Why 'Supergirl' & Her Super Ratings Are A Win For All Female Superheroes
Supergirl had a super night on Monday when her new show premiered on CBS and became this fall's number one new TV series. Even better, Supergirl garnered the most viewers any comic book-based TV show has seen this century, according to IGN. These stats definitely put those who say the world doesn't want to see female superheroes on the big or small screen into major question, but it's also one fact that could finally put the nail in that coffin. Not only did Supergirl win, but she was the top new series among men, specifically teens. And despite the comments Jeb Bush said about Supergirl, I highly doubt that all of these guys decided to tune in just because they think "she's hot."
But the thing is, even if someone wants to claim that our girl's looks are the reason for the high number of male viewers or wants to say it's the lead-in from The Big Bang Theory that helped, it doesn't really matter. The show, which focuses on Superman's cousin Kara Zor-El as she becomes a superhero, managed to garner a record-breaking audience without compromising the character in any way. This is a show that wears its feminist heart on its sleeve. Its assertion of girl power has been the show's main selling point, even when some questioned whether people would buy it, as TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz explained in his review of the show featuring the headline " Supergirl Is A Smart, Feminist Series (And That's Why Some People Won't Watch It)."
From the minute we hear the voice of transplanted Krytponian Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Kara Danvers, narrating the story, we’re primed to think of the show in terms of voices being heard, images being claimed and reclaimed. Although its four credited “developers” (one of whom is Greg Berlanti of the CW’s Arrow and The Flash) might be horrified to hear the show described this way, because the word is a kiss of death for some (mostly male) viewers, this is a feminist series that’s aware of the cultural and political implications of everything it’s showing us, whether it’s Kara taking issue with a prototype of a costume with a bared midriff or defeating a brawny, hateful, openly sexist foe by, essentially, destroying his symbolic phallus.
But it seems like its creators haven't been scared of the word "feminist." Throughout the premiere, Kara shows how completely self aware she is about how the world views female superheroes: some think they're important while others find them completely expendable. Even Marvel has come under fire for not including its female superheroes like Black Widow and Gamora in its merchandise. Kara is a modern woman who stands her ground on issues that critics of female superheroes may take with Supergirl. This includes her costume, which as we see in the premiere was initially nothing more than a pair of spandex boyshorts and a crop top designed by her male best friend Winslow “Winn” Schott. Kara politely lets him know she wouldn't even feel comfortable wearing that to the beach.
In another scene, Kara asks her boss Cat Grant (played by Calista Flockhart), "Why is it Supergirl and not Superwoman?" She wonders aloud if the name minimizes the importance of Supergirl as a female superhero. It's a question that's been asked for years, but it's Cat Grant that gets the final word on the topic, throwing another question at her, "If you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn't the real problem you?"
It's a point that's aimed at Supergirl's naysayers, making it clear that if you don't want to watch Supergirl because it stars a woman you need to figure yourself out because she's just fine being exactly who she is. (Not to mention the fact that if you think a girl is any less powerful than a woman, then you're clearly not getting it.) It's an empowering notion at a time when the pressure is on this show to prove there's not only an audience for Supergirl, but a demand for female superheroes in general.
Supergirl's premiere wasn't perfect. There's a bit of that teen movie cliché where she's a nerdy assistant until she takes her glasses off and her ponytail out — a joke that her co-star sister Chyler Leigh perfectly skewered in the 2001 teen parody Not Another Teen Movie alongside Captain America Chris Evans. But the show did allow everyone to see that female superhero shows can be feminine while dealing with the same things male superheroes deal with. "I didn't travel 2,000 light years to be an assistant," Kara says defiantly when others underestimate her superhero potential. She also didn't travel that far to merely be Superman's sidekick. She's his equal who's also faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. In the premiere, she manages to keep a plane carrying her foster sister Alex Danvers from going down, revealing her gift in the process. And as Jimmy Olson later points out, Superman also came on the scene by saving a plane in free fall.
That's the thing about this show, it doesn't shy away from being feminine. Supergirl instead takes the attitude that anything boys can do, girls can do better. Supergirl herself, actress Melissa Benoist, told Stephen Colbert on his Late Show that the most feminist thing about the show is that it's for everyone. "She has all the same powers [as Superman]," said. And like her cousin, Kara is here for anyone who needs someone to look up to. She's fighting for justice in a world where not even she always gets it.
Whether or not Supergirl continues its ratings reign throughout the season doesn't really matter; she's already won by showing that female superheroes aren't different from male ones. And neither is their audience. Hopefully female superheroes will soon be able to stop spending all their time defending their existence and instead, get back to what they do best: defending us from evil.
Image: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved; Giphy