Is Supergirl a Strong Female Role Model? Why CBS’s New Superhero Draws Her Power from Being Accessible

DC’s newest tv hero is doing a great deal for female representation as a strong female role model

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CBS’s Supergirl takes its cues from the Superman Family’s long history of having a bright, optimistic tone. The Superman S (coat of arms of the House of El on Krypton) is a symbol of hope and protection on Earth worn by the most literally “Super” heroes. So it’s no surprise that Supergirl’s television incarnation takes these values to heart.

The current climate of DC superhero television is more on the “gritty” end of the spectrum when it comes to tone and content. Shows like Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. take a more grounded (flight pun) look at the superhero genre, keeping the tone serious and the color palette mostly de-saturated. But Supergirl revels in its color to create a bright, welcoming look.

Not only is the look of the show warmer and more welcoming, the actual content of the piece takes a more positive view of being a hero than any other current TV property. There is a sense of adventure and fun surrounding Kara’s journey to become the hero she is.

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Most importantly, though, Supergirl is a family friendly show. I don’t mean this in the sense that the content is appropriate for all ages (though except for some violence it mostly is). Rather, the show deals directly with family relationships that affect and appeal to everyone. In Supergirl these relationships are specifically between two sisters, bonded for life, and a mother and daughter torn apart far too soon. Unlike much of the superhero genre on television, this show draws emotional weight from positive forms of love and how they influence humanity for better or worse.

What’s more, each of these details focusing on optimism in an otherwise pessimistic genre all culminate in a story focused on women.

Supergirl is the strongest woman on TV

Shotgun's not going to quite work on this hero.

Shotgun’s not going to quite work on this hero.

Supergirl is not the first contemporary superhero show to feature a female lead. Agent Carter has already debuted an entire eight-episode season and is poised to start its next season early next year. And since her premier, Peggy Carter has been a beacon of hope for female comic book television fans. But Supergirl has already taken female empowerment a step farther.

The immediate difference between these two superhero shows is that Agent Carter features a human agent working (though not directly) with superheroes and paving the way for the Avengers Initiative, while Supergirl features a super-strong, flying, invulnerable (you get the point) superhero who is herself a young woman. Both characters are exceedingly important, but it’s hard to argue that the most coveted slot in the superhero genre is not being a (the) superhero.

Just taking the plane out for a night.

Just taking the plane out for a night.

Physically speaking, Supergirl is actually the strongest hero on TV in either DC or Marvel canon, which is a pretty cool for a female lead. But Supergirl’s real strength will always be in her emotional intelligence and her interpersonal relationships. Agent Carter is a story about a woman in a man’s world, meaning the show is still almost entirely a cast of men. While this is a fine set up and format, it leaves a lot to be hoped for. Then Supergirl filled that void. DC’s show not only features our beloved superpowered lady, but a cast of other women who are intensely important to Supergirl as a character and a show.

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Supergirl’s most important support system is her sister Alex. In the pilot, one of the major revelations is that Alex has been working for the government’s extraterrestrial force, a secret she’d kept from Kara. Not only does this create much of the show’s central emotional tension, but also it sets up Alex as a powerful, capable character, comparable to Supergirl herself.

Cat Grant, Kara’s boss, is another figure of power in Kara’s life. Grant owns and operates the top news organization in National City and is, essentially, the first to run with the story of Supergirl. Grant acts as both a mentor and an antagonist for Kara.

The series’ top villain is another woman who is strong enough to stand up to Supergirl, Kara’s own aunt. All three of these women actually create an incredibly effective dynamic, in that they are the influential figures to Supergirl, who, from the show and the real world’s perspective, is now a major role model for women in the world.

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