Batman and Feminism

I briefly mentioned the fact that my days occasionally consist of listening to Fat Man on Batman, a podcast in which Kevin Smith talks about his lifelong hero, The Joker (oh hush, I’m kidding). Now, before you go thinking that I am made of awesome (which I am), I must admit that I’ve come to be a fan of Batman through my boyfriend (that’s totally not cliche). Which isn’t to say Batman wasn’t my favorite super hero before meeting him. However, my knowledge of Batman consisted of a) knowing who he was, b) really loving The Dark Knight and c) believing that a self-made hero is clearly cooler than heroes with literally no weakness (I still think Superman is kind of lame) or heroes whose Hollywood renditions paint them to be whiny snots (I’m looking at you, Spiderman – and no, I haven’t seen the new movie even though I really want to because Gwen Stacie is totes more awesome than Mary Jane and Emma Stone is a sexy boss).

Tonight, we sat down to watch some Batman: The Animated Series, and it just so happened that we ended up watching the two-parter The Cat and the Claw from the first season, in which Catwoman is introduced, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have mad chemistry, and there are seriously lots of cats. Now, when it comes to comic books and their related television shows, I have a very, very hard eye for how female characters are treated. Given that I’m not as immersed in comic book history as the people around me, whenever I bring up the treatment of a female character that angers me, I usually get a ten-minute lecture about when the damn story was written, who it was written by, and why the sexism is either acceptable within the context of the show (which angers me) or within the context of the writing of the show (which frustrates me). Which doesn’t prevent me from ranting, but still, it is nice to know that I’m surrounded by a bunch of twenty-something dudes who legit pay attention to the treatment of female characters in their shows, even if their acceptance of dated sexism grates on my nerves.

Now, aside from seeing one episode of Batman: The Animated Series in which Ivy fruitlessly attempts to help Harley Quinn escape from her abusive relationship with the Joker, I’ve had little context for how The Animated Series treats its female characters (although that ONE episode was enough to instill a certain amount of respect). So, giving it the benefit of the doubt, I set myself up to only be minorly annoyed, in that sense that, as a young woman who was deeply engaged in the angry, ranting stage of feminism for about six years, I am minorly annoyed by a lot of things I know logically shouldn’t annoy me, such as ANY time I see a man saving a woman at the last second it kind of irks me, even if I know the writer of the story to treat his or her female characters well and it just had to happen that way THIS ONE TIME because it fits the structure of the story. Anyway, I was prepared to enjoy the story for the story instead of spending an hour with my brain soaked in cortisol and ALL THE ANGER. Which, luckily, is exactly what happened.

Except, I can’t entirely turn off the feminist voice. So, of course, the first thing I noticed about Catwoman was that she wasn’t wearing heels. Her costume was sleek, simple, and mostly practical (I don’t think form-fitting fabric is really practical, ever, but… all the heroes wear it, so it’s not a gender thing, it’s just… a comic book nerd thing). AND SHE WASN’T WEARING HEELS. So that pleased me immensely. And throughout the rest of the episode (well, both episodes), I wasn’t forced to shut off the feminist voice, nor did I particularly want to, because the episode did something that I would have thought almost impossible two years ago and which now I know can happen – it pleased the feminist in me. It made her, me, a little bit less angry. And every little bit of ANYTHING that makes me less angry as a feminist is something that gives me hope, fills me with a sense of positivity, and helps me to be more accepting of myself and those around me. (I used to hate the color pink on principle alone… even though I secretly liked it… Hey, it can take a long time for a disenchanted teenager to grow up.)

So the things I liked about this episode:

*Selina and her cats – she truly is a crazy cat lady, and she actually personifies the cats instead of using their nature to fulfill some inner neediness, which is the go-to vibe for crazy cat women, it seems. She admires them and respects them and identifies with them, as well as using their image to shape the persona of her alter-ego.

*The villain, Red Claw – a female villain who is not sexualized, not incompetent, and not working to please some Master Man. My first thought when she appeared on screen was, wow, that lady’s an amazon. And she is, and I kind of wish Wonder Woman were conveyed with the same unapologetic, super tall, super buff kind of physique. Not that Wonder Woman isn’t often portrayed as super tall and super buff, but there always seem to be gratuitous curves, as if to say, ‘We’re sorry she’s not petite and fragile. Here are some extra boobs to make up for it.’

*When Batman first murmured to himself, ‘So, our new cat burglar’s a woman,’ I had a vague notion of, ‘Why is that information important, Batman?’ but didn’t say anything. But when he exclaims upon seeing Red Claw for the first time, ‘Red Claw’s a woman?!” I turned to my boyfriend and said, “Always the tone of surprise.” It was a half-joke, half exasperated sigh. It’s not that I don’t understand how it fits into the context of the story – everybody thought that the Red Claw was a man up to that point. Also, this is clearly taking place during the 1930’s or 1940’s, so a little bit of sexism on some of the characters’ parts is to be expected.

*More for the sake of the story and less for the sake of feminism, I adore Catwoman and Batman’s dynamic. They’re definitely my favorite DC couple, and specifically in this rendition, I like that Bruce blushes when he first meets Selina Kyle. I can envision a Gotham City in which they successfully team up together, trust each other, know each other’s secret identities and are a bad ass couple who lasts, like, for years. (I’d say forever if such concepts weren’t so foreign to me.) I think Selina Kyle is the best shot Bruce has got at a healthy relationship and I want him to take it. That so many Batman stories are focused on him being incapable of healthy relationships for long periods of time frustrates me on so many levels. These two episodes, however, gave me the brief sense that the positive future I see for them might not be torn apart by Bruce being stubborn and so damned noble and Catwoman being addicted to crime.

*Back to feminism: even Selina’s secretary is pretty strong. I like her. She doesn’t panic, and for some reason when she’s being backed into a corner by a bad guy with guns, she’s crying to herself in her head, ‘Selina! Help!’ So the fact that Batman saves her didn’t frustrate me in the least.

So I’ll be upfront in saying that my preoccupation with gender and finding gender inequality EVERYWHERE has, more than once, gotten in the way of me being able to find my own happiness. But I LOVE that I have a group of guy friends who it is safe for me to honestly say that I harp about gender inequality a bit too much – because they really do get it. And how do I know that they get it? I know because we talk about it when discussing stories, and the actions of the people around us. I know about it because I wasn’t the first one to say, ‘I’m glad they’ve made it so she’s not wearing heels, those are so impractical.’ It was one of my guy friends.