Stories are important. The characters on screens and the pages of books and comics are there to validate social customs. Children learn much of what they know about how the world works from stories. For the past century, heterosexual monogamy has been the predominant theme surrounding romantic relationships. While it may seem this theme has only recently been challenged, there have been brave pioneers throughout the past century who challenged the status quo.
One trio of pioneers was Professor William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their lover Olive Byrne. Decades before the sexual revolution, three individuals fell madly in love with each other. William and Elizabeth were both psychologists. Because it was the early 20th century, there were practically no opportunities for female academics. William didn’t care and treated Elizabeth like an equal. They did extensive work together on the lie detector test. While William was teaching psychology, they met Olive.
What ensued was a whirlwind to match any great love story, except that it actually exceeded most because this love encompassed three hearts instead of two. There was so much about their relationship that broke common conceptions about love. Three people could not be in love. Love was for two people, a man and a woman. Two women could not be in love. That was considered mental illness. Sex was procreation, not recreation.
Olive, Elizabeth, and William used the love they had for each other to overthrow convention decades before women were burning the bras and popping birth control. They built a life together, even raised their children together. William understood the significance of this and wanted to share it with a world that was not ready to hear new ideas about love. He’d been struggling for years to publish work on radical feminism to no avail.
One day the thought occurred to him that a better way to spread his ideas would be a story. He created Wonder Woman, a comic book superhero who had a magic lasso that forced people to tell the truth. She was the embodiment of Olive and Elizabeth, both the women he loved. Wonder Woman came from an island of all women. The comics contained a fair amount of bondage, spanking, and lesbianism. Wonder Woman was a thriving success.
While the comic was eventually censored to remove the kinky scenes, the damage had been done. Hidden in cartoon comic books, Elizabeth, Olive, and William revealed their story to the world. Women love other women sometimes. You don’t have to have an affair to love someone who is not your spouse. Incorporating consensual physical pain into lovemaking has the potential to increase pleasure.
This is important. We need stories of other relationship dynamics. While William’s initial attempts were somewhat quelled when the publisher insisted on a certain amount of censorship, the movie Professor Marston and the Wonder Women brings his ideas to the forefront again when they are no longer quite so foreign. I think he would be thrilled.
The film was not entirely without fault. Polyamory has many shapes and forms, but most people who open existing relationships are hoping to find their version of Olive Byrne. This is the exception, not the rule, hence calling the elusive third part of a triad a unicorn. However, they did realistically show the potential dangers of entering a relationship with an established couple. When their alternative lifestyle was discovered by the neighbors and their livelihood threatened, Elizabeth made Olive move out immediately. They took her back eventually demonstrating the conflict Elizabeth felt throughout their relationship, balancing love with reason.
Walking out of the movie theater, I held my partner’s hand. In his other hand, he held the hand of his other lady friend. I hope this is the first of many sex positive movies we can watch together that better represent our idea of love.