Early in the pilot episode of the new Supergirl television show, Kara confronts her boss, newspaper publisher Cat Grant, who has just dubbed the new hero “Supergirl.” Didn’t the word “girl” diminish the hero, Kara asked her boss? Cat replied.
And what do you think is so bad about “Girl?” Huh? 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?
But Kara did put her finger on a very real problem. While male heroes are invariably “men,” female heroes created in the Golden and Silver Age of comics were often dubbed “girls,” instead of “women.” In Marvel Comics, Sue Storm, who was old enough to marry Reed Richards was the “Invisible Girl,” while Peter Parker, who couldn’t even drive, was dubbed “Spider-Man.”
Marvel “promoted” Sue to “Invisible Woman” with almost no fuss years ago, but she is an anomaly. The pages of comics are still filled with grown women who have been labeled “girls.” It’s an especially big problem at DC, who created many of their classic characters in the 1940s, when gender equality was not exactly a priority.
Comics fan Susan Grau had enough. So she started a Change.org petition to encourage DC Comics to call their grown-up heroes by the grown-up name of “woman” instead of “girl.” From the petition page.
…it can be offensive when used to describe a grown woman as a ‘girl.’ It serves only to lessens a character, treating them as less mature and capable than their male counterparts. It’s a leftover of a bygone era where men commonly called their secretaries and their assistants ‘girls.’
Grau’s petition has already collected more than 500 signatures, and it raises an interesting point. Perhaps some of these characters are held prisoner by antiquated gender norms. On the other hand, we also have “Superboy” and “Robin the Boy Wonder,” so there is a history of youthfully named heroes of both genders.
I’m not sure there is a “one size fits all” solution for this issue. College-age “Batgirl” might be OK as a female analog to “Robin the Boy Wonder,” while Karen Starr, who is the powerful CEO of a company she founded and appears to be around 30 should probably go by “Power Woman” instead of “Power Girl.”
Or maybe, Like Cat Grant implied, the real problem is that we devalue femininity.
“What’s so bad about ‘girl,’ anyway?”