Why are we pitting two vastly different female superheroes against each other instead of celebrating them both?
Unfortunately, it’s unsurprising that when you type “Supergirl” into Google right now, you’ll find a variety of articles comparing CBS’s Supergirl and the recently released Netflix series Jessica Jones. But why? The only things the two have in common is that they debuted this fall to much hype and have a female lead.
Marvel has three separate film franchises starring white men named Chris (Captain America‘s Chris Evans, Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Chris Pratt). Yet we’re not pitting them against each other because there can be only one.
Why is that?
All three of these properties — plus the other film and television series that feature white males as leads — bring different things to the table. Captain America tends to be more political, especially in its later installments, and Thor delves into mythology while Guardians of the Galaxy is a humorous space opera and Ant-Man is a light-hearted heist movie.
We look at these movies in terms of what they bring to the superhero landscape as well as how entertaining they are. The existence of one white male lead does not negate the existence of the seemingly dozens other.
And that’s just Marvel.
So why, when we get Supergirl and Jessica Jones, do we need to pit them against each other? The core relationships of both series are of two women — adoptive sisters — who unconditionally love and support one another. These shows are not pitting women against each other, so why, as audiences, are we? Why can’t we instead look at them for what they bring to the superhero landscape and how entertaining they are? There are so few on television as is.
Like the examples above, Supergirl and Jessica Jones are doing two completely different things. They are aiming at different audiences and exploring different topics.
Supergirl is a family-friendly, coming of age series. Kara might be in her 20s, but she’s coming of age as a hero in her own right. There’s whimsy and brightness in Kara’s world. This series skews toward a younger audience and aims to be empowering for the young girls who aren’t used to seeing themselves in superhero television or films. The series brims with optimism as Kara takes control of her life and her story.
Jessica Jones, on the other hand, is a dark look at the complex effects of trauma. Jessica had a stint as a hero, but after being mind-controlled, kidnapped, and raped by the villain Kilgrave, she is dealing with PTSD — mostly with alcohol. The show is gritty and violent and skews toward an older audience with its TV-MA rating. Jessica is also fighting to reclaim her narrative, but she’s doing so with bloody knuckles and a bloody conscience.
The main problem with trying to compare these vastly different series based on the gender of their leads is the implication that one woman’s story can speak for all women. That is simply not true; it’s a big criticism that the Avengers films have faced with their treatment of Black Widow, as she has been the only woman on the team. And her story, as written, might resonate with some women, but it will not click with others. Yet, because she is the only woman on the team, she must speak for women as a whole, right?
Wrong. Women’s stories are as individual and diverse as women themselves. Therefore, women deserve diverse representation in media to portray those diverse stories. The more female-driven series and films we get, the more women will see themselves in the media they take in and the less work the few women we do get on screen will have to do to represent one-half of the population.
So, stop comparing these series. Enjoy one over the other. Enjoy both. Enjoy neither. That’s your prerogative as a viewer. But you’re doing no one a service by pitting Kara and Jessica against one another.