Wonder Woman Vs. ‘Biblical’ Womanhood

In comic-book writer Tom King’s run on Wonder Woman, Diana has been fighting a battle not just of fists but of ideologies. In Wonder Woman #8, she faces a villain, the Sovereign, who wants to destroy her reputation as a champion of freedom and justice for all. Now, to force her to submit, this villain will wield perhaps the most powerful weapon of all: religion. The Sovereign twists New Testament scripture to convince Diana to become complicit in her own defeat, wielding complementarian theology to persuade her that a truly good woman is meek, mild, and submissive. He illustrates what abuse looks like when scripture is used to deny and degrade the image of God in women.

The opening page of the issue finds Diana in heels and a sun dress, sporting a bouffant, bent over an open oven. Artist Daniel Sampere renders her as the very ideal of a ’50s housewife, yet still undeniably the DC hero: Her sundress is red with white stars all over it, while her blue oven mitts sport white stripes. The outfit is a subtle inversion of the flags — stars on a blue field and stripes on red. The swapped stars and stripes are another clue that, as Diana muses, “something’s gone wrong.”

That “something” is revealed on the next page: four panels of Diana’s wrists bound by a rope glowing with a sickly black light. Over the first three panels, as Diana struggles to break free, her wrists bleeding, someone quotes Ephesians 5:22-24 over her: “Wives be subject to your husband as you are to the Lord. For a husband is head of a wife just as Christ is head of the Church.” The final panel of page 2 reveals the mystery speaker when he identifies himself by adding to Ephesians: “Or … as the Sovereign is the head of the nation.” We then see Diana on her knees, her arms bound behind her, around a vertical beam. She is bloody and bowed, but manages to say, “I do not believe you.”

King’s Wonder Woman story is a battle of ideologies. What makes a woman wondrous?

The Sovereign is a relatively new villain in the Wonder-Woman universe. He claims to be of a family line that has secretly ruled the United States for centuries — a secret king. He wields a Lasso of Lies, a dark mirror of Diana’s famous Lasso of Truth. The Sovereign uses his lasso to manipulate and rule through lies. The Sovereign wants to destroy the reputation of the Amazons, especially Diana. Having failed to kill her, he now turns to breaking her. He wants Diana to submit to his authority, to bend the knee to his sovereignty. 

Spoilers follow

As they continue their battle of wills, the Sovereign grips the Lasso of Lies while quoting verse after verse — 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Titus 2:3-5. As he does, he insists, “We manipulate the transcendent potential of religious truth and fervor. We pick the ancient words that suit our cause and ignore those that do not. Fictionalize meanings where appropriate, adding context to clarify moments that might induce doubt into our dominion and through this method we teach our inferiors to know their place within not the kingdom of heaven but our kingdom.”

The Sovereign uses these scripture passages in the same way as complementarian theologians and pastors: to twist the liberating power of Jesus’ resurrection into an oppressive lie that denies the dignity and calling of women. Notably, the Sovereign doesn’t engage any of the numerous scriptures that affirm women’s right to lead; he’s not interested in the truth — just power.

U.S. churches also seem to be wrapped up in the Lasso of Lies. Many nondenominational churches only allow men to be pastors. And large denominations like the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention also lean on complementarian theology. They use rhetoric similar to the Sovereign’s, insisting that God created women equal in dignity but not in authority.

But egalitarian churches, who at least on paper resist the Sovereign’s lies, aren’t faring much better in practice. One of the most egalitarian denominations, the United Methodist Church, reported in 2020 that 68 percent of their fulltime clergy are male, and that female clergy make “significantly less … total compensation.”

Under the influence of the Lasso of Lies, Diana sees not the Sovereign lecturing her, but the ’50s housewife illusion where she is married to her longtime love and ally Steve Trevor. But this is not the Trevor we know, the man who stood by Diana’s side when the Sovereign turned the U.S. military against her. This is not the man who — despite Diana being older, stronger, and more intelligent — ever feels intimidated, diminished, or insecure around her. This Trevor is patronizing and possessive, disdainful, and controlling. Like the Sovereign, he makes Diana feel small so he can feel big.

This is essential to the Sovereign’s conception of power. His preferred place for Diana — in a faux ’50s housewife setting — is not random. Christians who wield scripture as the Sovereign does to deny women leadership in the church endorse a feminine ideal found in the early sitcoms. They look more like June Cleaver than the warrior-judge Deborah or the shrewd business woman of Proverbs 31. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or complementarian about a woman choosing to be a housewife or stay-at-home mother. But women must be free to make that choice, not forced into those roles by her husband, pastor, or societal norms.

The Sovereign goes on to cite Jesus’ sex as further proof that men belong in authority over women: “Why do you think God sent his only son to save us? Why not his only daughter? …He was gifting us with a message. About who can deliver us from our sins and who, clearly, cannot… You cannot save anyone because you are not a son… You are but a daughter.”

Diana seems hopelessly trapped — the Lassos of both Truth and Lies are said to be unbreakable. But she remembers her mothers teaching: “This [lasso] is born not of substance, but of prayer. Prayers are comprised of hope as rope is made of sinews. And as hope can never be extinguished, so too the sinews of this weapon will never rend.”  

She remembers these words and finally looks up at the Sovereign, her bloody face defiant. “I do not believe your words. I do not believe your God. I do not believe your lasso!” With this she does the impossible, breaking through the lies with the strength of truth.  

King’s writing is deft. By creating a singular embodiment of patriarchy in the Sovereign, he gives the sinful ideology a face and a voice. By pitting the Sovereign against the ideal woman, King shows us what religious abuse can look and sound like — both when it comes from the pulpit or from inside the home, where it often wears love as a disguise. Wonder Woman #8 reveals patriarchy for what it really is: not a system ordained and instituted by God, but a lie told by men who want to degrade and rule over the very ones God created as equals and called co-laborers and allies.

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