When “Supergirl” premiered on CBS in 2015, thousands of female comic book fans rejoiced. Finally, a TV series that focuses on a powerful female superhero. Women who watch “Supergirl” like being able to relate to Kara’s struggles with her identity while navigating relationships and finding a way to climb the corporate ladder. Refreshingly, the focus of “Supergirl” isn’t Kara finding a man, or putting together the perfect outfit, or even having an ugly duckling scene involving a makeover.
Part of the show’s appeal is that young fans can safely watch “Supergirl” without parents worrying about its content. Because “Supergirl” doesn’t have bloody violence or sex scenes, pint-sized audiences can dig on the superhero genre, all the while watching a a female superhero who is worthy of their admiration.
The show has a dreamy view of the world that encompasses diversity, fairness and empowerment. Let’s take a look at 15 times “Supergirl” empowered women.
15. Alura Zor-El
Kara’s mother, Alura Zor-El, was a formidable judge on Krypton. She wasn’t a trophy wife nor just an attractive accessory to Zor-El, her husband. Too many times in movies and on TV shows the mothers of superheroes are only there to prop up the hero’s story. For instance, in “Man of Steel,” Superman’s mother, Lara Lor-Van, was little more than a supermodel who stood by Jor-El and said good-bye to her son, even though in the comic books she was one of Krypton’s most brilliant scientists.
In contrast, “Supergirl” not only remains faithful to its source material by portraying Alura as the high-ranking official she was on Krypton, but also shows that Kara’s mother was one of the smartest and most powerful people on Krypton. Her cunning and her loyalty to Krypton is evident in “Hostile Takeover.” In a heart-wrenching scene, Kara realizes her mother used her to lure Astra, Alura’s criminal sister, out of hiding. Alura is clearly conflicted, about her sister’s crimes and about using her own daughter as bait. In the end, Alura performs her duty and has Astra and her husband arrested, jailing them for eco-terrorist crimes.
14. Lena Luthor
One of the women at the top of the corporate ladder on “Supergirl” is Lena Luthor. Lena is Lex Luthor’s sister. On “Supergirl,” Lex is behind bars so Lena steps up to run the family company. In the first episode of Season 2, she renames the company L-Corp in order to re-brand the company and get away from the shadow of Lex Luthor. Lena is regretful about her brother’s past and hopeful about her company’s future.
When Lena is introduced, Kara and her cousin, Clark Kent, who is visiting National City, are suspicious of her. The audience also expects Lena to be as villainous as her brother Lex. In true “Supergirl” fashion, the writers avoid all stereotypes and paint Lena as a good person trying to do her best by her family’s company. She doesn’t flirt with Clark and she doesn’t turn catty on Kara. Her focus is on building her corporation, like the strong, female CEO that she is.
13. Agent Vasquez
One of the most empowering things about “Supergirl” is its abundance of strong female characters in a variety of roles. One of those strong female characters is a minor one, but represents an important aspect of “Supergirl.”
Whenever the underground bunker of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) is shown, we see lots of black-clad staff hurrying about, sitting at consoles or guarding doorways. Most TV shows that feature an office or agency of a large staff have one or two minor characters that pipe up once in a while with reports on action in the field or the status of repairs or the whereabouts of someone, and generally that person is male.
On “Supergirl,” however, the minor agent on the roster, behind Alex Danvers, is Agent Vasquez, a woman. She appears in 12 episodes, working for Hank Henshaw, then Alex, then Lucy Lane. Once or twice she was even in cahoots with Alex or Lucy to help one of their friendly aliens escape. It’s a hallmark of this feminist show that several scenes have dialog between Alex, Lucy and Agent Vasquez, and none of those conversations are about date night or shopping.
12. Winn Crushes on Kara
Get a mix of men and women on a TV show, and more often than not, there’s a woman pining for a man who remains oblivious. Think Willow and Xander on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Chloe and Clark on “Smallville” and Inara and Mal on “Firefly.” But “Supergirl” flipped the script when IT whiz Winn had it bad for Kara. His longing glances were so intense that even somewhat clueless Kara knew what was up. You could argue that Kara was crushing on James, but because we all knew he felt the same way, it doesn’t count as unrequited love.
Meanwhile, poor Winn made an aerodynamic, shred-proof costume for Kara and coded the DEO out of more than one debacle, all for the girl he adored. Who didn’t cringe when he tried to tell Kara how he felt at Thanksgiving? The two friends went through a rough patch after Kara let him down gently, but in true “Supergirl” style, Kara and Winn were battling villains side by side again only a couple of episodes later.
11. Senator Miranda Crane
Plenty of women around the world hold positions in a public office. The United Kingdom has had two female prime ministers and Germany has had a female chancellor, but the increasing number of women in political offices are rarely represented in movies and television. Thankfully, “Supergirl” has Senator Miranda Crane.
Senator Crane made her first appearance on “Supergirl” in the episode “Strange Visitor from Another Planet.” She visited National City to preach against alien invaders, like Supergirl, who she saw as a threat to the planet. Her words were steely, leaving no room for compassion. Then, a White Martian kidnapped her, leaving her in a basement while taking on her form. The White Martian used Senator Crane’s appearance to infiltrate the DEO. Supergirl, Alex Danvers and Hank Henshaw (a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter) caged the White Martian before finding and rescuing Senator Crane.
Senator Crane was woman enough to realize she had judged Supergirl and her kind too harshly. She took to the podium and, from a position of strength, rescinded her previous malicious comments, as well as praised Supergirl and her powers. Kudos to “Supergirl” for having a female Senator and for portraying her as a fair leader!
10. Lucy Lane
Lucy Lane was James Olsen’s girlfriend, but she was much more than just a romantic rival to Kara. Yes, Lucy is sister to the star of The Daily Planet, Lois Lane, but she has her own brand of fierce. Lucy came to National City to be with James, taking a job as an attorney at CatCo, but it wasn’t long before Lucy became an important character in her own right. Once she was on Cat Grant’s staff, she helped investigate Cat’s enemies, like when Indigo hacked into the Diamond Discretion website in “Solitude.”
Then Lucy began to realize two things. First, that James continually put Supergirl before her, just like he did with Superman. Second, that he and Kara had a thing for each other, even if they didn’t realize it yet. In a typical TV show, Lucy would have broken down in tears or orchestrated a pathetic attempt at seducing her way back into James’ good graces, but on “Supergirl,” Lucy wasted no time breaking up with James once she saw the truth. Once they split, she simply got on with her life, leaving CatCo and taking up her position in the army again. Later, she was temporarily the head of the DEO.
Lots of evil masterminds in the DCU are men, such as Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, and General Zod (the latter another Kryptonian). “Supergirl” could have created a season-long storyline with any of those men as the antagonist, but instead went with Astra, Kara’s aunt from Krypton. Astra, Alura’s twin sister, was behind an eco-terrorist attack on Krypton. Alura sent her, along with her brother-in-law Non, to Fort Rozz. After they escaped to Earth, Astra and Non got back to what they do best: destroying a planet. Normally on a TV show, Non would be the master planner giving orders to all their Kryptonian flunkies, but on “Supergirl,” Astra was the one in charge.
Moreover, Astra wasn’t a typical female villain. She didn’t wear revealing clothes or try to seduce any of the good guys. Plus, none of the fights between Kara and Astra devolved into stereotypical cat-fighting. Their conflict wasn’t simple, because they were family and loved each other. Rather than focus on the bitterness between Astra and Alura, the writers chose to focus on the growing affection between Kara and Astra, even when they were fighting on opposite sides. Astra was a multi-faceted female villain rather than a stereotypical femme fatale.
8. Alex Danvers
Kara Danvers may be Supergirl, but her big sister isn’t a woman to be trifled with. Alex Danvers is yet another strong female character on “Supergirl.” Although Alex is a mere mortal, she’s got mad combat skills, excellent marksmanship and smart tactical strategies. Even though her little sister is a superhero, she remains Kara’s mentor and role model. Also, Alex is generally the voice of reason when young Kara is getting reckless.
Alex’s character arc is also great for what it’s not. There was a time when Alex was bitter about Kara’s powers and her own lack thereof, but now she’s supportive, not envious. Alex is a solid partner not only to Kara, but also to Hank Henshaw as the head of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO)’s right hand. He frequently turns to her as his second in command. In fact, she is such an invaluable member of the DEO that she’s put in charge when Hank is captured by Astra and Non in “Blood Bonds.” Hank trusts her so much that, until Supergirl found out, Alex was the only person who knew his true identity as the alien J’onn J’onzz.
7. Kara Breaks Up with James
The first season of “Supergirl” focused mainly on Kara being Supergirl to the public, figuring out how to use her powers and learning about her family history. Interwoven in those big story arcs included the will-they-or-won’t-they storyline about James and Kara. Everyone around them saw they had puppy eyes for each other, but thanks to James’ relationship with Lucy and Kara’s duties as Supergirl, things never picked up. Finally, at the end of the first season, they seemed destined to be a couple.
Fast forward to the premiere of Season 2, when Cat Grant has offered Kara any job she wants, a new villain is exploding shuttles and helicopters and a strange Kryptonian has landed in National City. Kara has enough on her plate as Supergirl, but throw in pursuing a career as whatever she wants to be (turns out, a reporter), and she decides to put the brakes on her relationship with James and focus on herself. This plot turn is unusual because, more often than not, TV shows are about how women put aside their career goals in order to save their relationship. While seeing Kara let James down easy is heartbreaking, watching her put herself first is powerful.
6. CatCo Is A Major Company With A Female CEO
From Bruce Wayne to Lex Luthor to Oliver Queen, just about every corporation in the DCU is headed up by a man. “Supergirl,” however, put a woman at the top of the corporate ladder. Cat Grant, played magnificently by Calista Flockhart, is the woman who created and owns CatCo, a major multimedia company based in National City. She’s clearly a smart businesswoman because CatCo is very successful.
In the staff meetings we’ve seen, she’s decisive, confident, stern and wily. As she tells Kara in the pilot episode, Cat’s the hero because she’s the one who branded Supergirl. And while she has an eye for fashion, which could be seen as a stereotypical female trait, so do most successful businessmen. (Again, I give you Bruce Wayne.) In season 2, Cat Grant steps back to pursue other interests, not because she’s looking for romance, but because she’s bored. She conquered the world of media and is turning her sights toward a new world to vanquish.
5. Their Handling Of Love Triangles
A love triangle is one of the most common story devices ever, especially in shows geared toward female audiences. Typically, when two fictional females are in love with a man, one of them concocts lies about the other, or tries to set up a compromising position for the man, only to have the other woman walk in. Sometimes the two women even go at each other, with lots of ripped bodices thrown in for good measure.
“Supergirl” avoided all of the usual sexist stunts and just told a solid story with realistic characterizations. Kara and Lucy, who were both in love with James Olsen, didn’t throw down at all. Kara was respectful of Lucy’s relationship with James and, when the tables were turned, Lucy was the same with Kara. Although each of them were sad when they weren’t with James, neither of them were nasty women. In fact, they worked at the DEO together as friends.
4. Sisters Who Support Each Other
One of the most common plot devices in television is the use of secrets. Most superheroes try to live their lives in secret, even from their families, which creates conflict all on its own. On Arrow and The Flash, they attempted to hide their personas from their loved ones, allowing the writers to draw out the conflict, almost filling whole seasons with episodes that relied on misdirection and secrecy between characters. Another writer’s trick is to create sibling rivalry over a misunderstanding that pits them against each other until they reunite in a touching, dramatic scene.
“Supergirl” avoids all of those clichés and instead writes complicated characters and solid storylines that don’t rely on soap opera constructs. Kara and Alex are supportive sisters, not bitter ones. While Alex kept her DEO employment a secret from Kara, it quickly came to light in the pilot episode, they dealt with it, and moved on. We also found out in “Manhunter” that Alex didn’t take the death of her father very well, and having a sister with super powers didn’t help. However, that was a short-lived period of her life and has nothing to do with the present. Kara and Alex are more than sisters; they’re best friends.
3. The Villains Are Women
Like a lot of superhero TV shows, “Supergirl” started off as an alien-of-the-week kind of series. A few episodes in, “Supergirl” started building over-arching storylines that would carry throughout the whole season, focusing on Astra as the antagonist. But whether the adversary was a one-and-done guest star who was defeated quickly, or a recurring character who had a long-term plan in mind, a lot of the bad guys on “Supergirl,” especially the fun ones, have been women.
Astra, her aunt, wanted to destroy Earth; Livewire went after Cat Grant; Indigo first went after CatCo and then joined forces with Non; the White Martian took on the form of Senator Crane; the Silver Banshee set her scream on Kara; and Bizarro Supergirl went after Kara on Maxwell Lord’s orders. Seeing Supergirl fight and defeat a formidable opponent, who is also a woman, without a cube of Jell-O or a mud-wrestling ring in sight, is very gratifying for female fans.
2. They Let Alex Be Single
Most TV shows focus on the love lives of its main characters. Art imitates life so, for the most part, there’s no reason TV shows shouldn’t explore the countless hows and whys people come together and break up. However, male TV characters are frequently portrayed as being focused solely on their careers, with no judgment whatsoever. Generally, if a female TV character sets aside social activity for the sake of her career goals, she’s painted as a bitter, lonely woman who suffers because of her sacrifices.
Not so on “Supergirl.” It’s very refreshing to watch a TV show, especially one starring so many strong female characters, that treats romance like an optional side dish rather than the main course. Alex Danvers especially personifies the idea that you don’t have to have a partner to have a fulfilling life. Alex is focused on her work with the DEO and her family. She had a mild flirtation with Maxwell Lord, but the more she learned about his evil ways, the less she liked him. She and Hank Henshaw are very close, but to date, there’s no sign of a budding office romance. (How would that work with a Martian, anyway?)
1. Cat Grant Names Supergirl
Decades before the TV show premiered, Kara Zor-El was introduced as Supergirl back in 1959 in “Action Comics #252.” She was Superman’s younger cousin and always portrayed as a teenager, so it made sense to name her Supergirl. So as time went on, the name Supergirl began drawning ire from the feminist community. Even singer Miley Cyrus doesn’t understand why she’s called Supergirl and not Superwoman. Doesn’t calling her a “girl” instead of a “woman” imply that she’s not strong and confident?
The “Supergirl” producers weren’t deaf to those arguments. In fact, they explained why calling her Supergirl is “nothing less than excellent” in the series’ first episode. Cat Grant, the CEO and founder of CatCo spoke for the show’s producers in an effective speech. Kara bursts into Cat’s office demanding that she rename Supergirl to Superwoman, saying that calling this new hero Supergirl is “anti-feminist.” This garners some shade from Cat, who calmly explains that she herself is a girl, as well as Kara’s boss, powerful, rich, hot, and smart. She (and the writers, presumably) asks that if you have a problem with the nomenclature “girl,” then isn’t the real problem you?
What’s your favorite empowering moment on “Supergirl?” Tell us in the comments!
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