Last updated on May 30, 2020

In Wonder Woman #1, a panel showing an Amazon woman beating back her abusers with broken chains to reclaim her personhood was indeed worth a thousand words. The image of the Amazons wielding the chains that imprisoned them as tools of their emancipation conjures suffrage era imagery.

In 1908 Suffragette Edith New led a protest where several women chained themselves to the railing in front of the British Prime Minister’s office. Public chaining became a favored tactic of suffragists, which was extremely dangerous for women who were chained. Bound suffragists were tortured, beaten, and raped. Graphic imagery of these activists’ suffering, including photographs of imprisoned women being bound and force-fed, helped them gain sympathy and support for their cause. 

Hunger striking suffragist being force-fed through her nose

Suffragist literature invoked imagery of chains, bondage, and slavery to elucidate women’s experience of inequality and subjugation. Margaret Sanger employed this device heavily in Women and the New Race, a manifesto encoded into Marston’s stories. Olive Byrne gave this book to Marston’s writing assistant, Joy Hummel, to guide her in writing Wonder Woman scripts, telling her it would be all she needed to understand the character.

“Woman’s acceptance of her inferior status was the more real because it was unconscious. She had chained herself to her place in society and the family through the maternal functions of her nature, and only chains thus strong could have bound her to her lot as a brood animal for the masculine civilizations of the world.” 

Sanger was never one to mince words. 

According to her, women’s folly was accepting marriage and motherhood as their only valuable contributions to society. Since these activities did not earn wages or respect, they became dependent on men for survival. To be unable to provide for oneself was to be someone else’s slave.

If we interpret the story of the Amazons’ enslavement through Sanger’s lens, the warrior women’s real sin was allowing themselves to go unconscious, resigning themselves to man’s rule. Their heavy chains represented the weight of their acceptance of their plight and were reinforced by the men’s narrative that the women were inferior. 

When Hippolyte disobeyed Aphrodite’s Law by allowing Hercules to seduce her, the queen abdicated her self-respect. Aphrodite’s subsequent intervention symbolized the Amazons’ reconnection to their inner authority and self-love, as personified by the goddess — what Sanger calls the unbridled “feminine spirit.” With belief in their innate power restored, the Amazons claimed their freedom. In doing so, they went from subjugation by men to a new orientation — submission to a higher authority within themselves

For Sanger, the unbound feminine spirit was Woman’s freedom to use her energy and creativity as she saw fit, especially her ability to bear children. For women to take total control over their own reproductive lives, and to refuse to bear children for any reason other than their authentic desire for motherhood, would be to rule the entire world. Humanity’s survival and evolution would fall squarely under their power. After all, in the words of Lynda Carter, women “are the mothers of all mankind.”