I didn’t read comics when I was growing up, both because I lacked access to them and because they didn’t really seem like they were for me. To put it plainly, I thought comic books were for boys who were far geekier than even I was (and I watched Star Trek).
Getting into these universes as an adult has been daunting because of their long and storied histories. Do you like the idea of Spider-Man? Cool. Which Spider-Man: Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Migual O’Hara, May Parker? Should you start with the current story arc or go back to the very beginning? What references to past events are going to go over your head? Who do you go to for advice, especially if you’re a woman who’s ogled and dismissed in many comic book shops?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done wonders for piquing my interest in these worlds, but it’s oftentimes dark and inappropriate for children. That’s part of why I was so excited to see the Supergirl trailer. Even a glance told me that it was going to be different. The sets were lighter and cleaner. The music was uplifting. There was even a joke or two. A potentially kid-appropriate superhero show featuring a woman? It sounded amazing to me.
The pilot was okay. It didn’t feel groundbreaking or great, but I was happy to hang in there and see where things ended up going. By the end of the second episode, however, I was rolling my eyes and sighing heavily.
BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!
The entire episode featured our hero, Kara Zor-El, being told that she couldn’t, that she wasn’t ready, that she shouldn’t. Instead of being empowered, Kara was questioned and continually held back. “You’re not ready for that” and “we don’t know if you’re strong enough” were common sentiments throughout the episode.
In one scene, Kara’s adopted sister could have easily said, “Hey. I know you’re really strong, but why don’t I show you how to fight well just in case you lose your super strength.” Instead, Alex took Kara into a kryptonite-laced room, without warning, so that Kara was weakened. She was literally disempowered.
Interestingly, every women I’ve talked to about the show thus far have been disappointed, some going so far as to say they won’t continue to watch.1 I think this because women are intimately familiar with the sentiment of the show thus far. Do we really want to watch another woman struggle to be seen, or would we rather immerse ourselves in a world where Supergirl is encouraged and assumed capable from the onset? Do we want our girls watching another show where a potential role model has to fight for acceptance?
I’m afraid that, if this continues, Supergirl won’t be a successful show and entertainment executives will point to it as evidence that female superheroes don’t sell. This is the last thing I want to happen. I need more Wonder Woman in my life!
Men have mostly pointed out that male superheroes have had their share of struggles, too. ↩