Supergirl: Girl vs. Woman

A first look at the upcoming Supergirl TV series at CBS has released for our differing judgment. People are already likening it to a "chick flick" or a sitcom -- films and shows that are not the territory we think of when we imagine superheroes. The "young woman working at a media company struggling to move forward and prove herself" is a pretty common story for movies aimed at women.

Kara, the cousin of Superman, is 24 years old, and we first see her carrying coffee to her office for her superior. She's aware of her powers, but so far she's blended in with the crowd as a seemingly normal human until she saves a plane from crashing. 

As a 24-year-old myself in media, I relate to Kara's struggle of trying to find her way in the world. Being at the bottom of the ladder in a company sucks when you're given the menial tasks. You know you're capable of doing more, but no one seems to pay attention to that. Superhero stories are a great way of blending fantastical adventures along with real life struggles, such as Kamala Khan in the new Ms. Marvel finding her new identity as a superhero while navigating society as Pakistani American, muslim teenager. While Kamala has conflicts with villains, she also has conflicts with family and religion. Let's be honest: CBS' Supergirl isn't doing anything that noteworthy compared to Ms. Marvel, but it shows we can have our so-called girly shows also show a young woman becoming more independent as a superhero.

Beyond that, the depiction of Kara and Supergirl in this show are so different from the other superheroes we see from DC, such as Superman and Batman. Supergirl smiles and looks optimistic. Batman crawls around in the dark and scowls.

Right now in the twittersphere and discussion forums, women are debating over the scene we've seen where there's an argument to keep the "girl" in Supergirl as opposed to calling her character Superwoman. Kara even objects to the title Supergirl, but Kara's boss defends it.

"What do you think is so bad about 'girl'?" she asks Kara. "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?"

There's already a lot to talk about in this one scene, which we haven't seen all of yet. "Girl" is an infantalizing word for many women, especially in work settings. There's not a hard rule on when a girl is considered a woman, but by the time we're Kara's age, most of us would be offended being thought of as girls. I don't think that problem lies with us but moreso with the men that use the term to treat women and our opinions as lesser. There's something to be said of taking back a word that has negative connotations, but a quick look in male spaces on Twitter or Reddit or really any male-dominated discussion board talking about women will use "girl" as a pejorative.

I don't have a firm opinion on whether the "girl" in Supergirl is supposed to be empowering rather than a term like Superwoman, but the defense of the term in the show is a bit silly when the rest of us outside of the show know the show is using the moniker Supergirl because it has a history we're all at least vaguely aware of. 

Agent Carter might be more of my thing than this Supergirl, but I'm all for changing up what we expect from existing franchises and recognizing it's more than boys and young adult men who like superheroes.