The original Wonder Woman was a circular story of re-education, whirling through lessons on gender and power dynamics. One recurrent teaching was mastery over one’s drive to dominate, and choosing submission to the greater good instead. In Wonder Woman #8 (Spring 1944), the Atlantean Princess Octavia petitioned Wonder Woman to be her mentor. Octavia was unusually tall, strong, and hot-tempered.
In their first meeting, as she approached Diana for guidance, Octavia saw the face of an enemy in the Amazon’s Mental Radio monitor. She flew into a blind rage, destroying the device. Wonder Woman subdued the impulsive Atlantean and escorted her to Paradise Island for training. Before Octavia could rule over Atlantis as queen, she first had to master herself.
Through Octavia’s training, Marston clarified some of the symbolism of Bullets and Bracelets. Like all sports, the sport was as much a mental exercise as it was a physical one.
The Amazon super-coach Mala chained Octavia to a post and fired tiny pellets at her with an air gun. When an angry Octavia complained that getting shot was painful, Mala assured her that the pellets couldn’t harm her. “It isn’t the hurt that makes you angry; it’s being defeated at the game!”
Chained to the post as she was, Octavia was unable to run away or attack. The untrained Atlantean let those painful shots through, allowing the sting to affect her and giving it power. She let her anger and frustration get the better of her.
Octavia calmed her mind and surrendered to the situation, learning its rules, and realized that she could use her bracelets to absorb the impact and deflect the pellets, preventing the sting. Octavia progressed from angrily and ineffectually lashing out to joyfully dancing as she blocked Mala’s attack. Amazon Training transformed life from a painful struggle into a playful dance!
Through Octavia’s training, we learn more about the metaphor of the bracelets. They are symbols of self-respect and mental toughness. Through the development of both psychological and physical discipline, the skillful Bullets and Bracelets athlete prevents those shots from causing pain or throwing off her equilibrium.
Though the bullets never stop coming, just like the insults and injustices that happen to all players in the game of life. But an Amazon (a mentally and physically resilient woman) does not let them touch her. She raises her bracelets, steadies her mind, and refuses to allow those insults to impact her self-esteem.
The self-control taught through Bullets and Bracelets strengthens what Marston called the “motor self” in his theory presented in Emotions of Normal People. Self-control, he said, is more efficient than panic or flailing, and preserves one’s physical, mental, and emotional energy. By managing that energy, a person under attack can maintain clarity under stress and make better choices. The process allows the player to observe her situation more rationally. If one approaches such challenges as a sport, then the attacker is just an opponent, not an existential threat. The battle becomes a game!
This metaphor is instantly recognizable in the childhood chant, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words may be painful if we take them personally, but they are nothing but sound waves, and only hurt us if we allow them to—that is to say, if we believe them. Ask any kid who has been subjected to racist or homophobic slurs. There are only so many ways to deal with that. You can lash out (Dominance), or you can wilt (Compliance). Both of these reactions cost you precious energy.
A third option is to center yourself (Submission), maintain your equilibrium and your power, and take refuge in the knowledge that insults are only about you if you allow them to be about you. They are expressions of the attacker and have nothing to do with you. Being able to do this real-time, under pressure, takes practice.
Ask any woman or member of any marginalized group, and you’ll find someone who has an abundance of practice, though they may become exhausted or overwhelmed and still get shot from time to time. Wonder Woman depicts a four-color symbolic model of what’s possible with practice.