How Supergirl’s Feminism Misses the Point

By  · Published on February 4th, 2016


What I’m about to write pains me deeply to admit to you and took me quite some time to even admit to myself: I, a staunch, card carrying member of Team Feminism, am officially off the Supergirl bandwagon. I’m sure that statement alone has already earned me the ire of a reader who is cracking his or her knuckles as we speak, preparing to tell me off in the comments. So be it.

I just…can’t anymore. I tried. I really did. But it’s just not working for me.

I knew it to be a fact this morning when it was officially confirmed that there will be a Supergirl/The Flash crossover in March, with Grant Gustin reprising his role as Barry Allen/The Flash on Supergirl. Instead of getting excited at the idea of the first live action teamup of two such iconic DC characters, my only thought was, Heh. Maybe he can save it.

At this point, watching Supergirl just makes me mad. At the risk of sounding like one of “those” fans, it owes it to us to be better. Not just to its current audience, but to all of us. Like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe in aliens – in this case, one very specific alien: Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Kara Danvers, a.k.a. Supergirl, the first superpowered female character to topline her own show. Supergirl had a lot riding on her shoulders. And I hope it eventually succeeds. But so far, it has not.

The most common complaint I’ve heard from the potential male audience is that the show has turned them off by “pandering” so hard to women and young girls, and the problem is – they’re right.

Now, before you get out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.

A show isn’t inherently pandering in and of itself simply because it has strong female characters and overt feminist themes. Look at virtually all the other superhero shows out there on television right now and you’ll see plenty of women carrying their own series and standing toe to toe with the men in ensembles (and quite often upstaging them). Of the two other comic book-based series with women as the titular characters, Marvel’s Jessica Jones and Agent Carter aren’t just anthems to female empowerment but wailing electric guitar solos. Yet, you never once hear anyone complaining that they are too female-centric. Quite the opposite, in fact; critics and audiences alike have almost universally praised them for being breaths of fresh air. “Pandering” isn’t a word you’ll ever see thrown around in connection with either.

I have no problem with a show being geared directly toward a female audience, nor should anyone. And I absolutely love Melissa Benoist as an actress. The problem is with the writing and the fight choreography, both of which are of equal importance in making us believe in Supergirl. As Kara Danvers, it’s fun to see the charming Benoist with a schoolgirl crush on Jimmy Olsen or wallowing in the uncertainty of figuring it all out. Except she’s not just Kara Danvers. She’s also Supergirl, and as Supergirl, I damn well better believe it when she throws a punch. And I don’t. I’ll not get into the ways in which the action sequences and stunt choreography are, to put it delicately…awful. They absolutely matter, however, in a show about a superpowered person fighting superpowered people.

If the lack of finesse in the action were the only problem, it might still be forgivable. Unfortunately, the dialogue is often just as clunky. The reason why shows like the aforementioned Jessica Jones and Agent Carter are never seen as pandering, feminist as they are, is because the writing is strong. Inherent feminism is not the focus of each series so much as a byproduct of writing about fully-formed, capable women. It happens by design, but in a way that is organic and natural. But Supergirl creates a cognitive dissonance. While you’re watching Supergirl in a poorly-constructed fight sequence or as alter ego Kara Danvers getting walked all over by Cat Grant, it’s doesn’t jibe with the blatant girl power lines dropped with all the grace of a lead weight into the dialogue.

Simply because the target audience is younger and female doesn’t mean writers have to continually hit them over the head with the idea that girls are pretty okay, too. Girls already know it’s okay to be a girl. The ham-fisted reminders of this forced into almost every episode are not only unnecessary, but more than a little patronizing to a female audience that doesn’t need TV writers to justify them being on equal footing with boys and men. And that’s Supergirl’s problem. It spends too much time justifying her femaleness – and the feminine in general – and not enough time just showing her getting down to business and doing what she does. Because that’s the point – it doesn’t matter that Kara is a girl; it’s irrelevant to her being a superhero. And continually being told that I’m just as capable as men even though I’m a girl is starting to wear thin. I admit it, I’ll probably watch the crossover out of curiosity. But as long as writers keep the yoke of her gender around her neck like an albatross, Supergirl will never be able to fully fly and I’ll never be able to fully embrace it.

Happy little nerd in a world made of words. | Editor-at-large: Moviepilot | Writer: Forbes, Marvel, and Film School Rejects | Contributor: Birth.Movies.Death.