Anonymous said: What do you think of this Batgirl #6 mess?
Ahaha, I’d wondered if anyone would ask me to weigh in on this one. I was going to avoid saying anything, since I feel like I’m way too biased to look at this one rationally, but the more I think about it the more I feel like my bias matters.
SPOILERS FOR BATGIRL #6 FROM THIS POINT ON.
I feel like this is a detrimental move, even if it was accidental. I strongly believe that Gail Simone did not intend for it to be read as such, but paired with the realities of female representation in the New 52’s Bat titles, it’s caused a bit of a riot. With Steph’s Robin days axed due to pesky ovaries, the representation of teenage female heroes in Gotham was lowered. The panel’s invalidation of the importance of Batgirl being a legacy title has diminished that representation even more. Yes, Babs was the first Batgirl, and yes, she was iconic, but the Batgirls who have come after her shouldn’t be swept under the rug.
This matters. This is important. It may be written off as a throwaway line in a comic book, but it’s a lot more than that.
Let’s unpack the implications built into Bruce’s statement. The quote is, “You were always meant to be Batgirl, Barbara.” I feel like I can see where Gail Simone was coming from with this—-she meant that Barbara’s determination and inability to let injustice slide would have brought her into a role like Batgirl. Contextually, it works. Kind of a muddy way of expressing that, but hey: it’s Bruce, and platitudes (no matter how awkwardly sincere) make him break out in hives. But for much of the readership, that isn’t what came through.
The implication is that Batgirl was the end goal for Babs, and that Bruce had given this his blessing—-and holy cats, is that loaded with problems and I’m getting flustered just trying to grapple with it. Time for a list.
1. This means that Batgirl, in Bruce’s eyes, is a superior title than Oracle. It reduces her achievements into a transitory state that isn’t worth acknowledging. The ableism in that is unreal. I won’t get into the debate of whether or not that implied statement is true (it’s not; debate over), but it devalues Oracle’s worth.
1.5. PS, I don’t love that Batgirl is who she is meant to be. She’s in her twenties. Calling her a girl is demeaning, but understandable from an editorial point of view. Kate’s already got the Batwoman title, and goodness knows that nobody wants to fight her for it. I know, I know; reading too far into that one, but it irks me, so I felt like mentioning it.
2. There’s this weird overtone that Bruce has always meant for her to have the mantle, and that she should be happy to have his approval now. Frankly? Fuck that. She never needed his approval, and did the right thing in spite of the disapproval of the overbearing male authority figure. The best thing about the Batgirl legacy is that it IS removed from the other Bats and Robins. The sexism in the Batfamily (and if you try to tell me there is no sexism in the Batfam, I will promptly laugh myself sick) has been a wall that the Batgirls have had to scale. I’ve always felt that this is realistic, and that it says something great about the women who wear the Bat on their chest: everyone is telling them to sit down, and they’re choosing to fight. That endurance and dedication and passion for what’s right is beautiful. The Batgirl mantle has never been Bruce’s to give. There’s this wonderful matriarchal aspect to it that is, unfortunately, gone.
3. Because all of the Batgirls are gone. Even if the Bat editors have created a loophole for them, that loophole is only big enough for Cass—-and even that is debatable. On top of that, the uniquely female relationships built into the Batgirl legacy have been distorted: Cass is the same age as Jason, which means there’s only a couple of years between Babs and Cass. The mentor/student mother/daughter relationship just won’t read the same way. And since Steph’s entire history has been wiped (something that I discussed already at length), the events that brought her to Batgirl have disappeared. Even though Bruce asked her to do it, Cass gave Steph the cowl as a sister and a friend who saw that she needed it. That’s a beautiful legacy. That’s an important legacy, because it’s emphasizing the relationships between women. BQM addressed this in one panel in the last issue of his Batgirl run by showing us a future where Nell, an African American girl, became the next Batgirl—-with Steph’s support and blessing.
4. Even if they do exist, they don’t matter. They were keeping the cowl warm for Babs, apparently. Their fights and victories and failures have instantly been invalidated, because Batgirl is all about Babs. We can have FOUR Robins who LOOK THE SAME, but we can’t have more than one Batgirl—-though they are radically different from one another. Because that’s just plumb confusing! If you’re not an upper middle class white girl, good luck finding representation in the streets of Gotham.
Ugh. I’m sorry. I’m getting bitter, and I shouldn’t let myself do that. But seriously, this is a big deal. How many teenage girl heroes are in Gotham—-especially ones with the autonomy that both Cass and Steph had, pre-reboot? What about the disabled readers, the POCs, and the abuse survivors who are looking for their heroes? I’d like to know, because I’m one of them.
God, I hope they have something planned for the girls that makes this hurt less. I want to believe that they’re going to give us something that will make me go geeze, I feel terrible about being so critical! I WANT to eat my words, DC. I WANT this to be something that the writers address, and not a continual “they’ll play a part eventually”.