If You Perceive “Girly” Superheroes as Lesser, isn’t the Problem You?

Last night, CBS and Warner Brothers television released a six-and-a-half minute sizzle reel for Supergirl, this fall’s hotly anticipated entry into Greg Berlanti’s DC television dominance universe. Starring Glee alum Melissa Benoist as the eponymous hero, the preview exuded a sense of fun, joy, and lightness often missing from DC’s live action comic adaptations — not including CW’s The Flash, of course, coincidentally a show also starring another Glee alum.

But how did the internet respond?

Most of the chatter from those, let’s say, less than pleased with the trailer consists of issues with its tone. More specifically, its similarities with a recent Saturday Night Live sketch skewering Marvel’s lack of a solo Black Widow movie by turning it into a romantic comedy.

I have a few thoughts about this. While I understand why some folks feel like the Supergirl preview gave off a rom-com vibe — particularly from the music cues in its first half — I don’t know why that’s necessarily a bad thing. This is coming from someone who actually enjoys the genre when it’s done well. When Harry Met SallySingles, and Annie Hall are some of my favorite films of all time. Hell, I even wrote a whole post on this site about Love Actually for crying out loud! Besides, if anyone read the series description when Supergirl was initially announced, the tone of the preview shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“Now 24, Kara feels un-empowered, a slave to having repressed her innate abilities. She’s still pretty, but with her face hidden behind glasses and her hair pulled back, she doesn’t know it herself. But an unexpected disaster forces her to use her powers in public. Energized by her heroic deed, for the first time in her life Kara begins embracing her extraordinary abilities. She begins helping the people of her city, and they soon take notice. She’s even given a new moniker: Supergirl.”

Christelle even predicted the Devil Wears Prada vibe when Calista Flockhart’s casting was first announced as well.

The fact that the show is fully embracing a more light-hearted tone doesn’t mean it’s automatically being dumbed down. Sometimes comic book superheroes can be light-hearted. Hell, the dumbest comic book show on television is probably Gotham, and that show is the total opposite of light and sunny. For what it’s worth, it’s also going to be direct timeslot competition to Supergirl in the fall. 

Also, Kara’s mannerisms in the first “rom-com-y” half of the preview were more of an echo of her famous cousin’s secret identity than anything else.

Moreover, some of the best Clark and Lois scenes in all forms — whether the Donner films or Lois & Clark or Smallville — owe more to classic romantic comedies than to the romantic melodrama you might find on a “dark and gritty” show like Arrow (you are officially on notice, Olicity). Look, your mileage may vary when it comes to watching Supergirl this fall. I, for one, am excited for it even if most fanboys chafe over how “girly” they perceive it to be. And that seems like the most damning of all the critiques, as if the fact that it is emphasizing what is traditionally considered “feminine” is inherently bad.

A similar complaint swept the internet last month when Warner Brothers and Mattel teamed up to announce a new multi-platform brand of action figures, DVDs, books, and digital content called DC Super Hero Girls

Purposefully aimed at an audience of young, pre-tween girls — think the (non-adult) crowd who obsesses over Disney Princesses and My Little Pony — the brand was launched to much fanfare in April. The internet reaction, though, was less than ideal. Most were offended that DC would “pander” to girls by giving them their own brand instead of just better integrating them into existing DC products. But here’s the thing, who says we can’t simultaneously have both?

While I understand the importance of including girls in “boy-centric” toy lines and media, it doesn’t mean that those boy-centered things have to be the default. But the implicit critique of some of the knee-jerk reactions to things like DC Super Hero Girls or the Supergirl show on CBS seemingly dismiss those properties simply because they are aimed at girls and/or women.

Not for nothing, but Fisher Price’s ImagiNext line of figures — aimed at ages 3-8 — do a great job of integrating girl figures into the line.

I argued the same point about LEGO Friends a while back. Just because something is aimed at young girls does not automatically make it bad. Because to be honest, that’s the icky vibe I get whenever I hear people (mostly dudes) complain about content that is directed at girls instead of them. And why shouldn’t girls have content that is aimed at them? After all, aren’t they the ones who run the world?

While 40-year old fanboys might moan and complain about DC Super Hero Girls or the new Supergirl show, you know who is super excited about both things? My nearly eight-year-old daughter. And ultimately, that’s what is most important.

You know what, I’ll just let Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant have the last word:

22 thoughts on “If You Perceive “Girly” Superheroes as Lesser, isn’t the Problem You?

  1. The trailer lost me after the first four minutes, then won me back at the end. It looks like a fun, positive show for young adults. I’d say it knows its target audience and it has some good stories to tell. I’m still wary about the apparent ‘use an alien to kill an alien’ angle but who else can they call?

    1. Isn’t that last question pretty much all on the DEO which is being depicted as at-best amoral?

  2. If someone wants a show directed at women, as in older women, there are plenty of shows for them too. They just don’t wear a capes.

    1. Maybe there’s room for shows directed at women – or at least, not exclusively at men in the 18 – 35 range – where they DO wear a cape.

      1. Wonder Woman doesn’t need to wear a cape and she’s for all ages.

    2. I’d be excited to watch this with my mom, especially since she still has the idea women are truly the real heroes (I blame the culture gap). Maybe a show like this will make her realise that her daughter is allowed to be in the spotlight for possessing characteristics that, to her, are male strengths?

  3. We love LEGO Friends here and my granddaughter will probably love this. What’s wrong with something being for girls?

  4. I also noticed how her mannerisms were dismissed as too rom-com and girly when Sam Raimi’s movies’ Peter Parker and JJJ scenes and body language, along with those Clark Kent ones, were almost identical. But fanboys have very short memories.

  5. didn’t women like sarrah connor in T2? she didn’t have a girly angle

  6. Love this piece, and I think you’re totally right. The biggest reason I’m here for Supergirl, despite its shortcomings, is that it is showing us that a new kind of superhero show *can* work. Kara is the Usagi Tsukino of superheros right now – she’s insecure, doesn’t have all the answers, and is still finding her way. But that makes her so much more appealing as a character and a hero. I think folks are being too hard on her, and her femininity is a strength, plain and simple.

  7. The dumbest CB show is probably Gotham?! You skipped over Agents of Shield and Agent Carter. Both need to get the ax. These shows have so much plot holes beyond imagination.

  8. @Liza Minnelli. Sarah Connor is definitely not a superheroine by comic book standards. She’s an action heroine.

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