Many of you may have seen the 2017 blockbuster hit film Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot. Professor Marston and The Wonder Woman is the back story. Wonder Woman began in 1941 as the comic book creation of psychologist William Moulton Marston, who used the heroine to explore themes of female power, bondage, kinky sex, domination and submission. If you have any of those early comics stashed away in your attic, they are likely worth a fortune. By the time Gloria Steinem raised up Wonder Woman in the 1970’s as an avatar of woman’s power, all the kinky sex had been scrubbed.
I’m interested in the cultural extremes we’re seeing in the era of Trump. The prudish AG Jeff Sessions is working full time to roll back Constitutional protections for LBGTQ Americans. The pussy grabbing Trump is pandering to the religious fears of Evangelical Christians, in return for a solid bloc of their votes. The super wealthy Hobby Lobby family, the Greens, are opening a Museum of the Bible just down from the Smithsonian on the Washington D. C. mall. The film industry is going in the other direction, treating us to vivid and nuanced portrayals of gay sex and menage-a-trois marriage.
Brokeback Mountain came out in 2005, with mere hints of male-on-male sex: hugs, cuddles, a belt buckle being undone. Fried Green Tomatoes was earlier: 1991. There were two strong female story lines: Kathy Bates in a loving surrogate mother-daughter relationship with Jessica Tandy; and the lesbian one, with Mary Stuart Masterson playing Idgie and Mary Louise Parker as Ruth. We saw their sexual relationship only in metaphor. On a picnic in an open field, Idgie reaches deep into the fork of a tree to bring a dripping honeycomb to Ruth. My mother was still alive then, and saw the film. I asked her how she felt about seeing a lesbian relationship so beautifully portrayed. She told me I had a dirty mind and it was nothing of the sort.
The Battle of the Sexes is as much about Billie Jean King’s self-discovery of her lesbian identity as it is about her tennis match with Bobby Riggs. And there’s no obfuscation here, no trees and honey pots, just lusting naked female bodies. Her passionate sexual experience with her first lover is right there on the big screen, inviting us in. Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman introduces us to menage-a-trois sex complete with bondage among Professor Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their one-time student Olive. Although the film apparently takes certain creative liberties, the basic story is true. At the end, we see pics of the actual Professor Marston, Elizabeth, and Olive. Each of the women had two children by him; the three lived together and parented the four kids from birth into adulthood. Marston died first; Elizabeth and Olive lived together and continued their relationship for another 38 years. Elizabeth lived to be 100.
I have no plans to visit the Museum of the Bible, and I know who I’m rooting for in this cultural clash: Hollywood. And you?