The Name ‘Supergirl’ Raises Some Serious Questions

Melissa Benoist

Melissa Benoist (Kara Zor-El)

I went out with some friends last night and the topic of TV shows came up, as it inevitably does when I have a conversation with pretty much everyone. I’m always intrigued by who loves what show and why, and how we all see something different. Our varied experiences and worldviews come out when discussing these stories, as we only have our narratives to go on. That’s why debating with someone about which Star Trek captain is best or why some people prefer Spike to Angel is somewhat pointless. None of us are looking at anything the same way and will rarely agree wholeheartedly on an issue.

That is what happened when we started discussing the new ‘Supergirl’ TV show last night. The CBS produced show set to air this fall, had an interesting tidbit of conversation between Supergirl (Kara Danvers) and her boss, Cat Grant. The outcome of their conversation had us all debating whether or not we felt inclined to watch the show.

The scene between Supergirl and Ms. Grant asks the question, “What’s wrong with [the word] girl?” It appears that Supergirl thinks her newly acquired moniker is demeaning, and would prefer the name Superwoman.  Her boss brushes this response away by telling her she’s the one with the problem since she thinks “girl” means anything but smart and powerful.

We haven’t seen the entire setup nor the processing after the scene, but it’s an important statement and I think it’s about time we have this conversation. It seems the question may have been written in to explain why she won’t be called Superwoman (there’s already a character called Superwoman). It also points to a problem our society has with demeaning females, regardless of age.

Look at the definition of girl on dictionary.com and you’ll find that a ‘girl’ is a young or relatively young woman, sometimes immature.  The word is old-fashioned and sometimes deemed insulting or offensive (such as the term “working girl”), even though we have a positive vocabulary as well, such as “Girls’ Night Out”.

Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant in Supergirl

Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant in Supergirl

The definition of “boy” on dictionary.com, however, is different: “male less than 18 years of age.” There’s also a note about immaturity, but it is quickly covered up by vocabulary like “son, military personnel, etc.” That’s quite a bit different, isn’t it?

This debate leads me to further inspection of our vocabulary. What do we say when we’re surprised or excited? “Oh boy!”, “Man, you should have seen –” or “Dude, that was awesome.” What do females have? Derogatory terms. Such as “Slut”, “Whore”, “Bitch” and worse.

The connotation of the word “girl” can go two places in the dichotomy of the Virgin/Whore. The innocent “girl”, a young, sometimes naive, female that is to be protected, or the “working girl”, who suffers through a life of violence and abuse, unprotected and alone.

“Woman” (at least to some females) conjures an image of independence and individuality while “girl” becomes relegated to clique-ish groups, like teeny-boppers or Valley Girls.  Valley Girls is an outdated term, but view the Wikipedia entry for Valley Girls and you’ll find a note on this stereotype.  These notes are absent from the entry on Valley Boys.

Is it any wonder ‘Supergirl’ would prefer to be called Superwoman?

Whatever side of the coin you land on, and whatever happens in the show (which I’m hoping will continue to address this question), this is a conversation we need to keep having. We need to stop and consider the language we’re using and how it’s meant not only to us, but by society as a whole.

Image Credits: CBS
K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone is a story nerd, particularly for the episodic stories told via the medium of television. When not parked in front of the TV, K.M. Cone can be found writing kooky urban fantasy on her personal site, attempting to learn German, or making a huge pot of soup for her friends, who are probably coming over to join her in her latest TV or animated film obsession.

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