Supergirl: Setting Straight Gender Imbalance in the World of Superheroes

imagesSupergirl premieres tonight, Monday, October 26, on CBS, at 8:30 p.m.

Supergirl, a.k.a. Kara Zor-El, is the cousin of Superman. Both are creations of DC comics. Supergirl is a young girl when she’s sent to Earth in a suspended animation rocket by her parents minutes before the explosion of her home-planet Krypton. Her mission is to protect her infant cousin Kal-El, who has also been sent to Earth. The shock-waves from the explosion of Krypton set her rocket off course and it becomes encased in a Kryptonite asteroid (the Phantom Zone) in suspended animation. After 24 years, It’s shaken free and continues its course to Earth where it lands in a Kansas farm field. Due to suspended animation, Kara remains the same age, but by the time she arrives, Kal-El has grown up and become known as Superman.

In the first episode, Kara assumes her identity as Supergirl, after she saves her adopted sister from an imminent plane crash. She starts to use her super powers, which she has decided not to use up until this time. She discovers she can fly, has superhuman strength, invulnerability, heat vision, can see through solid objects, and has super hearing.

However, once Supergirl’s identity becomes known, alien criminals who also have superpowers come after her in revenge, determined to destroy her. They were condemned to prison on Krypton by Kara-El’s mother Alura, but also escaped the explosion of Krypton and have arrived on Earth to take control of it.

There are pieces of dialogue which portray Supergirl as a protector of women’s rights and a supporter of feminist causes, just as her protege Wonder Woman is. Jill Lepore’s recent book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014), reveals that the creation of Wonder Woman by Harvard psychology professor William Marsten in 1941, was specifically designed to support feminist causes such as the women’s right to vote and equal rights for women.

Supergirl carries on this tradition and brings a “necessary” reform to what has been a predominantly male field in the world of superheroes.

Cat Grant, Kara’s boss at National City’s Tribune, says: “There’s nothing people love more than a hero.”

During the show, a waitress in a cafe watching Supergirl on the news says, “Can you believe it? A female hero. Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.”

Kara-El faces many issues that women face today. When they were kids, Kara’s jealous adopted sister Alex was “all too eager to encourage her alienated extraterrestrial sibling’s understandable, if flawed, desire for a normal life. Like many women, she’s been conditioned to underachieve and feel insecure about her strength for the sake of fitting in.” (Entertainment Weekly)

When Kara’s boss Cat Grant comes up with the name “Supergirl,” 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 really is,  doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?”

Her boss answers, “What do you think is so bad about a girl? I’m a girl, and your 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?”

In a scene with her adopted sister,  Alex shows Kara a hologram of her mother that came from the rocket that brought Kara to earth. Her mother Alura gives a final, parting message to Kara: “I know you were sent to Earth to protect young Kal-El. Your destiny is not tied to his. There is no correct path in life. You will lose your way many times. What is important is that you find your way back to the brave girl you always were. Be wise. Be strong. And always be true to yourself.”

The premiere of Supergirl, the first time ever Supergirl has had her own series on TV, is just one more indication that the world of superheroes and pop culture is beginning to “ring in a new golden age of  female superheroes” (Katie Couric on Yahoo news) at a time that the culture itself is demonstrating that women in business, politics, media, the entertainment industry, science, the military, education, and all fields are beginning to break through the glass ceiling that has for so long been standing over them.

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