Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #24 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Categories:
– A book from the library
– A NYT bestseller
My Personal Reading Challenge Category:
– A book featuring a mythical figure
Read Harder Challenge Tasks:
– Read a biography
– Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes

Technically, I should have rated this one star, because I did not like it. It annoyed me, it frustrated me, and it pissed me the hell off. But that wouldn’t be fair to Lepore, as I suspect all of that was her intended effect. So she accomplished what she set out to do, and I agree with many of her insights, so I ought to give it three or four stars. I just can’t get past my feelings of disgust for the subject matter.

Not so much Wonder Woman herself, though I confess, I never was a fan. Even as a grade-school kid in the ’70s, some part of me was thinking, “Why does she need to be all sexy and half-naked to be a role model for me?” The answer to which is, of course, that she wasn’t there to be my role model. She was there to feed the sexual fantasies of young boys. And man-children. Like Marston, who created her. Sure, he made grand boasts of feminist ideals, and he may even be indirectly (very indirectly, like, homeopathically) responsible for some of the feminist strides made by the strong women who turned him on (when they were tied up). But in truth he was an alcoholic, sexually and emotionally predatory, narcissistic, academically disgraced shyster of a pervy creeper. I suppose I should thank Lepore for revealing this. I just wish it hadn’t taken hours of my life to slog through the incredible amount of detail she presented to support her case.

I have seen criticism of Lepore’s style, that it got dry and boring for some readers. I personally thought she maintained an engaging style throughout. Too engaging, perhaps, as the ick factor often forced me to put the book down. At one point I even sent it back to the library. But don’t let my two-star rating fool you. This is a well written book and I would not be at all surprised to see it added to women’s studies curricula at the university level. I learned a ton about the women’s rights movements of the early 20th century, and I must admit I am somewhat ashamed of myself that I didn’t already know most of it. I am also saddened that I see so many young women fighting these same battles 100 years later. This is the kind of historical background that they should be learning instead of the boring and meaningless lists of names and dates that I had to memorize back in the day. (If they even managed to make it onto the lists. Most of them didn’t.)

I’m not sure about making recommendations beyond that. If you are a die-hard Wonder Woman fan, you probably won’t be receptive to Lepore’s underlying message. If, like me, you were never really into comicbook heroes in general, let alone WW, you’re not likely to get much out of it. But if you’re somewhere in the middle there and can handle the deconstruction of a supposedly feminist icon, give it a go. Just don’t expect to have fun.

View all my reviews

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