Okay, so. I really love The CW’s Supergirl????
It did, however, take me a bit to get into it. The pilot episode looked cute – up until they took some FEMINISM!!! and punched me in the face with it. If I had a dime for every story out there that insisted upon GIRL POWER for my own good, I’d be insanely rich. Pissed as fuck, but insanely rich.
Then the script improved in leaps and bounds with every new episode. The “HEY LOOK GUYS WE’RE ALL ABOUT GIRL EMPOWERMENT” lines disappeared, for one. The producers also started showing us the world they were envisioning us instead of telling us about it. Then Season 2 came, and welp. I lost my shit.
In a scene inundated with “realistic” (~*edgelord*~) storylines and dark visions of mankind and the world at large, Supergirl offers to us what superheroes have always been good at offering: optimism and hope. However, this is just part of what makes the show a must-watch for everyone. It’s real power lies in its world building. Supergirl is one of the most girl/LGBTQ-friendly series on the silver screen today. It is doing what cinema and comic books have a history of getting So Wrong, All The Time. It’s building a queer-friendly world that we can believe in.
I originally intended to write just about why the show is so important to me. The review ended up mutating into a full-blown critique because I have way too many Feelings. As such, I’m going to divide my discussion into several articles. First, I’m going to talk about my issues with mainstream film as a bisexual third culture geek girl. After that’s all done, I’m going to explain why Supergirl, especially Supergirl Season 2, deserves to be recognized for what it is.
This first article is going to be how we do girls wrong on screen.
The usual narrative mode is the portrayal of female sidekicks, girl characters who – no matter how revered or awesome or important they seem to be to the rest of the cast – essentially exist as plot devices for the male protagonist(s). Need a convenient damsel in distress? Looking to drum up the numbers with a love story? Want to elicit sympathy through the touching story of a mother and her son? Get that girl. Make her pretty/sweet/smart, and don’t forget that healthy dose of vulnerability that men appreciate the most in “good women”.
Writers who are fond of this are strong believers in the old adage, “Behind Every Man is a Great Woman”. Sounds pretty and all, but it often doesn’t do us ladies any favors. On the one hand, it prevents female characters from existing on their own. Everything about them ends up connected to somebody else, and it’s almost always a male character. She is someone’s mother/sister/lover, but NEVER truly herself. It’s also REALLY disappointing that there is a perpetual lack of female leads in Hollywood films, most especially action movies. We are already shit at paying actresses as it is.
Now a lot of screenwriters know that the female market is looking to see some more Strong, Independent Women around these days, so they’ve done their best to respond. Unfortunately, they often end up creating a pale shadow of traditional masculinity shoved into a woman’s body: stoic and untouchable and averse (or immune) to showing emotion. They also love turning sexual abuse into a plot point, as if they only way that a woman can become “strong” is if she’s been violated, body, heart and soul. It also betrays just how much of a boner screenwriters have with torture porn, at the cost of y’know. Women’s rights and properly teaching us what consent means.
There are a lot of uncomfortable implications that come with insisting that a strong woman is an emotionless woman. Are we saying that emotions are, therefore, a source of weakness? Furthermore, are we saying that emotions are feminine, and therefore weak? It’s also the height of irony that we seem to praise actors for their ability to portray emotions well and male characters for being in touch with their hearts, but female characters – and female actors – get written off as crying, whining babies. Worse yet, Strong Female Characters always seem to be stuck in the rut of “I MUST PROVE THAT I AM BETTER THAN EVERYONE”, when in actuality? It’s really about proving that she’s better than men. It often becomes her only purpose.
I have a whole lot of other feelings about The Strong Female Character trope, but this article does it a whole lot better than I ever could.
There’s a nasty side effect of putting our fictional women on pedestals like these. We end up fetishizing them.
Gendering behavior – especially violence – is the root of a FUCKTON of issues.
Whether we perpetuate the myth of female characters as unicorns full of mysterious “womanly energy” or we insist that a Strong Female Character must be an ass-kicking cyborg, the result is the same. We’re insisting that a person’s behavior is dependent on their gender. A female villain must be sexual, or she must be a sexual predator. Villainesses have “womanly ways” of fighting, and they’re totally different from how villains must fight. Women are cunning, under-handed and manipulative. Women will use their bodies to get their way. Oh, and don’t forget to add “sexual deviant” (i.e. “she’s kinky and LESBIAN!!!”) to the list of offenses.
On the flipside, heroines must all secretly be princesses or magical girls or Bella Swans. They don’t get angry: the lowest they should go is frustrated. They remain brave and pure and possessed of a holy light, the sort that is good for rearing children once they inevitably fall in love with a man and seek to marry him. Heroines also shouldn’t fight like boys do, so wrestling and fisticuffs are off the table. They need to fight like a lady. Hell, they should ALWAYS be lady-like. If they don’t smile enough or are charming enough, they’re not convincing enough. Star Wars: Rogue One’s lead girl Jyn Erso got flack for that. If we’re to believe The Hollywood Reporter, the movie “lacked a strong, vigorous male lead”.
Thank you, Teen Vogue, for telling them how wrong they are.
Insisting that one’s gender or biological sex magically determines how one should act comes with some terrible consequences. We often can’t deal with women being violent to men, so much so that male victims of domestic abuse are erased from the picture. Women committing violent crimes are so inconceivable that only too many female criminals don’t get caught until it’s too late, if they even get caught at all. We also develop unhealthy fixations with female adolescent criminals, leaving us unable to properly deal with them too. Don’t tell me that fiction is fiction, and that changing our stories can’t possibly help with this. Some Googling will very quickly prove my point.
The next leg of my discussion will deal with the LGBTQ side of things! Stay tuned for that.