In her first encounter with the Nazi Baroness, Paula von Gunther, Wonder Woman agreed to allow one of Paula’s henchmen to weld chains onto her bracelets, believing she could easily break them. Only later did she remember her mother’s dire warning, “Daughter, if any man welds chains on your bracelets, you will become weak as we Amazons were when we surrendered to Hercules and his Greeks.”
You know, because that’s a thing that people do.
Diana eventually managed to free herself by catching bullets with the chain connecting her bracelets. Breaking it restored her strength, and she effortlessly toppled her captors. She later ruminated on the event, “These bracelets — They’re an Amazon’s greatest strength and weakness! What a fool I was to let a man weld chains upon them! It just makes a girl realize how she has to watch herself in this Man’s World!”
So true. In Wonder Woman comics, every man seemed to carry a blowtorch and steel chains around with him.
At first blush, this bizarre plot device seems pretty sexist. Of course, Marston was not at all sexist. Well, he was, but to him women were the superior sex. So what’s going on here?
The encounter with Paula von Gunther was a rare instance when Wonder Woman voluntarily allowed a man to chain her bracelets. In subsequent stories, being aware of the consequences, she was only able to be chained if caught unaware, usually by being blindfolded or knocked unconscious.
Marston was conveying a pointed message here: A woman must be vigilant. Just as Hippolyte was once seduced by Hercules, any woman runs the risk of losing her autonomy if she lets emotion cloud her mind or refuses to see a situation clearly. The most dangerous thing a woman can do is believe a man can control her. Once she has given a man power over her, it’s his nature to use that power to dominate her.
Marston’s stories frequently explored the use and abuse of power. Master-slave relationships were ubiquitous. Marston believed men were unfit masters due to their inability to maintain “love leadership.”
Men, he said, are fundamentally driven by appetite, which, according to DISC Theory, is characterized by a tendency, or perhaps compulsion to try to dominate anyone he perceived as weaker than himself.
On the other hand, he maintained that women’s primary drive is love, which nourishes and strengthens relationships. In Marston’s view, submitting to man’s dominance is inherently dangerous and ultimately foolish. It is man’s nature to try to consume what they rule, while women are more likely to work for the benefit of all.
In another story, Marston drew attention to the psychosomatic aspect of the bracelets. A crook managed to knock Wonder Woman unconscious. When she woke, she discovered that chains had been welded to her bracelets. Not knowing who did the chaining, she was not sure that she could break them. Only when she learned the welder was a woman did Wonder Woman know she could break free — and so she did.