It’s the golden age of superhero shows. Everywhere you turn a new billionaire playboy turns up to throw on leather/armor and saves his city. DC, Marvel, it’s all the same. The stories are similar.
Or, they’re not. Maybe I’m being rash. There are certainly more than enough billionaire playboys, but there’s also a great variety of other heroes. Thor is a bone-fide God. Barry Allen is a scientist. Captain America is a soldier. Superman is an Alien.
They have another thing in common, though, and that thing in common is the one thing that makes their stories meaningful, the one thing that makes their journeys important, the one that makes each and every one of them necessary: they’re white males.
And so are most of their fans.
Did you roll your eyes at me? How far back? I’m going for supreme eye-roll here. Like, if you don’t feel like your eyes are going to get stuck that way, it’s not far enough.
When you’re done rolling your eyes, though, take a pause. Read what I have to say.
Comics/superhero TV shows/movies are not devoid of strong, kick-ass female characters. In fact, they have some of the best examples of nuanced, distinctive female voices. Doesn’t mean they have enough of them – or nearly close to enough representation – but that’s a matter for another day. Kickass female characters exist, and more and more, they’re finding their way to our TV screens and movie theaters.
Only to be judged by the aforementioned fans.
Take CBR’s comparison of Supergirl and Jessica Jones, for example. Is it invalid to compare one show with the other? Certainly not. Is it a crime to have an opinion? Considering I’m here spouting mine, it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to begrudge them of theirs. Is it exploitative and more than a tad sexist to suggest one show is far superior to another for reasons we wouldn’t hold against male-led shows?
Supergirl is clearly superior, the article states, and it gives its reasons, some valid, some nonsensical, and some so tone-deaf that I had problems reading through the whole article. But I braved through it, in a desperate attempt to understand how the writer could make me so angry with a comparison that should be innocuous.
Here’s the conclusion I reached: my main issue with the piece is that the whole thing reads as a laundry list of things female superheroes should do to be “better” and not like a list of actual complaints about the direction/tone a show has decided on.
Is Jessica Jones a perfect show? Certainly not. If pressed I could come up with a list of things they could do better myself, and I might even agree with some of the points the writer of this piece made.
Is Supergirl a perfect show? No. It certainly has a more upbeat tone than Jessica Jones, but it also suffers from balance issues, solves most of its problems far too quickly and though it has improved greatly in Season 2 – it has had serious issues with its male characters, in general.
Are they very dissimilar and valid interpretations of distinctly different female journeys? Yes.
And that’s perfectly fine. See, for example, Arrow vs. The Flash. Different superheroes. Different personality. Different tones.
Both have a place.
Now, to be fair, the CBR article in no way, shape or form indicates that both types of superheroes can’t exist, but by making the comparison, by pitting the only two female superheroes we have against each other, it feeds into the idea that there is a right and a wrong way to be a female superhero.
And most – if not all women – can relate to being told that whatever it is they’re doing, whatever it is they’ve decided to become, well, they’re doing it wrong.
We need Supergirl, yes, to show that women can be the heroes of their own story, to show that the bonds of sisterhood can sometimes be the most important bonds in your life, to show that you can save the world and also have a life, a job. To show that there’s more to being a bad-ass that a brooding, grumpy demeanor.
But we also need Jessica Jones, to show that it’s okay to be angry and sad and that being a victim is not all you are, but that it’s okay to be affected, it’s okay to not wake up the next day or the day after that with a bright outlook on life. You can still be a badass; you can still be a hero. You can still be you.
The female experiences are as diverse and as complicated as the male experiences – often even more. And though TV is far from showing both in an equal manner (don’t even get me started on POC and the LGBTQIA community), when we do get positive female representation, we need to support it. We need to stop pitting women against each other. We need to take both the Supergirls and Jessica Jones of the world and build them up so, tomorrow, we just won’t have these two, but as many kickass female superheroes as there are male ones.