Supergirl, Female Relationships, and Feminist Arcs

SupergirlLate last year, Lady Geek Girl wrote down her thoughts on Supergirl’s pilot episode for you guys, and since then, we haven’t discussed the show at all. I’m here to fix that right now. Supergirl is everything I could have asked for in a female superhero story. The show is fun, has a really great plot, and some awesome characters. Furthermore, this is not another story with a female lead and an ensemble of male side characters—the show focuses a lot on family relationships between women and continuously allows those women to uplift and help each other through their struggles.

Spoilers ahead.

Supergirl is one of those stories that I know cannot be perfect—because what story is? I know I enjoyed the pilot episode a lot less than Lady Geek Girl did. I found it rather quick paced and a little too cheesy at times. Nevertheless, I stuck with the story and was blown away. Now, I’m so enraptured by its good parts that they cloud my view of the potential bad. Supergirl follows the story of Kara Danvers, Superman’s cousin, who only recently got into the superhero business. As such, sometimes she doesn’t know what she’s doing—in one episode she accidentally causes a massive oil spill while trying to stop a ship from exploding—but despite her setbacks, she still manages to capture the hearts of the people of National City.

Her self-proclaimed biggest fan, and also her biggest critic, is none other than Cat Grant, CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media and Kara’s boss. Cat is the person who coins the name Supergirl, and over the course of the episodes, despite Cat’s often antagonistic behavior, the two take inspiration from each other. Cat wants Supergirl to succeed in being a hero for the city, because Supergirl is kind, selfless, and someone people can look up to. And Kara in turn looks up to Cat because Cat pushes her to be her best. The two of them develop a sort of mother-daughter relationship, and that kind of characterization is really at the heart of the whole show.

Supergirl Cat GrantSupergirl is first and foremost family- and relationship-driven, and a big theme is finding family in all your relationships. The relationship the show focuses on most is the one between Kara and her adoptive sister Alex. Originally, Alex didn’t want Kara to embrace her own abilities due to a combination of jealousy and concern, but after Alex confesses these feelings to Kara, she throws her support behind her sister in her every endeavor. Alex works as a DEO agent, someone charged with protecting Earth against alien threats. In part, she took the job in order to protect Kara in her own way, and it’s only through Alex’s involvement that the DEO accepts Kara working for them as well. Together with J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter in disguise as the head of the DEO, they not only save numerous lives, but become closer as a family. Kara and Alex both take strength from each other and multiple times must also rely on each other’s help in order to come out on top.

Kara must deal with reconciling her love for Alex with her love for her biological family—if her biological family had lived, she’d never have known Alex. In the episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything”, Kara finds herself under the influence of a Black Mercy, a plant that causes vivid hallucinations of her deepest desires while it slowly kills her. Kara sees herself back on Krypton with her original family, and it’s only through Alex that she fights off the Black Mercy. Alex reminds Kara that the real world isn’t perfect but that they need each other, and Kara declares that though she misses Krypton, Earth is her home now and that Alex is her family.

Supergirl fills a niche that most other superhero shows do not. Not only do we have a female lead character, a good number of her relationships are with other women. Kara’s main adversary for the first so many episodes is her Aunt Astra, and though Alex eventually has to kill Astra in order to save J’onn’s life, it’s not often that we get a family storyline between a female hero and a female villain. Astra’s an eco-terrorist who’s motivated by their homeworld’s destruction and wants to stop the same from happening to Earth, even though she goes about it in villainous ways. Despite being on opposite sides, the two care immensely for each other, and their relationship forces Kara to confront unwanted truths about both her aunt and her late mother—namely, that being a villain doesn’t make her aunt irredeemable and that being a law-abiding citizen didn’t make her mother a fully upstanding person.

Even after Astra dies and Alex confesses what she did, the show still does not use that to drive a wedge between those two characters. Kara is naturally upset at Astra’s death and angry at Alex, but she still remembers that she loves Alex and knows that Alex had no choice. The show takes every opportunity to show female characters helping and supporting one another, especially when they most need it.

Supergirl Alex and KaraKara is not driven by the bad things in her past, and the destruction of Kypton is not what pushes Kara into the superhero gig. We learn that Kara saves people because it’s the right thing to do, because she genuinely cares. It’s through her past, losing most of her family and her home, that allows Kara a unique perspective when dealing with her aunt and other criminals. She understands what drives people who have suffered loss and that lets her approach people differently. Kara can do this because she doesn’t allow her own loss to consume her, and though we see her struggle with it, she takes strength from forging new relationships and connecting with people. One episode, she overexerts herself and loses her powers. Despite then being as vulnerable as a regular human, she still dons her suit to stop a robbery in progress, where she talks the robber down with words and saves everyone else by embracing who she is as a person.

I will admit that when I saw Supergirl was first happening, I was pretty hesitant about it. I’ve never found Supergirl’s character all that interesting, since in the comics she more or less existed simply as a one-note female Superman who really didn’t add all that much, and like all other female comic characters, she was oversexualized for a perceived straight male audience. And that’s not even to mention her disaster of an 80’s film. The Supergirl television show, however, does her character a lot of justice—she has real internal struggles that are easily relatable and seeing her pull through with the help of a family of her own making is empowering. I’ve really grown to love Kara Davners over these past episodes, and now I can say that I’m both excited for the first season finale in a few weeks’ time and dreading a summer without new episodes. The whole show is unapologetically feminist—we have women in all kinds of positions, from secretarial, to the military, to leadership, and all of these women are well developed and interesting in their own right—and hey, with the promotion of Lucy Lane as the new head of the DEO, maybe we’ll start to get more (and more obvious) representation for women of color as well. The women of Supergirl are allowed to be strong, vulnerable, selfless, and selfish, all the while supporting and helping each other grow. And that, I think, is awesome.

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About MadameAce

I draw, I write, I paint, and I read. I used to be really into anime and manga until college, where I fell out of a lot of my fandoms to pursue my studies. College was also the time I discovered my asexuality, and I have been fascinated by different sexualities ever since. I grew up in various parts of the world, and I've met my fair share of experiences and cultures along the way. Sure, I'm a bit socially awkward and not the easiest person to get along with, but I do hold great passion for my interests, and I can only hope that the things I have to talk about interest you as well.

2 thoughts on “Supergirl, Female Relationships, and Feminist Arcs

  1. Pingback: Supergirl Season 1 Finale | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  2. Pingback: Sexualized Saturdays: Alex Danvers and a Coming Out Arc Done Right | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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