Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: Wonder Woman Psychology: Lassoing the Truth

Wonder Woman Psychology: Lassoing the Truth. Travis Langley and Mara Wood, 334 pages, 2017.

I’m a fan of superheroes, and have more than a passing interest in psychology and psychiatry. So when I see pop culture books like Wonder Woman Psychology, of course I’m going to pick them up. I’ve read similar books connecting Star Wars and Superman and Batman to psychology and philosophy and history, so I was hoping for more essays from nerds establishing tenuous links between “serious academia” and my favorite characters. This one was more substantial than I expected, but still using the Amazing Amazon to explore the real world around us.

The book is an anthology, with twenty short chapters from psychologists, therapists, and comic book historians, among others. Their expertise shows throughout, but the writing is never technical or boring, and showcases themes from across Wonder Woman’s 76-year history. Many of them focus on Wonder Woman’s earliest years, when she was being written by creator William Moulton Marston. That makes sense, because William Moulton Marston was himself a psychologist, one with interesting beliefs about women, gender roles, and the power of feminism. To a degree.

He was an advocate of a particular kind of psychology that looked at personal and societal development that followed a pattern of “Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance,” and that theme runs throughout the book. These ideas are part of Wonder Woman’s history and are found in pretty much every comic book story that (pen name) Charles Moulton writes – that Wonder Woman is physically stronger than any man, but more often she uses her DISC skills to win the bad guys over. Sometimes she herself breaks those rules in order to succeed or one-up her allies; it’s how she convinced her mother Queen Hippolyta to leave Paradise Island (later, Themyscira) in the first place.

Chapters include “Paradise Island and Utopian Communities,” “The Heroine and the Hero’s Journey,” “Multiple Identities, Multiple Selves? Diana’s Actual, Ideal, and Ought Selves,” and “Compassion is My Superpower.” Some ideas come back several times – most of the chapters involve gender roles at some point, and how Wonder Woman is either smashing them or (sometimes) giving into them. We see her fictional and real interactions with the real world, including the comic book scare of the 1950s with Dr. Frederic Wertham, being on the cover of Ms. Magazine from Gloria Steinem, and the recent debacle with her being appointed the UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.

With Wonder Woman being the number one superhero movie of the year, available on Blu-Ray September 19 just go ahead and buy it right now through this link it's so easy just do it, and with her appearance in the Justice League movie later this year (please don’t suck) ,she’s become a pop culture touchstone that nearly every student will be familiar with.  This book is rife with ways to connect her story to not just psychology, but also history and civics and gender roles and ethics. Some of the chapters are just five pages long, others are more substantial – but there are many there are tailor-made for classroom use. Many of us teach “The Hero’s Journey” when we teach Homer’s Odyssey; why not flip that and use “The Heroine’s Journey” instead? Using Wonder Woman as a point of reference alongside other superheroes is a step forward that William Moulton Marston first took in 1941 – it’s about time we took the next step ourselves. 

Check out other classroom activities and ideas in my Wonder Woman Day post from last June -- there are some great ones there. 

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