NB: This is a robo-post while I’m visiting London!
All the publicity surrounding the Wonder Woman movie reminds me of my main experience of the character: watching the 1970s TV show starring Lynda Carter. Looking at still photos of Lynda as Wonder Woman, I can see how sexualized the character was, with her skin-tight, skimpy costume. But as a girl, I didn’t notice that.
All I saw was a powerful woman who used her strength for good. In those days, women with any kind of power were a rarity on television. The only other one I remember is Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman. Recently, I heard an interview with Harvard professor Jill Lepore, who wrote The Secret History of Wonder Woman. She described the character’s origin as a surprising mix of Varga girl pinup and hard-core feminist. Her creator, William Marston, lived in a ménage à trois with two women, one of whom was the niece of Irish-American birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger.
Marston’s original story ideas for Wonder Woman often had her bound in chains, and bursting free from them. The chain motif came from the Woman Suffrage activists of the early 20th century, who marched in chains as a symbol of their legal bondage to men.
45. The Chain
“I had lunch with Melinda,” said Tabitha to Dr. Liffey. “I mean, my mother.”
“Have you always called her by her given name?”
“Yes, I think so. She said she was so young when I was born that it was like having a sister. She didn’t want me to call her Mommy.”
“Perhaps she didn’t feel ready to become a mother.”
“I’m sure she didn’t,” said Tabitha. “I’m sure she didn’t want me at all.”
Anna pursed her lips. Today she wore a forest green pantsuit and a navy satin buttondown shirt. “Why do you say that? Did she tell you so?”
“No, not exactly. But how would you feel in her situation? If a man raped you and impregnated you?”
“I don’t know,” said Anna. “It’s never happened to me. But I have a daughter, and I can tell you that motherhood is more complicated than that.” She paused. “Did your lunch go well?”
“I suppose so. She was much more willing to talk than I expected. It seems she’s worked out all her psychological issues,” said Tabitha. “She dropped this bomb on me, that Crowe was a rare books librarian. She said I was just like him, even though she tried to prevent it.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Angry.” Tabitha considered the question. “Angry, at first. But then I became curious. I began to wonder what collections he worked with. Melinda said it was the State Library in Harrisburg. They have a lot of early American things, colonial Philadelphia imprints, genealogical records and such.”
“You don’t have any memories of his work?”
“No, only that there were lots of books on the walls. And I remember his desk.”
“Tabitha, how old were you when you were released?”
“I had just turned four.” She met Anna’s gaze. “Are you asking why I don’t remember much? Is that abnormal?”
“Not at all. Most people’s memories begin when they are two to three years old, but there’s a lot of individual variation. Some people have fragmentary memories of events before their first birthday, while others can’t remember anything before they were six. My question is, do you want to remember?”
Tabitha sat silent for a moment before replying. “I think so. Yes.”
“Then there’s a way I can help you to find whatever memories are there. Ones you may have stored away in a corner of your mind because they were frightening to you after your release.”
“You mean hypnosis?” asked Tabitha warily. “I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that.”
“Not hypnosis,” said Anna. “Though the technique does involve relaxation. The challenge with recovering memories is not to introduce any fictitious or imaginative elements. We may find that there’s nothing there,” she warned.
“I could live with that. When should we start?”
Anna glanced at the unobtrusive timer on her iPhone. “We have time today, if you feel ready.” Tabitha agreed, and Anna told her to lie back in the plush armchair and close her eyes. They went through a preparatory exercise in which Tabitha cleared her mind of everything else and focused on relaxing her body one part at a time, from toes to scalp. Then Anna said, “Tabitha, you have a memory of books lining the walls, in the house where you lived as a very small child. And a desk. Go back to that room now, and tell me what else you see.”
Tabitha drew up the memory. “There was a rug or a carpet, with interesting designs in it. Red, mostly. And a rolltop desk. The desk had lots of little drawers in it. I liked to climb up onto the chair and reach for them. But I never could open one.”
“That’s very good. Anything else?”
“I remember a smell. I’m not sure what it was, but sometimes when I smell pipe tobacco, I think of that room.” Her memory shifted to a moment years before, when one of her professors lit his pipe as they were sitting outside a café. The smell had disturbed her because it made her remember something. But now the memory was gone.
“When you were in the room with the desk, where was Melinda?”
“Watching TV. We watched it a lot. I liked Sesame Street, and we watched Charlie’s Angels together. Melinda tried to cut her own hair like Farrah Fawcett with a pair of scissors, but it didn’t look the same, and she cried.” Tabitha paused. “I remember a lot of television, but I’m not sure whether it was before or after. Melinda liked shows about powerful women. Wonder Woman, especially. I Dream of Jeanie, and Bewitched.” Suddenly she felt tears pricking her eyes. It was clear to her now, as it never had been before, what those shows represented for her mother.
“Where was the TV?” asked Anna.
“In the basement. That’s where we lived most of the time. We had two dachshunds, and they often did their business on newspapers in the corner. That was kind of stinky.”
“What do you remember about the basement?”
“A foldout bed. Melinda and I usually slept together in it. I cried sometimes when she wasn’t there. There was a bathroom close by. I remember Melinda putting me on the toilet, teaching me to use it. If I used it when I was supposed to, she would play patty-cake with me.”
“That’s very good. Anything else?”
Tabitha thought about the bathroom, and at all once she remembered. “There was a metal chain, bolted to the wall there. The end of it had a handcuff. Sometimes Melinda had to put it on.” Horror flooded into her mind. “Anna… I didn’t think anything of it. To me it was normal. There were times when I even liked it, because then she couldn’t stop me from doing whatever I wanted. I remember changing the channel away from General Hospital, and her yelling at me to put it back.”
She opened her eyes and leaned over the coffee table to take a Kleenex from the box, as tears began to spill over her cheeks. She blew her nose. Now she remembered Crowe, a black-haired, tall figure who made Melinda put on the chain. He was scary, but her childhood self had also felt drawn to him, had longed for him to pay her attention. She couldn’t speak this thought aloud.
Anna spoke. “The fact that you thought the chain was normal, that upsets you now, because as an adult you see it very differently.”
“What did you dream last night? I know you feel upset, but can you tell me about that?”
Relieved to move off the subject of Crowe and Melinda, Tabitha considered the previous night’s dream. “There’s a woman, a queen whose name sounds like… Mayth. She’s fighting Cúchulainn. She’s his enemy, and she’s brought an entire army against him. She’s a powerful woman, and very focused on getting what she wants.”
“And what does she want?”
“Well, it started off with a cattle raid. She had to do it to prove to herself that she could. And then she felt attracted to Cúchulainn, until he hurt her. Now she’s angry, and she really wants to kill him, to wipe him off the face of the earth.”
“But he’s so powerful, and so terrifying a man, that it takes a whole army to kill him?”
Tabitha silently nodded.
Anna’s eyes met hers for a long moment. Finally she said, “Do you think that Mayth will succeed eventually? In killing him?”
“Yes,” said Tabitha. “She has to.”
Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss
Notes: When I wrote this chapter a couple of years ago, I didn’t know about the early connection between Wonder Woman and chains, or the feminist background of the character. Synchronicity, I suppose. As a girl, my own favorite shows were I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched. In both of these series, the female lead acted outwardly submissive toward the man, but in reality she was the more powerful of the two. The gender reversals in those shows fascinated me, and I also liked the comic elements.