The Mathematical Defeminization of Supergirl

The Mathematical Defeminization of Supergirl

Fans like to study and make charts. This website is pretty much proof positive that with enough time and determination, we will count anything to try and make sense of what we see. And much like the math behind the deaths on The Walking Dead, a rather galling realization has come into being with the time Supergirl spends on its female characters.

Sanver’s “Centric”

We were told that the upcoming ‘Valentine’s Day Episode’ of Supergirl would be Sanvers centric. While we did get some exposition, we got seven minutes of it. And that may seem like a lot, but this is show that averages 41 minute episodes, and that means not even a quarter was spent on the ‘centric’ plot of Alex’s first Valentine’s with a girlfriend who had a deep seated reason to hate it.

Maggie revealed that, at 14, she gave a girl a card and got outed and kicked out of her house.

That was barely the B plot of the episode. It was glossed over by a negligent Kara, who was so busy sorting out the two men in love with her, that she dismissed her sister’s girlfriend with a flippant ‘Maybe you should see if from her side.’

If there’s anything the show has established it’s that the Sanvers sisters would die for each other. They would move planets and risk everything for each other. They support each other because, for Kara at least, she lost her entire family at 11 and had nothing else. And Alex was pushed to be the good older sister and care for the weird alien (literally) who was dumped in her family. Thirteen years forged a bond with the two, and Kara was there for Alex when she came out and held her when she cried.

These women care deeply. So to have Kara not even ask what was going on to make Maggie act like that seemed wildly out of character.

The D Plot

In the comic books, Maggie Sawyer is a divorced parent who lost custody of her daughter for being a lesbian. She got two whole comics that surrounded her problems, one of which she was able to explain to Superman the perils of being a lesbian in the 1980s. This was amazing. Comics didn’t do things like that. While the second issue was more about Superman and the super-villain of the week, the fact that half of a comic was devoted to Maggie’s coming out to Superman remains the second greatest lesbian moment in pre-52 DC comics. The greatest remains Renee Montoya in “Half a Life.”

Here though, we got a blip of a scene and while Alex did totally understand, it was incumbent in the plot that Maggie be the one who changed, and not Alex. It was Maggie who had to adapt, and not the two of them together trying to make their own new thing that was just them.

What could have been astounding was less than 2 minutes and then pushed aside.

Two Thirds A Woman

The Tumblr account That’s Just Supergirl, run by fan Vv, felt like many of us, that the latest episode gave women the short shrift. And guess what? We were right.

First Vv did the hard math and sorted out that on average, women took up 63% of the speaking time on the show. Given that the show is named Supergirl, that seems fair. This is a show about women after all. But have a look at the chart:

Percentage of female speaking time per episode, season 2
Percentage of female speaking time per episode, season 2

2×13, “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk”, is shockingly low. As Vv put it:

… women do dominate the conversation on the show – except in episode 2×13, where women only spoke for 14 minutes versus over 18 minutes for the men (56.2% of the talking time) – and with seven of those female minutes split across three characters

So, yeah. Consciously or not, people noticed this disparity, and they were not happy about it. The Valentine’s Day episode on a female-centric, feminist-rooted show dedicated over 50% of its time to letting guys argue about who has the right to date a girl – a girl who is the title character, and while Kara spoke for approximately 7 minutes during the episode, only 29 seconds of her voice were dedicated to the closing 4-minute scene that was, allegedly, the resolution to her own story arc and feelings.

In other words, if you felt that Mon-El was sucking up the screen time, you were right. And even more to the point those episodes where the speaking time of women fall under 60% are all Mon-El heavy.

  • 2×04 – A Daxamite backstory that manages to suck up women’s speaking time, even though Roulette and M’gann had their own plot lines.
  • 2×07 – Kara and Mon-El go to Cadmus labs.
  • 2×09 – Kara goes to the planet of the Red Sun and Mon-El tags along.
  • 2×10 – Livewire comes back, but Mon-El and James fight over who gets to save Kara.
  • 2×13 – A ‘Sanvers Centric’ plotline that got as much time as Kara did!

The CW’s Feminist Track Record Sucks

I hate to point fingers, but I’m going to. The CW has a terrible track record when it comes to women. The way everyone is treated on The 100 not withstanding, look at the other superhero shows. Flash is about a white guy with powers. Arrow is about a white guy without powers. Legends of Tomorrow is about saving a white guy with a time machine. They all have secondary main characters who are people of color or minorities, but the brunt of the stories are all about the white men.

When the show was on CBS, Supergirl was an incredibly strong, women powered show. Now that Cat Grant is gone (and my god, I miss her), it’s like the knees of mature feminism have been cut out from under the writers, and they’re trying to appeal to young men or, worse, the mistaken ideal that women need a partner or a man to be complete.

Supergirl is about a woman. A hero. She’s the main character and should have her own plot that isn’t being lusted after by random men, or propping up everyone else. We should be watching Kara’s growth as a hero and a leader.

That’s sure as hell not what we’re getting, and the math backs it up.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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