glaurung_quena: (golden age wonder woman)
The backstory for Wonder Woman's people has always been a bit strange and never made all that much sense. Attempts by DC to "modernize" the Amazons in the 80's and more recently have fixed some cosmetic issues but the underlying lack of sense has continued or even gotten worse.

Let's start with the Greeks )

America has the Wild West of the 1880's, Japan has the era of the Samurai; similarly, the ancient Greeks had their Heroic Age, roughly corresponding to what archaeologists today call the Mycenaean period in Greece (1500-1100 BCE). While the Scythian culture with its warrior women seems to have emerged in the 9th century (around the same time as archaic Greece), in fiction, the Greeks backdated Amazons to make them contemporaneous with their beloved legendary heroes and demigods. Which had the unfortunate effect of making centuries of classics scholars dismiss the whole concept of Amazons as a myth, despite the very level-headed accounts of them in surviving Greek non-fiction.

Amazons in the comics

Enter William Marston, who needed a particular kind of backstory for the character of Wonder Woman. His goal was propaganda, pushing for a vision of the world in which women were seen as superior to men and their right to rule the world was self-evident. Which meant Wonder Woman had to be an outsider, someone from a culture where women were powerful and in charge, who could look upon American customs of sexism as quaint and silly. What better background to give her than to make her an Amazon? Warning, bad mythology next 500 meters )

Next time, I'll continue by looking at the revamped origin story that the Amazons got from DC in the late 80's.
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Inspired by Marissa's rant about the removal of women warriors from documentaries about World War II over on her "This is Hysteria" blog, I recently re-read "A Girl Called Judith Strick" by Judith Strick Dribben (originally published in 1970 and now out of print, although Amazon currently has used inexpensive used copies available).

This is an unusual Holocaust memoir, in that only a fraction of it is concerned with the author's ordeal in the Nazi extermination machine. The book has 4 parts of roughly equal length. Part 1 ("Hardening Steel") follows Judith's career in the Polish/Ukrainian partisan resistance following the German invasion of Eastern Poland. Part 2 ("The Big Joke") covers her arrest and time as a prisoner of the Gestapo; in part 3 ("In the Shadow of the Chimneys"), she is sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and then eventually to a munitions factory as a slave. Part 4 ("The Homecoming") deals with her post-war career, first in the Soviet army, and then in Palestine, first as a member of the Negev (guerrilla fighters against the British colonial regime), then as a soldier in the Israeli army, and finally as a member of a kibbutz. And she did all of that in a space of only about 12 years. she had an eventful life, to say the least )

Once Israel became a state, she joined the Israeli army. At this point, the last 60 pages of the book, I found myself reading with a deeply divided mind, because I know that the war against the Arabs that she talks about was a war of conquest and an exercise in ethnic cleansing. Her racism, her inability to see how she was applying a double standard, and so forth were quite frustrating.

On the other hand, it was very interesting to read about her career in the Israeli army, how she constantly had to push back against attempts to assign her to gender-appropriate non-combat roles. Because her brother had been in the artillery, she demanded admission to artillery training, becoming the first woman to do so. Then, when she passed the course successfully and joined an artillery unit, they assigned her to administrative duties, and so she enrolled in intelligence training, because that would ensure that she would be assigned to combat duties.

The final chapters deals with her life after the army, on the kibbutz, where she met her future husband. All in all, it's a fascinating read, and very much recommended if you are interested in biographies of woman warriors or of Holocaust survivors.

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