“The Secret History of Wonder Woman” book response and February selection!

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Our group decided to go with a non-fiction book for January, and boy did we pick something unexpected. Libby, Steph and I nominated three books and then had our new facebook group vote on which to read. The group chose The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. What a doozy!

Shifting from easy fiction to a book like this was a bit of a jolt for me and it look a little while to get my brain back in the academic game. My first issue with this book is that the title and cover are misleading. Aside from little sneak peeks, illustrations, and clips from comic strips, the creation of Wonder Woman does not happen until almost page 200!

The book is, actually, a detailed biography of WW creator William Moulton Marston, starting his first year in undergrad at Harvard. There are many interesting parts to the book, most of which do not concern Marston himself. His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston was an amazing go-getter, especially for the 1920s and 30s. She earned as many degrees as she could, matching her husband one-for-one. She was actually the breadwinner for most of their relationship, which is really saying something considering the family was made of 8 (and a half) people, when one adds live-in mistress Olive Byrne, four children (two from each lover) and a sometime-roommate (and probable lover) who at times lived in the attic.

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I mean …

Olive Byrne was Margaret Sanger’s niece so there was a nice deviation off of the main story about the advent of the birth control movement. Sanger’s sister (Olive’s mother) was Ethel Byrne who was arrested in 1917 for talking about the fact that pregnancy could be prevented, and whose hunger strike in prison brought the nation’s eyes to this topic. I love that Jill Lepore included prints of the newspapers distributed by birth control advocates and feminists back in the 19-teens. I was also saddened that we are often rehashing the same arguments 100 years later. “In the end, the judge ruled that no woman has ‘the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception’: if a woman isn’t willing to die in childbirth, she shouldn’t have sex.” Yes, I see this argument in facebook arguments daily.

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Changing the topic, I have this minor fascination with the turn of the century and some of the kooky stuff that happened pre-Great Depression. People had so many ideas then. I feel that rich white people were always up to something strange. Global exploration, countless inventions, the birth of Psychology as a science (which was explored a bit in this book), the beginnings of science fiction (Verne, Wells), and even political explorations, like Russia’s communist revolution! My work campus sits on the former site of a utopian cult so I have been down that rabbit hole many times. The past is often sanitized, so the idea of free love experimentation before the 1960s really surprised me, but at the same time, totally made sense. What I really didn’t get was—what did these women see in Marston? Was it simply the desire to be different? In my eyes he was an entitled, semi-successful psychologist who routinely borrowed his women’s ideas and passed them off as his own, usually blatantly denying them credit. Not much going for him, but he certainly was different from men of the day.

There is a lot to get into with this book, but writing about it one-sided is not doing the topic justice. Our virtual book club had an online discussion group last night and I very thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m glad that others had the same reactions as I did to aspects like, what did all these women see in Marston? What is he bringing to the table here? 

More reading:

The Free-Love Experiment That Created Wonder Woman, Noah Berlatsy, The Atlantic

The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore, Smithsonian Magazine

As always leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon. I would love to read your take.


Virtual Book ClubA reminder that we started a facebook group for the book club if you would rather discuss our monthly reads over there instead of in the comment section here. Message me on facebook to be added.

For February, our group fittingly picked a light rom-com by queen of the genre Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, etc). Heartburn promises to be less cumbersome than January’s book, so please join along with Libby, Steph, and the rest of our group as we read together.

“We Should All be Feminists” Book Review and August Selection!

It’s time for my monthly virtual book club post! After reading my response (or before, that’s fine), hop over to see what Libby and Stephanie thought of this pick. 

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We should all be feminists.

The first thing that stands out to me in this essay (mini-book) is how that statement, so basic and true, can be so difficult to utter confidently, without feeling the temptation to add any qualifiers. The beginning of the essay says as much, with Adiche describing her journey into claiming the noun for herself. The term does have negative connotations. It can lead to uncomfortable, complicated conversations. It’s at the same time convenient and inconvenient. Her path towards claiming the word reminded me much of my own, which I wrote about in the past for Libby’s blog. Since my early days where the most I could say was that I was an “egalitarian,” I have really shifted into advocating for my fellow women and calling out sexism where I see it.

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At the risk of touching two hot-button topics in one post, I want to point out the passage above. It is so simple and eloquent and also holds up a mirror to the “Black Lives Matter” vs “all lives matter” movements.

Let’s go back to the title for a moment. We should ALL be feminists. All oppressed people need allies. Women, while not overtly oppressed in the way we have been for centuries, still get the short end of the stick when it comes to safety, job opportunities, sexist media coverage, etc. It is crucial to loop men at all levels into this conversation. My husband will tell anyone willing to listen why he is a feminist. He raves about how many members of upper management in his company are women. His journey has been inspiring to me and makes our life journey together stronger.

What a day to tackle this post. Hillary Clinton has just become the first woman to be nominated as a Presidential candidate by one of America’s two major parties. (Notably, the Green Party and others have had female candidates in the past). Not having a major candidate has frustrated us (women) for years, yet the political pipeline is still lacking in volume of qualified candidates. Bit by bit, this is changing. Women who were in high school and college during the heady “grrl power” days of the 90s are hitting a good stride in their political careers. We are seeing more women at various levels elected office. This trend must continue!

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I’m going to keep this short since the source material was short. Instead of reading my thoughts, read the mini-book (it will only take about 3o minutes) and let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you’d rather listen instead of reading, you can listen to the TedxTalk (which was closely adapted into this book) here on YouTube.

Truly, I feel like I covered most of what I think about gender roles (and lack thereof) and feminism in the piece I wrote for Libby this spring. I’m still proud of it and I will still talk anyone’s ear off about how my husband is a feminist and what it’s like to be in a feminist marriage.

Our b11bookhenriquez1-master180-v2ook for August will be The Book of Unknown Americans which has been on my “to-read” list for probably about a year now. Over the past two years I’ve been making a concerted effort to read highly reviewed books by writers of color so I couldn’t be more ready to tackle this. This NYT review from two years ago sounds like it could have been written today. So excited Steph suggested it! As always, you’re invited to read along and discuss your thoughts during the month or at the end of the month on one of our respective blog posts!

Writing Elsewhere: Feminist Friday

Today I am over at XOXO, Lib taking part in her Feminist Friday series. It is such an honor to be included in this conversation. I’ve shared about how I became a feminist, what it’s like living on the West Coast vs. the Midwest, and what feminism looks like in my daily life. I’ve been inspired by the interviewees who’ve come before me and I’m very much looking forward to reading those that follow. Please head over and check it out!

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A preview:

What does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism means recognizing my inherent worth in comparison to those around me. Spoiler alert: we all have equal worth! Our opinions are worthy to be shared, our feelings are worthy of being felt, and our goals are worthy of being explored. After a lifetime of low self-esteem, becoming feminist has helped me gain more self-confidence. I wouldn’t say those things are one and the same, but in my journey, both aspects have helped each other grow.

Click on over to XOXO, Lib to read the rest.