I have a deep hatred of fully grown women calling themselves ‘girls.’
Now, by ‘fully-grown women’, I mean in the biological sense, as in female humans who have passed puberty, wear non-training bras, get their periods regularly, and can legally vote. Unfortunately, diminishing the power of women by calling them ‘girls’ is a serious problem that is almost ubiquitous in popular culture.
Good, off topic, example: in a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson (played by Neil Patrick Harris) is trying to convince his mother not to hate Robin Scherbatsky (played by Cobie Smulders), his bride to be, because she can’t have children. His argument finally ends with, “Mom, I’m not marrying some future possibility of starting a family. I’m marrying a girl, who means more to me than kids. Or my career. So please, be nice to her.”
I turned the episode off at this point and kind of stormed into the kitchen (I get really upset about this stuff), because she’s not a girl, Barney. She’s really not. She’s a woman. She’s a woman who means more to you than that stuff. If she was a girl, you wouldn’t give a crap. Girls are a dime a dozen. Women, on the other hand are something special.
You wouldn’t want a ‘girl’ to bear your children or be your partner in life. Nope, you want a woman. Find me a man who wants those things from a girl and I’ll show you a man with deep emotional problems, that potentially border on the criminal.
This may seem like a silly distinction, but language, and the way we use it, is incredibly important. This is also a distinction I find incredibly important in the comics world. It seems fitting that it was at the top of my mind when I began to notice the fundamental difference between the characters of Kate Kane/Batwoman and Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.
I had been reading Batgirl for a while, because everyone who mattered was making loud declarations about what an incredible book it was. I was enjoying it, but only to a point. I just couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was.
After Batwoman made a pretty great appearance in Batgirl, I started reading Batwoman too. I had picked up Hydrology #2 when the series restarted with the New 52, which was a big mistake because I genuinely didn’t have any idea what was going on and it turned me off the book.
Back at it, and starting at #0, it only took 9 pages for me to be completely hooked on this book. Not only is #0 a smartly written origin story in which Batwoman is leaving a message for her father in case she dies while out on a mission, but it also firmly establishes everything you need to know about her character – including when and why she became Batwoman. “…Or when I saw Batman in person for the first time and I realized that it could be anyone under that mask. Even me.”
Kate Kane has been truly battle tested. She has had actual life experiences. She’s a grown woman with real relationships. She is capable of handling all her emotions, including both love and anger. Everything about her says “I am a woman,” which seems fitting, since her moniker is Batwoman.
Barbara Gordon, on the other hand, is as close to a ‘girl’ as is humanly possible without holding to the strict biological definition. She is a young woman, but her inner turmoil and self-doubt goes beyond the bounds of young womanhood (when we are, arguably, at our most outwardly confident because we think we know everything and can change the world).
This is the crux of my problem with Batgirl: there’s something deeply troubling about these major character flaws that doesn’t fit with a woman who can go toe-to-toe with Batman, and had a long affair with Dick Grayson (who, incidentally, is much more of an adult in his own book, but is very close in age to Babs; just saying). I also find that there is entirely too much action for my liking. Barbara spends so much time out being Batgirl that it’s difficult to get a sense of her as a person (ie. not just A Person with Breasts Kicking Things).
It seems, then, that the primary difference in approach to these two books is the use of the word ‘girl.’ The minimization of power denoted by the misuse of the word is what breaks down the difference between Kane and Gordon.
To her credit, Gail Simone has picked up on this very well. Choosing to start the story after Babs regains her legs (and being deliberately vague about how that happened), she opens the door for much of this self-doubt to feel right in the book. Barbara has an unfinished quality about her, while Kate has certainly lived enough to be wise and make truly adult decisions.
That being said, the wishy-washy-ness of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl can only be tolerated for so long. If the character’s arc is not intended to bring her from this slightly infantile time in her life to a more mature and wise character, then this has no point (other than to watch A Person with Breasts Kicking Things.)
As for which way it will go, I can honestly say I don’t know. I’ll keep reading until I either get bored or the writing proves that it would rather keep Babs in a diminished capacity, living up to the strict definition of the term ‘girl.’ And hopefully, I’ll still have Batwoman. (I just selfishly wish it wasn’t written by a man….)
(Aside: Does anyone else find the new DC Comics website almost impossible to figure out? Go and try to figure out what they’re currently publishing. Seriously. Go and do it. I bet you can’t.)
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!