Would a man watch Supergirl with as much zeal as watching Superman?

Published: March 9, 2016
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Much has been made about the fact that Supergirl was the first TV show in decades with a super powered female lead. PHOTO: CBS

I recently asked my sister-in-law’s young male cousin what TV shows he was watching these days. 

The Flash, The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Supergirl,” he replied.

“You know, all of the superhero shows,” he continued.

I didn’t say anything in the moment, for fear of appearing uncool, but I beamed with pride at how casually he added Supergirl to his list. Much has been made about the fact that Supergirl was the first TV show in decades with a super powered female lead. But to him the Woman of Steel is just another epic crime fighter.

PHOTO: IMDB

He is growing up in a world where female protagonists are becoming more common, not only in entertainment aimed at girls, but in the massive blockbusters historically marketed to adolescent boys. Thanks in part to Jennifer Lawrence’s role as Katniss EverdeenThe Hunger Games series was a top 10 box office powerhouse for four years in a row. Meanwhile, the most recently released Star Wars: The Force Awakens positioned Daisy Ridley’s, Rey, as its light saber-wielding protagonist.

PHOTO: IMDB

2015 was one of the best years on record for female protagonists. The upcoming Wonder Woman is prominently featured in the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers, with her own solo film set to release in 2017. Inside OutDivergent, and the more adult Mad Max: Fury Road are other examples of movies where the ladies are positioned front and centre (not necessarily superheroes).

On the TV front, India’s own, Priyanka Chopra plays the main protagonist as an FBI agent on the hit ABC show, Quantico. In fact, the writers of the program had constructed the role specifically with her in mind and not a male lead.

PHOTO: IMDB

When critics discuss this shift, they almost always describe it as beneficial for young girls; which is undoubtedly true. A 2012 study indicated that while watching TV increased self-esteem among white boys (who are over represented) it decreased self-esteem for white girls and black children of both genders (who are underrepresented).

I suspect young girls have always been better than they are given credit for finding fictional female role models. When I was younger, I remember the fascination with Harry Potter and one of its main protagonists, Hermione GrangerDr Beverley Crusher, and Princess Leia—awesome female role models tucked away within male-laden properties such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the original Star Wars trilogy.

It appears to me that most girls were encouraged to consume media specifically aimed at females, which has long been a haven for well-rounded, empowered female characters from Sailor Moon to the Tamora Pierce novels, and Little Women. As awesome as they are, Katniss and Rey are not that much different from the female role models that many young girls had growing up.

PHOTO: IMDB

However, the terrible fact is that engaging with female characters has long been optional for boys, who are specifically discouraged by society, if not by their own parents, from seeking out material designed ‘for girls’. And the female characters they do see in mainstream entertainment are more likely to be sidekicks and love interests while also being outnumbered on the TV/movie screen. That is what is so exceptional and unique about Rey, Katniss, and Supergirl: it is almost impossible to ignore them. They are female protagonists with properties that boys are tacitly encouraged and expected to watch.

PHOTO: IMDB

For the first time young boys are empathising with female leads the way girls have long been expected to empathise with male ones. As an example, a male child may like Hermione but he probably spent his time focusing on what was going on with Harry in all those hundreds of pages.

It is no secret that the media has a concrete impact on how we relate to people who are different from us. As author Junot Díaz writes, women have “spent their whole life being taught that men have subjectivity.”

Now we are finally teaching boys a similar lesson by introducing them to female leads that are strong, smart, flawed, emotionally complex and able to fight their own battles. In simple words, we are raising a generation of boys who think that watching a show about a female superhero is no big deal which is a pretty big deal in itself.

Krishan Jeyarajasingham

Krishan Jeyarajasingham

The author is a MD who is currently in transition to move to Australia to practice, and is interested in medicine, global health, LGBT rights, education and poverty alleviation. The author tweets @Krishanjeyam (twitter.com/KrishanJeyam)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Men are not genetically programmed to appreciate alpha females.
    Females want to emulate men.
    But they also want to be the first in line to get out when the building is on fire. Whose the last person to be pulled out? A MAN – Bill Burr.Recommend

  • wb

    This blog only reflects the insecurity that the writer herself suffers from and nothing more.Recommend

  • Lonely

    You do know what men want, right?Recommend

  • marik

    No. BoringRecommend

  • Falcon

    I really like watching Supergirl TV show. It’s interesting and fun, and there’s nothing wrong in watching this show. By the way, there’s no such show named ‘The Avengers’on TV. It’s a 2012 movie with a sequel released in 2015, which makes me think that you just made up a story to write this article :-)Recommend

  • Unknown

    Every tom dick and harry is writing blogs these days with their own stereo typical mentality. If there would be a supergirl, men would be more interested to watch it than women. Please do not make every matter a gender related matter. We have seen growth of confused people like you in recent pastRecommend

  • Abdullah Ahmad

    My problem is not with women being leads, its with women plagiarizing male leads. Make as many Maleficent or Wonder woman movies as you want, but dont you dare make a supergirl. If you want a female superhero, make your own, one that is on riding on the coat-tails of existing heros.Recommend

  • Sonya

    It is not about being confused. We both know that in this world, there is a double standard that exists: girls can behave or enjoy subject matter related to boys only but the opposite is not true. Get your head out of the sand, confused one!Recommend

  • derpa

    There’s an animated series which is what the KID was probably saying. Avengers Assemble, but the cousin only said The Avengers because he’s a child.Recommend

  • derpa

    Shut UpRecommend

  • Zee

    I read just the first and last paragraphs. Time wasted.Recommend

  • The Truth Bro

    Ouch, that got escalated very fast.Recommend

  • The Truth Bro

    Feminism is a curse.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Nope , I would not watch Super girl with any fun. Call me sexist as much as you can. The point is, that when I watch Super man, I did not watched it with the view of sexism that he is a guy and macho hence the idea of super man is good. Infact I never ever even gave it a thought or cared about what sex Super Man is. But the fakers of equality in some deeply insecure women who just needs some validation from society that they are equal by creating a female equivalent of every idea out there is just plainly irritating. Make your own originals. I like Wonder woman, I wouldn’t love Wonder Man. I wouldn’t even mind Wonder woman kicks a** of Super Man, because at least the character is original. But making a female persona of every superhero just to appease women or give them a implied and false sense of equality is just as ugly as the sexism this article is arguing about.
    Super women I love are Sarah Corner from Terminator, Ripley from Alien, Alice from resident Evil.Recommend

  • Fahad Ali Khan

    Females are “able to fight their own battles.”? Let’s scrap HeForShe then.Recommend