It’s been months since television networks introduced their new series for the year, and, after much consideration and a lot of hours spent in front of the television, I have finally determined my favorite: CBS’ Supergirl. Supergirl is the best new show on television this year, not only because it is endlessly entertaining, but also because of the cultural impact it has had, and will continue to have. Superheroes are some of the most widely known media figures in the world. Nowadays, you can’t go one day without hearing about Iron Man or Batman — superheroes are the most famous celebrities on the planet, which means they’re also some of the most influential.
Supergirl is the only mainstream DC or Marvel product on a conventional network (so, Jessica Jones aside) that stars a female superhero. And that’s important. Growing up, I never read comic books or dreamed of going to Comic-Con. I liked stories that I could relate to — stories I could see myself in. As a young, half-Chinese, half-French girl, I failed to see how I could identify with a white man with huge muscles dressed in black and red spandex. I remember being vaguely aware that female superheroes existed, though a majority of my superhero knowledge was dedicated to Superman and Batman. I knew Wonder Woman was a thing that existed, and later I learned about Supergirl, Batgirl and Catwoman. But, that was pretty much it. On the other hand, I was more than aware of female villains.
Women in the superhero world didn’t get to be the heroes —it seemed to me that they were manipulating sexpots meant to be defeated or damsels in distress desperate to be saved. One constant, however, was the tightness of their skirts and the poutiness in their lips. Beauty, that seemed to me to be a woman’s superpower (or evil power) in the comic book world. And those images, no matter how ridiculous or dated, made an impression on the millions of people who saw them. They told girls everywhere that to have any kind of power in the world, they had to be pretty and desirable to men. Supergirl, with its strong female leads — three in total — and elevation of female friendship and camaraderie presents the audience with women who are capable, smart, and strong.
Supergirl is more than aware of its status as a beacon for creating stronger female roles in the superhero world. The show is unapologetically feminist. Some might say it lays it on a little thick, what with Cat’s occasional monologues about being a working woman and Supergirl embracing her ‘girl’ moniker. But, I would argue that this frank discussion of feminism is exactly what is needed. As feminism becomes a more prominent topic in pop culture, it is important that young girls, girls who might just watch Supergirl, understand what the term means.
Supergirl is blunt in its discussion about the sexism that still exists in our American society. And the character of media mogul Cat Grant, played excellently by Calista Flockhart, gives voice to the feminist concepts explored in the show. It’s true that her monologues on the hardships that face working women, and women in general, are mouthfuls of exposition. There was also an episode literally titled “How Does She Do It?” that revealed that Cat was a working, single mother.
“He, he, he. Him, him, him. I am so sick of hearing about the Man of Steel. Every woman worth her salt knows that we have to work twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good,” Cat tells Kara in “Stronger Together.”
So, yeah, it’s not exactly subtle. However, Cat’s feminist asides are also full of truths that people continue to refute. Just look at the growing resistance against equal pay for women — there is still a group of Americans who refuse to acknowledge the fact that there is an inequality between men and women. Supergirl is a crucial media product because it is unashamed to shine a light on this truth episode after episode. It’s not a one and done mission for the show (like Glee addressing Asian stereotypes for one episode and then moving on). It’s constant, and it’s unrelenting, and it’s necessary.
Writing aside, the very existence of Supergirl draws attention to the completely ridiculous gender imbalance that exists in the current world of pop culture superheroes. Today’s movies and television shows are saturated with superheroes — very few of them female.
In some ways, DC is actually ahead of the MCU in terms of gender representation. Not only did DC launch a female superhero show — Supergirl — but it also announced the upcoming production of a Wonder Woman movie. Though she will be introduced in the new Batman v. Superman film, Wonder Woman will have a movie all her own before Black Widow or any other Marvel character. To their credit, Marvel also has plans for a Captain Marvel movie; in addition to the representation we’ve seen in Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, and Jessica Jones, but still—with Wonder Woman on the horizon, maybe Supergirl’s success will help Marvel realize the heights that they can reach, too.
Olivia Truffaut-Wong is an entertainment writer obsessed with all things movies and TV. You can find her work on Bustle.com and keep up with her on Twitter @iWatchiAm.
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