Quick Hit: The Word “Girl” in “Supergirl”

CBS has just released a “first look” teaser for the new Supergirl TV show, coming this fall. I’ve always frowned at the name “Supergirl” for an adult woman, finding it infantilizing. The teaser tries to address this:

News announcer on television: “Media Magnate Cat Grant, of National City’s new female hero: Supergirl.” (news channel displays “#Supergirl”)

Kara Danvers: “We can’t name her that.”

Cat Grant: “We … didn’t.”

Danvers: “Shouldn’t she be called Super…. woman?”

Grant: “What do you think is so bad about ‘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?”

Calista Flockhart plays an authoritative Cat Grant, a casting choice which itself implies (to me) a defense of the type of femininity Flockhart performed as Ally McBeal in her best-known role to date.

I don’t find Grant’s argument convincing, since my particular beef with the “girl” suffix is around connotations of immaturity, and particularly because we do not tend to call men of similar ages “boys”. That’s unequal. But I appreciate that at least this teaser attempts a defense. And overall I loved the teaser, and it made me cry. Stories of women discovering and claiming our power, in ourselves and to help others, will always get me.

Thoughts?

10 thoughts on “Quick Hit: The Word “Girl” in “Supergirl”

  1. Anastasia

    I love the trailer too and am so excited for the movie. But that speech rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like a “silly feminists with their irrational concerns.” justification. “See, strong women think your silly worries are silly.” Hopefully that makes sense.

  2. Kevin

    I would point out that maturity is not what I look for in a super-hero. Ultimately they are adults who dress up in pajamas and play with really cool toys all day. They are the girls and boys we wish we could still be, with something special that makes them exempt from the rules that adults play with. Calling a super immature is not exactly a stretch.

    That being said, you are way too kind to this argument. I know nothing of the exchange aside from what you have printed here, but the “the real problem is with you” argument dismisses the idea that social pressure or context means anything at all. It’s not a real problem, you see, the real sexist is the person who perceives it.

  3. talkswithwind

    I loved that trailer to pieces. Season one looks to be all about Kara finding herself and embracing the consequences, which I adore.

    I’ve always been a bit… weirded out about the girl in Supergirl, especially after I learned that on Krypton she was older than Kal when everything went kaboom. But copyrights, trademarks and creater share mean that they can’t really change the name without a lot of bad things happening, so I understand why they’ve decided to keep the name.

    One of the thematic things in the trailer that I particularly liked was the iconic shirt-rip. The classic Clark version of that had him with eyes upward, feet apart, and ripping his shirt open to reveal the S beneath. It’s a power pose, pure and simple. The one in the trailer has Kara crouched with a look of oh ()!#% on her face, but still she’s going to get up there and deal with it. LOVED that bit.

  4. Frank

    I wonder whether Cat Grant even believes it, or whether she’s simply making an argument that Kara won’t dare to respond to.

    Also, while I also find the ‘girl’ frustrating as an implication of inferiority with respect to Superman, there’s a lot more ambiguity between girl and woman than between boy and man.

  5. clintonroy

    I liked the fact they tried to address it. Kara can’t really debate with someone higher up in the hierarchy though. The other thing that I’ve heard a lot lately (with all the new superhero movies and shows coming out) is that these teasers and trailers are cut by the marketing folk, not the directors/show runners, so this snippet appearing in the trailer doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a significant sample of the show as a whole.

    I loved the slightly klutzy aspect, I miss that from the reeve movies, though I think it’s not pretend as in superman. I definitely liked the fact that kara was essentially covered up, and that the suit seemed to get more covered up as they iterated over the design. I skipped a beat when I realised they’d cast a black Jimmy (James) and the internet has let me down as expected.

  6. Melissa Lodge

    I completely agree. Although we supposedly live in a society where men and women are equal, I can’t help but notice there are underlying factors that seem to constantly undermine women.

  7. Kootiepatra

    To me, this sounds less like a self-aware nod to the problematic title, and more like an attempt to preemptively shut up critics. Which bothers me, especially considering the complicated nature of agency in fictional characters. Supergirl didn’t choose the title; the authors decided she should choose the title, and also that she should lay the smackdown on anyone who criticized it.

    I think on my part, I’d rather see it either be an entire non-issue (“Hey, it’s branding, what are you gonna do?”), or else have a backstory about it: “My great-aunt Betty liked to call me Supergirl when I was little, and she was such a profound influence in my life that I keep the name alive in her memory.” Or “I was beating up this one supervillain one time, and he called me ‘Supergirl’. He meant it as an insult, but I think it’s got a sweet irony to it.” Or something along those lines, where she has a real reason to own it, rather than just lazily deciding, “But I LIKE being called a girl.”

    I have no strong opinion on the show overall, but I think they done goofed on this bit.

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  9. Viana Vescura

    You see, the biggest problem is that they didn’t give Kara the correct age. In the comics, she is a teenager, so it makes sense that she is a “girl”.

  10. Eve

    I think we do call men ‘boy’ in pretty much exactly the way men call women ‘girl’, either to belittle them or as an expression of a certain sort of tender dominant feeling (‘he’s such a beautiful boy I just want to lie him on a bed of roses and lick strawberry sauce off him’). It’s quite noticeable that the uke/bottom in slash is often referred to as a ‘boy’ even when he’s the same age as the seme/top, and actually you hear quite a lot about ‘boys’ in real-life gay and BDSM culture as well. The difference is that calling women ‘girl’ is so endemic in our culture that it’s often done on autopilot without thinking, whereas calling a man ‘boy’ is nearly always a considered choice.

    Also, side issue that’s massively irrelevant to Supergirl (as far as we know!! :) but ‘girl’ can actually be less triggering than ‘woman’ for some FAAB genderqueer folks because it doesn’t have all the implications of breasts and hips and wombs and, well, womanliness.

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