The new TV show “Supergirl” has been on CBS for a couple weeks now, but I have just started watching it. It was definitely worth the wait though. While there were a few problematic spots, this show definitely has potential to empower girls, teach boys that girls are just as capable of being a badass superhero and provide some great social commentary.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a brief synopsis. Kara (Super Girl) is the cousin of Superman. She is actually older than him when they leave Krypton and her mission was to protect him. However, she got stuck in the “phantom zone” where time does not pass for 24 years. Somehow she got loose and finally made it to Earth. When she arrived he was a grown man but she was still 13 years old. She narrates that Superman didn’t need her protection anymore so she no longer had a mission. She decided the best thing she could do, even though she had all the same powers as him, was to fit in. He put her with a nice family who already had a daughter and they raised her.
This made me very sad. Before she left Krypton, she was brave and prepared to protect her baby cousin on the new planet. But once she finally got there and realized he didn’t need her, she got sucked in to the socialization that most girls face. She developed self-esteem issues and learned not to try because of fear of failure. She had to become empowered later in life and only because she was trying to save someone else. Even her adoptive sister encouraged her not to use her powers because she was afraid something bad would happen to her. That means a lot of years of good deeds she could have done went right out the window.
Ever since I first heard of Supergirl, back in the 80’s when that movie came out, I have had a problem with them not calling her Superwoman. There’s no Superboy and when Kara is first labeled Supergirl, she is an adult, not a child. I think this speaks to how our society infantilizes women in order to make them feel less powerful and put them in their place (which is second to men in our patriarchal society). We hear the term “girl” used to describe women thrown around all over the place. I had someone call me and two of my co-workers girls the other day (“How are you girls today?”). I’m in my 30’s. It’s been a while since I’ve been a girl. A simple “how are y’all/you today” would have sufficed. He even raised the tone of his voice as if us “girls” hear at a higher decibel.
I know some people use this term lovingly (ex: “I’m hanging with my girls tonight.”), but other use it to demean and devalue women. Why? Because our society sees girls as less than. You hear phrases like “you run like a girl” targeted at boys because to be a girl is less than being a boy. (Side note: I loved that “Run like a girl” video by Always.) So, in this way the show’s title is problematic. However, I know its all based on the comic book series so the name won’t change and if this show is a big hit maybe we’ll see them make movies about it like they’re planning to do with Wonder Woman and that would be awesome.
The name issue was addressed by Kara in the first episode. She tried to get her boss to change the name to Superwoman, but was shut down. Her boss reasoned that (and I’m paraphrasing) I’m a girl and I’m powerful and I’m rich and smart…so it’s you who has the problem with the word girl. I’ve heard this argument before and its bullshit (see above). Being a girl is awesome (and hard, because patriarchy) and I loved being a girl. Referring to women as girls is not giving them the level of respect that they deserve (equal to men) not because being a girl is bad, but because what that translates to in our society is we don’t think you’re good enough.
There were a few other interactions that caught my attention. Winn, one of the characters that she reveals her powers to, assumes that she must be a lesbian if she’s not romantically interested in him. This speaks volumes to how men are raised to think that all women desire them and how they get all pissy if they get “friend zoned”. Ugh. I think they did a good job of calling that out in the show. I also like that they used people’s assumptions about women (that they’re weak) against one of the bad guys. He was expecting her not to be able to fight him because she’s just a girl. And yes, she did have a moment where her socialization came back to bite her in the ass making her think she couldn’t win against him. But her sister talked her through it and gave her the confidence boost she needed to win. That reminds me of the quote from The Wizard of Oz: “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” She had to relearn that confidence that she left Krypton with. One of my friends said she loved this about her because she could relate to not having that confidence and having to learn it.
One thing that really bugs me though, and I don’t think will be going away, is how in awe of her cousin she is. Yes, he’s done great things, but she is just as capable. She speaks of him as if he’s god-like. Its a little over the top and I hope they will tone it down in future episodes.
I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did. It has great potential to inspire girls and educate boys (and men) on just how capable girls (and women) are. I can’t wait to see the next episode! Have you seen the show? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.