Welcome our friend and reader, Carolyn Frantz, making a great case for watching Supergirl. Want more? You can find her on Twitter as @cosmic_carolyn. – Ed.
Since this is my very first guest post with the Ladies of Comicazi blog, I’ll begin with a confession: I’m not a hardcore comic fan, and I’m certainly not a purist when it comes to comic universes. Most of my favorite comic books aren’t published by DC or Marvel, so I’m new to both. But I love a good story and good art, and I have a soft spot for heroines that are intelligent, strong, and independent, like Agatha Heterodyne: Girl Genius.
Even so, I’ve fallen in love with the new CBS show Supergirl, and I’m here to tell you why! A friend of mine, Danielle, wrote a feminist ode to Supergirl recently. She made some great points as to what Supergirl is doing right:
- The two most powerful people in National City are women.
- Women can be villains too!
- Women aren’t helpless victims.
- “Girl” is reclaimed as an empowering term.
- Young girls need a female superhero to look up to.
All of these are excellent reasons to watch Supergirl, and I encourage you to check out her article here. But I have a couple of my own feminist* reasons why Supergirl is not to be missed:
Supergirl’s costume is awesome without being overly revealing or sexual. It may seem superficial and counterproductive to focus on our heroine’s outward appearance. But in Hollywood, there’s just no way to escape the male gaze, and its use in advertising (“sex sells”). As a result, what women are wearing/not wearing in Hollywood will always be important. Supergirl needs a kick-butt costume to go with her butt-kicking moves, so dressing her in a tiny leotard isn’t believable. Even fierce female powerhouses like Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas tug at their leotards, and Gabby isn’t even punching villains. Mad props to Supergirl’s wardrobe department for coming up with a cool-looking costume that actually works for Supergirl’s extra-active lifestyle.
Supergirl goes by her real name. In all the Superman universes, including Smallville, Superman goes by Clark in his regular life. Pretty much no one is allowed to call him Kal-El. And let’s face it, Kal-El doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Kara, on the other hand, is a real name on our planet, so Supergirl goes by her real name, both in regular life and when she’s fighting crime at the DEO. A central tenet of feminism is that the way we use language matters, and there is power in naming important people and experiences. Feminist textual analysis often notices when women are named in texts— and when they’re not. Calling a woman by her name is powerful, and Kara claims her given (Kryptonian) name. Which leads into…
Supergirl struggles with her identity, which is something all real women do. By virtue of her frozen-time backstory, Kara has vivid memories of her family and life on Krypton. She lives into her dual citizenship on Krypton and Earth, which is a cultural balancing act. In our (supposedly alien-free) society, people of color experience something similar every day, having to be proficient in white culture as well as the culture from which they come. Women experience this also, living in a man’s world. We have to work to maintain our feminine identities while operating in work spaces and sometimes religions that are male-dominated, and therefore oriented toward the way “old boys’ clubs” work. Hence the glass ceiling. Fortunately, Kara has a supportive boss, Cat, who broke the glass ceiling herself and is willing to help Kara face the same hurdles. Kara also struggles with being adopted. Adopted children struggle with questions of identity all their lives, as illustrated in this poignant letter to the stars of Supergirl from an adoptive mom. Carrie, the author, explains how the media usually portrays adoptive parents inaccurately. Her story illustrates how powerful it is for her daughters to watch a story focusing on an adoptive family that’s more true to life. Even without the adoption dynamic, Kara’s struggles in her family relationships mirror real life. Unlike many shows, which either gloss over the reality of complex family relationships or parody them in the extreme (I’m looking at you, Modern Family!), Supergirl portrays relationships as they often are: complicated, but full of love. Any woman knows that relationships with sisters and mothers can be tumultuous. Supergirl portrays the tensions in these relationships well, while still showing the intense love and loyalty that family brings, adoptive or not. Finally, last but not least…
“Why does this even matter?” you might inquire. I’m glad you asked! Women in this culture are always being told we should diet. Female bodies that aren’t basically twigs are unacceptable in the media, which is why plus-size models are so extraordinary. Women are more likely than men to develop an eating disorder, and young women are especially vulnerable: 86% of those with eating disorders report they began before age 20, and 41% of all 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner. Controlling what women eat, psychologically or otherwise, is a means of controlling and devaluing women’s bodies.
Many TV shows portray women eating salads, discussing diets, and not-eating at dinner tables. Not Supergirl! Kara usually eats very healthy meals, but she’s also shown feasting on favorites like hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, curry, and donuts. Her chow-and-chat sessions on the couch with Alex at the end of a long day are one of the best parts of the show. They’re a chance for the sisters to process all that’s happened, support one another, and be women actually enjoying food on camera. When you think about it, that’s actually pretty rare. While some comedies make women who love food the butt of the joke, Supergirl seizes the opportunity to break that stigma. Kara needs super fuel, and feeding her super-fast metabolism sends a message to young girls that there’s no guilt or shame in calorically supporting their bodies.
By now, hopefully you’ve been convinced to give Supergirl a try if you haven’t watched it yet. The end of the season is especially exciting, particularly with the Flash crossover. If you already love the show, share it with a young girl— or boy!— in your life and plant seeds of empowerment in their hearts.
*Before any men’s rights activists jump on my use of the term “feminist”, my definition of feminism is “the radical notion that women are people”. Any true feminist, in my opinion, believes in the basic equality of all people regardless of sex, gender, race, creed, orientation, etc.