Gender in the Media: “Supergirl” #1

How does the TV show Supergirl represent gender? Part #1

The first episode of Supergirl premiered in October of 2015, with actress Melissa Benoist starring as Kara Danvers/Supergirl. In the show’s universe, Kara’s cousin, Superman, has existed in her world for some time, but now she is ready to become a hero herself.

The scene below is a conversation between Kara and her boss Cat Grant, who runs CatCo Worldwide Media. Cat puts a name to the new female superhero in National City: “Supergirl.” When Kara finds out, she immediately confronts Cat and wonders why she didn’t name her Superwoman instead.

Kara says, “I don’t want to minimize the importance of this. A female superhero…shouldn’t she be called Superwoman? If we call her Supergirl – something less than what she is – doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?”

Cat replies, “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl?’ I’m a girl, and you’re boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot, and smart. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”

A few months ago, Miley Cyrus actually criticized the name as well. She said, “I think having a show with a gender attached to it is weird.  One, it’s a woman on that f—ing billboard – it’s not a little girl. Two, what if you’re a little boy who wants to be a girl so bad that this makes you feel bad? I think having a title like Supergirl doesn’t give the power that people think it does.”

The show’s TV producer Greg Berlanti said, “We knew going in that Supergirl might imply a younger audience, but we felt we could take a powerful word back and participate in introducing that to a new generation and say that doesn’t just mean young or inconsequential.” He continued, “It should be strong and bold. That was our goal.”

I personally stand by Berlanti’s decision to name the hero Supergirl, instead of Superwoman. As children, we are taught that doing anything “like a girl” is a bad thing, and thus “girl” is considered being weak, fragile, and inferior to boys. I think reclaiming the word will teach the new generation that girls can be powerful, strong, and heroes themselves.

As Cat suggested, if we think negatively when we hear the word “Supergirl,” the problem is us, not the character.

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