actual rape. Until 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation still considered rape a crime committed solely against women, a definition that has since been expanded.
Over all, states have broadened the definition of rape and assault more than the federal government, according to a survey of the legal system conducted by AEquitas, a nonprofit group that provides prosecutors with resources on violence against women.
Clarifying consent is a common stumbling block. “Is the fact that the victim murmured, whispered, cried or moaned ‘no’ sufficient to establish nonconsent that a reasonable sexual partner should understand to be nonconsent?” asked Mary D. Fan, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law. The role of alcohol in rape cases is another subject of scrutiny, especially since drinking is often voluntary.
Stephen J. Schulhofer, a New York University law professor, said many states still require proof of physical aggression, though a growing number no longer do. Instead, they focus on the need for consent and therefore include situations such as assaults of people too intoxicated to give consent. Even so, most of these states do not specifically define genuine consent.
Some states, like New York, ask whether a reasonable person would believe that intercourse was consensual, considering all the surrounding circumstances. Meanwhile, some states follow the “no means no” rule, while others — including New Jersey — have adopted standards requiring affirmative, freely given permission by each person. ...
Has your kinky group or business lost its ability to process credit/debit card transactions or has had (or currently having) trouble establishing any merchant service because of ties to kink? If so, please contact NCSF!
We have been discussing this problem with the Free Speech Coalition (which is actively searching for merchant service options for adult businesses) and have begun investigating effective options that would benefit our various alt sex communities.
Please email or call NCSF to share past/present issues and discuss what these adult-friendly merchant services might need to provide:
he radical 18th Century libertine left a profound mark on our culture. He’s everywhere – but why does he still scare us? Jason Farago explains.
by Jason Farago
“Either kill me or take me like this, for I will not change,” wrote the imprisoned Marquis de Sade to his wife in 1783. It could only be one or the other for the most extreme author of the 18th Century. Sade, an unstoppable libertine, was in the middle of what would be an 11-year prison sentence, but he would not recant his principles or his tastes to get out of jail. Any diversion from his true nature was, for the marquis, equivalent to death.
Sade, rediscovered but still widely misunderstood, is the subject of two exhibitions in Paris that offer a new chance to rediscover one of the most darkly influential figures of European culture. Later this month the Musée d’Orsay opens Sade: Attacking the Sun, an ambitious new exhibition that rereads the history of modern art through the lens of his radical writings. Just around the corner, the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits is presenting an exhibition of Sade’s letters and books, including the manuscript for his audacious and stomach-turning novel The 120 Days of Sodom. Both should allow viewers to think more deeply about Sade’s time and ours, and how thoroughly the one informs the other.
Our story of the 18th Century – not just in France but also in its fellow child of the age, the United States – can sometimes be a little one-sided, a little deceptive. The Enlightenment has come to mean reason, rationality, science, humanism, but that was never the whole story of the era. Sade, who died two hundred years ago this December, is unquestionably an Enlightenment figure. He greatly admired Rousseau, an author his jailers refused to let him read. Yet he struck the first blow (and Sade would like that metaphor) against the primacy of reason and rationality, and in favour of rebellion, extremity, and anti-humanism. Those are themes that scandalized the great and the good of the period, but they have resounded through the art, literature, and philosophy of the last two centuries.
Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, born in 1740, was a hugely complicated person. He was an aristocrat, but also a hard-left figure and delegate to the National Convention during the French Revolution who renounced his title during the Reign of Terror. He wrote some of the most provocative novels ever composed, but also bland and conventional plays that were not at all obscene. And of course, he had a marked taste for rougher forms of sexual intercourse: practices which now bear his name, but which an even cursory study of 18th-Century literature shows, were not exactly unique for the time. As Michel Foucault, the great historian of sexuality, once observed, sadism is not “a practice as old as Eros,” but rather “a massive cultural fact which appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century.”
Like Voltaire and Rousseau before him, Sade wrote novels that had to be read in two ways at once: as entertainments, but also as philosophical treatises. Even at his most outrageous, Sade was not really a pornographic writer. His early 120 Days of Sodom, with its endless lists of slicings, fractures, immolations, exsanguinations and death, offers no sexual titillation at all. Even his best novel, Justine, featuring a libertine priest defiling a girl with a strategically inserted communion wafer, scandalised French society not for any pornographic excess, but for its pitch-black moral vision – in which abusing other humans is not just acceptable but positively virtuous. Sade took Immanuel Kant’s categorical insistence that humans must do their duty and turned it on its head. True morality, for Sade, entailed following your darkest and most destructive passions to their farthest possible ends, even at the expense of other human life. (The whips are for beginners: Sade had no particular problem with murder, though he was an unsparing opponent of the death penalty. To kill a man in passion was one thing, but to rationalise killing by law was barbarous.)
“We rail against the passions,” he wrote, “but never think that it is from their flame that philosophy lights its torch.” For Sade, vile and cruel desires are not aberrations. They are fundamental, even constitutive aspects of human nature. And what is more, said Sade, those faculties of reason that Enlightenment thinkers held in such high esteem are only a byproduct of these deep-seated desires: humans are governed by these desires far more than by any rational impetus. Nobility is a fraud. Cruelty is natural. Immorality is the only morality, vice the only virtue.
Sade did just not write excessively –he lived excessively, and for his troubles he spent a third of his life in prisons, including at the Bastille in 1789, or in insane asylums. (“The entr’actes of my life have been too long,” he wrote in one of his notebooks.) His books were banned soon after his death in 1814. But while Sade’s writings hibernated, his dark moral vision spread. Francisco Goya, when we wasn’t painting subtly satirical portraits of the Spanish royal family, devoted himself to demented sequences of prints – the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the late Dreams – in which cruelty triumphed over virtue and meaninglessness won out over rationality. “The sleep of reason produces monsters,” reads the caption of his most famous print: a dozing man, perhaps the artist himself, haunted by nightmarish beasts. Foucault saw Goya’s etchings, especially the grim and satirical Caprichos, as the natural counterpart of Sade’s writings. In both, he claimed, “the western world received the possibility of transcending its reason in violence…. After Sade and Goya, unreason has belonged to whatever is decisive for the modern world.” ...
Bob Bashara was a married Rotary Club president who lived in a ritzy Detroit suburb. He also had a secret love for BDSM—and prosecutors say he had his wife killed over it.
DETROIT—BDSM, an alleged killing-for-hire, street-level thuggery, and a life of privilege collide in a murder trial beginning this week in the Motor City.
Bob Bashara is charged with first-degree murder, among other charges, in the 2012 strangling of his wife, Jane, whose body was found in the back seat of her Mercedes SUV in a seamy area of the city. Prosecutors say Bashara hired a handyman to get rid of Jane so he could pursue his secret passion for BDSM with another woman, and testimony in the coming weeks promises to be salacious and violent.
Then there’s the weirdness.
“Wow, Mr. Bashara, you’re looking good today,” Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans said to the defendant when he walked into the courtroom Tuesday morning, the first day of jury selection process.
While such a public compliment by a judge of a man accused of murdering his wife is odd, Bashara, 56, is accustomed to such respect.
The son of a state appellate judge, he was living in an upscale Detroit suburb when Jane Bashara was found dead on January 25, 2012.
Bob Bashara was head of the Rotary Club, a deacon at the Episcopal church, and a booster of the local country club, a scion of power in the community of Grosse Pointe Park.
The state contends he hired Joe Gentz, 50, a local roustabout, to kill his wife of 26 years. ...
A parade of witnesses will detail their encounters with Bashara, who prosecutors claim wanted his wife dead so he could pursue a new life with his girlfriend and their BDSM—bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism—lifestyle.
Bashara led a double life, prosecutors say, filled with sexual trysts with several paramours, a full-time girlfriend, and an online identity as Master Bob, a dominator in the world of BDSM.
His “mistress,” Rachel Gillett, says she had no idea that Bob was married at the time of Jane Bashara’s murder.
“He told me he was divorced eight months before,” Gillett says. Only when Bashara was on television the day after Jane’s body was found, sobbing about his dead wife, did it dawn on her that she had been played, she says.
Another witness, Janet Leehmann, will testify that she responded to an ad at alt.com posted by Bashara and Gillett seeking a third, live-in party for their future life.
After Bashara flew to her Bend, Oregon, home for a brief stay a few days before the murder, she was no longer interested in his offer. Leehmann, who has two grown children, had no idea what she was in for.
“Who wants to be ‘outed’ for being a bit kinky by a homicide trial?” she says.
Bashara denies any culpability in the murder. He says that from behind bars; he was sentenced to up to eight years in prison in late 2012 for soliciting the jailhouse murder of Gentz.
“I wasn’t there, and I didn’t hire an idiot to do any criminal activity,” Bashara told me earlier this year.
Lead prosecutor Lisa Lindsey appears obsessed with Bashara’s BDSM lifestyle, and she has vowed to make it a major part of her argument against him.
“This is my life we’re talking about, and 95 percent of everything they have is bullshit,” Bashara says. “They’re using the fact that I had this alternative lifestyle as a motive for me wanting to harm my wife.” ...
Most Americans think there's a problem with campus sexual assault, and nearly six in 10 approve of a California law intended to combat it, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Americans are nearly four times as likely to say that colleges and universities do a bad job than they are to say they do a good job of handling cases of rape, sexual assault or harassment. Just 13 percent rate schools' efforts positively, effectively unchanged from a poll taken earlier this year.
Fifty-nine percent support California's new "yes mean yes" law, which was signed into law in late September by Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) The law goes beyond the refrain "no means no" by requiring "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." Just 21 percent disapprove of the law.
Women's groups and advocates for assault victims, who supported the change, say it will help educate students that silence isn't the same thing as consent. The law also requires new training for college faculty on how complaints should be reviewed.
Both genders are equally likely to say campuses do a poor job of handling sexual assault, but the survey finds divides along gender lines on how often justice is served for victims, and on who holds more responsibility for determining whether sex is consensual.
Sixty-two percent of women and 41 percent of men believe it's more common for rapists to go free because people don't believe the accuser than it is for people to be accused falsely of rape. Men are 9 points more likely than women to say false accusations are more common, and 12 points more likely to say they aren't sure.
Men, however, were more likely than women to say that whoever initiates a sexual encounter has the responsibility to make sure the other person consents, while women were about equally likely to say the person not initiating has the responsibility to make it clear whether they consent.
Among men, 49 percent say the responsibility for establishing consent lies with the person initiating, and 36 percent that it lies with the other person. Among women, 43 percent put the onus on the person initiating, and 45 percent on the other person. ...
There is a commercial space in the heart of Lower Manhattan that looks like a plain old office building. But inside, there's a sex club, and police and other tenants can't do anything to stop it.
Neighbors were shocked to learn that the wild swingers club even existed inside, with the Amsterdam Club apparently renting space on the third floor of the 27 Cliff Street location.
"That's definitely surprising for me to come across," said one man, who works in the building for a security company. "I never saw something like that."
He had no idea that a few floors below, there were alleged sex parties going on. The Amsterdam Club even advertises Freaky Fridays and Swinging Sundays on its website at a location described as a loft in the posh Financial District.
"Wow, I'm amazed," one woman said. "I had no idea. I thought we had a rather quiet, dignified neighborhood."
But other tenants in the building have complained to landlord Raj Sawhney about loud and inappropriate noises. Sawhney told Eyewitness News that he has two legal cases pending against the tenant, one for $30,000 in back rent owed and another because of alleged criminal activity. But he thought the tenant was a video production company.
Police issued a summons about two weeks ago for the sale of alcohol without a license, but sex, as long as it isn't sold, is legal.
Some neighborhood residents, however, say they aren't bothered by the alleged swingers club.
"To each his own," one passerby said.
But those working in the building don't like it at all.
"Our office is here," the security worker said. "I don't want nothing to conflict with our office."
The owner may have a tough time leasing the available ground-floor space, now that word has spread about what's happening up in the building.
When women in pop culture stray from the prescribed “good girl” into the most extreme bad girl—the sex addict—their interest in BDSM is typically equated with their addiction. By contrast, men are usually portrayed as hopelessly addicted to XXX images, preferring porn to people. Are male sex addicts fundamentally different from female ones, shackled to the Internet while women are shackled by handcuffs? If not, why does popular culture portray them in these two different ways? And what does this say about how women’s sex, desire and pleasure are not only portrayed but policed in our culture?
In films, male sex addicts focus on pornography, such as Adam Sandler’s role in the just-released film Men, Women and Childrenin which he and his son, played by Travis Trope, share this addiction. (Other recent movies in which guys OD on porn include Shame, Thanks for Sharing and Don Jon.) This development coincides with the ease of access to Internet porn, allowing anyone with a smartphone or laptop to have it.
These onscreen portrayals, along with similarly alarming nonfiction articles, offer up modern porn as a dangerous siren luring unsuspecting horny men into the abyss, never to connect with a real-live human woman again. Witness a 2011 New York magazine article about male porn use in which a 41-year-old man named Perry said, “I used to race home to have sex with my wife….Now I leave work a half-hour early so I can get home before she does and masturbate to porn.” The idea of watching porn by yourself for pleasure—and even masturbating!—gets diverted into making porn into a vice men should avoid if they want to have a healthy relationship.
Whereas men’s onscreen libidos get subsumed to porn, women sex addicts in such film classics as Nymphomaniac and The Piano Teacher go down a kinky path of no return. For these heroines, their pathology is part and parcel of their interest in masochism (though in The Piano Teacher, Erika does have a penchant for porn). The repeated linking of women’s interest in BDSM—bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism and other kinky play—with being unable to control that interest adds up to the idea that women just can’t get enough of whips and chains. Just as men’s brains apparently shut off when faced with naked bodies, women can’t think rationally in the face of a sexy Master, which simply isn’t true in the real world.
“There is no evidence that kinky women are more likely to be sexually compulsive. Just because someone has more sex than another person doesn’t mean they’re addicted, either,” says Susan Wright, spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. “It’s derogatory to say someone is more likely to be out of control about their sexuality because of the frequency of their desire or because they like to do BDSM. In fact, most people who are nonmonogamous or kinky have learned how to communicate better with their partners to be sure everything is going OK. That’s the opposite of the self-harm model of sex addiction.”
Basically, “safe, sane and consensual” (a mantra for many in the BDSM world) doesn’t compute in the vanilla mindset of the world at large. Therefore, the idea of willingly wanting to give up some aspect of control of your life, whether it’s what you wear, when you orgasm or what kind of paddle is used on you, is deemed “abnormal.”
The recent popularity among women of the BDSM romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, which has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, led to media interest in the topic, much of which expressed a lingering suspicion of kinky sex as dangerous—but in all the wrong ways.
In fact, it’s hero Christian Grey, who tells heroine Anastasia Steele that he’s never had vanilla (nonkinky) sex before, who can fairly be said to be the BDSM “addict.” Yet he at least has a serious, long-term interest in these sexual activities. Anastasia is doing it primarily because she loves him and wants to please him. Does this make her a love addict by default? It’s unclear, but the idea that a woman would consent to an act like spanking or bondage is seen as suspect. One Forbes commentator wrote, “Do middle-aged women, the main audience for this book, really view the threat of violence as an aphrodisiac?”
Well, no, because BDSM takes place within the framework of consent and violence doesn’t. But you wouldn’t know that from much of the Fifty Shades handwringing, which will surely reach a fever pitch when the movie version (starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Jackson) hits the big screen February 15.
The very nature of certain BDSM activities—especially some of its psychological aspects—are red flags for an addiction model that doesn’t have, pardon the pun, room for shades of gray. Women’s interest in BDSM per se is often taken as a sign of sex addiction, whether or not the activity is causing a problem in their lives, says Margaret Corvid, a writer, activist and professional dominatrix. “If a woman reports a sex addiction, her interest in a particular kind of sex is often tagged as the problem: She is likely to be advised by a healthcare provider to drop the kink, rather than to manage it so it doesn’t negatively impact her life.” ...