The conundrum of Batgirl

My three year old dressed up as Batgirl for Halloween last night. She loves Batgirl. Everytime she puts on the costume, which is often, she acts out complicated stories, usually involving several stuffed animals, about how she is saving the world. Before last night, my daughter had no idea that Batgirl is far less famous or celebrated than Batman.

Here is what happened on Halloween:

Adult after adult, kind adults who wanted to be nice, who gave my daughter candy, called her Batman. At first, my daughter said nothing back to them but asked me: “Why do people keep calling me Batman?” I told her: “That is so silly. What are they thinking? You’re not Batman, you’re Batgirl.” As the man-moniker continued, my daughter quietly corrected them: “I’m Batgirl.” By the end of the night, she was shouting; “I’M BATGIRL!”

Sometimes, we’d run into a Batman, at one point an adult distributing candy. After his wife or girlfriend saw my daughter, called her Batman, and was corrected, she said to her partner: “Look! It’s your sidekick!” My daughter turned to me, confused. “Tell him he’s your sidekick,” I said.

The people who called my daughter Batman were men and women, adults and children, parents and teenagers. She was wearing a dress, by the way.

I know Batgirl doesn’t have five major motion pictures about her, all featuring famous movie stars. There aren’t Batgirl toys or Batgirl clothing or Batgirl comic books everywhere you look. (Today, I will do a Google search and try to find some). One person did say to my daughter: “Are you…Batwoman?” Then she laughed. I wondered why that term sounded so strange. Is there a Batwoman? Is “Batwoman” sexualized somehow? Or would “woman” imply too powerful a superhero, is that why we use “girl?” Or is it the opposite: “girl” and “man” are cool, but “woman” represents a loss of power that even little kids pick up on? Would you ever refer to a kid in the comparable costume as “Batboy?” That sounds diminutive to me.  And what does that say about the sexism of our cultural mythology, that “Batgirl” is empowering but “Batboy” is insulting?

It all kind of makes me understand the monotony of Halloween: If you’re a girl and dress as princess, everything is simple and everyone knows just what to say: “I love the dress. You’re so beautiful!”

(My oldest daughter wanted to dress as a Native American because she’s doing a school paper on the Miwok tribe. Instead of being a “Dream Catcher Cutie” as the package advertised, she asked if I would buy a bow to go with her costume; my middle daughter is a fairy.)

36 thoughts on “The conundrum of Batgirl

  1. I know this is an older post so I don’t know if you’ll see this… A couple friends and I had the opposite problem on Halloween. The three of us girls went as Batman, Robin, and Superman. My friend even did the classic Superman hair curl for the part. So you can look at it both ways. There is nothing wrong with girls dressing up as the male counterparts either. Girls can wear boys costumes too. This is something I took note of a lot while working at the Disney Store during Halloween. Many girls were pulled away from the boys costumes by their parents who deemed their child’s wishes unimportant. Though I did see few who were allowed to don full Spiderman or Hulk regalia etc. Padded muscles and all.

  2. Margot: I’ve always been wondering why the female equivelants of male superheroes are called “girls” instead of “women”. There’s something definitely wrong about that, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until now, when you said that “girl” was a diminutive term. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. My own dressed as a cowgirl this year. People kept asking her if she was Woody’s girlfriend. It was staggering to hear it over and over. We have never seen Toy Story, and didn’t understand the reference until the 483rd person explained.

    And there is Batwoman and Batgirl both. Batwoman mostly exists in the comics-verse, as opposed to feature films. The contemporary Batwoman is written as a lesbian, to both praise and criticism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batwoman

  4. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. (saw it before reruns. lol)

    The sexist/genderfied society always hits me odd if I mention my doctor or my boss. People always respond referring them as “he/him”. I suppose you have to say “male nurse” to clarify people’s general stupidity about health care.

    I love your blogs & your kids are adorable.
    ~L

  5. Good for you for encouraging your daughter like this! It sounds like she did some eye opening of some adults with her trick or treating.

    And while I enjoy Batwoman, her series can be a little violent for younger children. Overall the Batgirl comics, like the Robin comics, are a little less violent and more age appropriate. Batgirl was originally BatWOMAN’s sidekick, not Batman’s- a teenage version of an adult hero. In the past decade of Batgirl comics, there have been two other Batgirls besides Barbara Gordon, both of whom I like better. Both are teenagers, but definitely not sidekicks- they’re their own heroes, and fight crime despite Batman’s on and off opposition (not for gender reasons- his big concern is a lack of training/preparedness).

    At my house, we hand out comic books, including some Batgirl issues. The look of delight on little girls’ faces at getting a book about a female hero is the best part of Halloween.

    • Hi Sabrina,

      How cool is that, Batwoman and Batgirl together? I have to say, in my sadly sexist imagination, that pairing didn’t occur to me. I love that image of one female superhero mentoring another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Maybe Wonder Woman’s mother when they are still on the island together? Once again, how I wish I owned a movie studio.

      MM

      • Actually, Wonder Woman has Wonder Girl as a sidekick! Back in the 40s, almost every super hero got a teen sidekick, because it was thought that made the comics more appealing to kids.

        And I would dearly love to see some female super hero movies. It drives me nuts that the male heroes get new movies made despite being horribly bad, but we can’t get a single Wonder Woman movie!

        • Hi Sabrina,
          And remember the WW TV show where Debra Winger played Lyna Catre’s little sister? That was my favorite. I also loved the episodes where Jill and Kris Monroe were together on Charlie’s Angels.
          MM

    • Hi Brook,

      Someone posted on my FB page that her daughter dressed up as Spiderman and got upset when people called her Spidergirl. All kids know from movies is Spiderman. How many movies of Spiderman do we have? How many toys and games? How much clothing? Spidergirl? Not so much. Thus, the conundrum. Kid growing up in this gender segregated world of 2012. UGH. Its so confusing!

      MM

  6. When I was little from the age of two I was always Batman. Entirely because I didn’t even know there WAS a Batgirl until I was like nine :/ I want to see Batgirl kick just as much ass as Batman!
    Yes there is a difference between Batgirl and Batwoman. Batgirl is Batman’s sidekick. Batwoman is a separate crimefighter altogether. I think she may have teamed up with Batman once or twice. She doesn’t even need to be a sidekick, she already has her own!
    Unfortunately my town is painfully sheltered when it comes to comic books so I know nothing about Batwoman 🙁 I wish I could find out more about her. She seems awesome.

  7. Halloween is a time for nerdy adults to learn that their hobbies are not nearly as mainstream as they think they are. My stepkid wanted to be a Dalek for Halloween, specifically an Ironside, because we’re raising him right, but it meant that he was walking around in a green Dalek outfit his mom made. 9 out of 10 people thought he was a tank. I thought way more people watched Doctor Who.

    I think similarly, very few “average adults” whatever that is know that Batgirl/woman exists. I don’t think it was people being casually sexist, I would attribute it more to the last appearance that Batgirl/woman made outside of a comic book or Cartoon Network was… I think it was the Adam West Batman show. No I’ll take that back, she was in the Batman and Robin movie 15 years ago. The one that everyone really wants to forget ever happened.

    I won’t say it wasn’t casual sexism, I’m sure that totally was a factor, but if you had a boy dresses up as Wonder Woman, I don’t think people would go “Oh hey, it’s Wonder Man” That’s not a great example since Wonder Woman doesn’t have a distaff counterpart… come to think of it no woman superheroes do. There are so few iconic ones to choose from anyway.

    My point is that I don’t think most adults know that Batgirl exists. If she dressed up as X-23 most people would probably think she was Wolverine.

    • Hi DaveB,

      “I think similarly, very few “average adults” whatever that is know that Batgirl/woman exists. I don’t think it was people being casually sexist, I would attribute it more to the last appearance that Batgirl/woman made outside of a comic book or Cartoon Network was… I think it was the Adam West Batman show. No I’ll take that back, she was in the Batman and Robin movie 15 years ago. The one that everyone really wants to forget ever happened.”

      But that’s the problem, exactly. Why would Batgirl’s last appearance be 30 years ago while Batman gets movie after movie?

      MM

      • Oh I agree. They should make a Wonder Woman movie, or a Ms. Marvel movie. Some heroine who isn’t a derivative female version of an established superhero. Marvel basically doesn’t have any female characters with enough public awareness to carry her own movie. Electra was crappy and I could see them doing a Black Widow movie, but even though she lives in a superhero world, I don’t think that would come out as a super hero movie, it’d be a spy movie. DC is better about making recognizable female heroes but really most people on the street can only name Wonder Woman.

        I’d love to see a director with a history of having strong female leads come along and do one. Joss Wedon and James Cameron spring to mind, but short of someone with their clout at the helm, I don’t thing we’ll get a good superheroine movie for a long while.

        • I have to agree with Dave. Batgirl is a sidekick and a derivative female version of a original character. You can’t expect people to appreciate her when, by design, she is a lesser version of the original character. But I’m definitely not a Whedonite. I like Dr. Horrible but I’ve yet to really see the “strong female character” ideal that’s so hyped in his work.

          • Hi Cat,

            But why don’t we have movies about Batgirl being a star? Why is she derivative?

            MM

          • I think even if you had 10 movies where Batgirl starred and she somehow eclipsed Batman in popularity she would still be derivative because of the way her character was created. She’s not even Robin. She’s “Bat”girl. I think that it’s more worthwhile to create a strong female superhero and build her brand than try and play up a derivative character even if she’s beloved. I know Batgirl is more of her own person but for me, she just seems like She Hulk.

      • “Why would Batgirl’s last appearance be 30 years ago while Batman gets movie after movie?”

        One reason is they never gave her much of a character. She was a good plot device with being Gordon’s daughter and all, there was even an episode where the audience is fooled for a moment to think she got stuffed in the fridge to highten up tension between Batman and her father. But that was it.

    • I had a similar “geek” moment in 8th grade. My mother had encouraged me to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe series, and then had me watch some of the old BBC show. I decided I wanted to be Zaphod. Beeblebrox for Halloween. Long story short, no one knew who I was at all.

  8. Your daughter looks so cute as batgirl. Sad that she is not as recognised as her male counterpart. I think bat girl had her own comic have a book on females and comics will look it up tonight.

    • Hi Purplegirl,

      Imagine that little, hopeful face learning that boys are more important than girls? On Halloween? That sucks! Tell me what find out. I was going to Google it but have been scared of sexy Batgirls that I can’t stomach right now.

      MM

  9. There is a batwoman, actually. Last time I saw her was in that batman movie where robin was kidnapped by the joker. Maybe she’ll have better luck if she dresses up as a female hero that isn’t just a watered down version of a male hero…. so, wonder woman or powerpuff girls it is I guess. Are there any others?

  10. Batgirl in the 60’s TV show was “feisty,” wasn’t she? I seem to remember her getting in over her head and having to be rescued by Batman. Catwoman was sexy and bad. It was not lost on me as a child that their names were CatWOMAN and BatGIRL. I remember being torn, trying to figure out who I was supposed to be, not feeling quite right with either one. I would have appreciated a Batwoman option.

    My 6-year-old daughter wore a gorgeous historical queen costume to two parties, and then wore her brother’s Spiderman outfit with a Batman mask to trick or treat. Her choice every time. I mostly called her Spidey. It didn’t seem a big deal to me if she was portraying a male character, or a female version that we invented, and fortunately none of the people we encountered seemed to care either way. Our Halloween was gender-policing free. Yay!

    A little girl at her school had an AWESOME Wonder Woman costume. I have to say I envied it. It had a metallic red skirt and cape and she wore pants with it. I think she had a great time being a superhero all over the playground.

    • Hi Kasi,

      I can’t remember Batgirl in the 60s, I was born in ’69.

      “Spidey” is great and I’m glad you had a gender-police free Halloween. Actually, that would be a good costume.

      MM

  11. The day before Halloween my kids and I were at the dentist. It’s a special pediatric dentist’s office with open seating. A dad and his 3 kids were seated near us and we could overhear their conversation. When the hygienist asked his oldest daughter (about 8) what she was going to be for Halloween, the girl beamed and said, “A cop.” Then the dad started laughing. At her. “Yeah, she’s going to be a ‘lady’ cop.” To which the hygienist (while laughing) replied, “What made you think to be that.” I think I was the only one to notice the girl stopped beaming. Broke my heart and made me sick all at the same time.

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