This past Monday I had the great honor of participating in comedian Dustin Meadows’ monthly Struck a Nerve show at Wild Goose Creative in Clintonville. At these shows, writers, comedians and artists wax poetic and irreverent on different themes. For example, last month’s topic was 2013; I do believe a character who was a pot-themed wedding planner of gay weddings made an appearance. So, yes, fun. This month’s edition was focused on… Batman! Here’s my piece and its PowerPoint images transcribed as best I could for a blog post. If you missed the show, I regret to inform you you missed out on a great night. That’s OK. Just come next month.
Batman for (most) Straight Girls: An Essay
My hypothesis is that most modern American straight women have a similar storied relationship with The Dark Knight. It’s not that we don’t like Batman, it’s that our relationship to Batman (and superheroes)–like our relationships to most things–is fucking complicated.
It goes a little something like this.
Girls meet Batman in childhood. Through cartoons, movies, the lunchboxes of little boy classmates and little girls with hip, gender-neutral parents. AND… costumes.
Every Halloween there is a little girl dressed up as Batman. It’s cute. Yellow and black are complementary colors that look good on even your ugly child. And how sassy with the tutu!
Ask the little girl who Batman is, though, and she likely doesn’t know. I mean, she’ll probably say super cutely “Batman!” but she doesn’t really know who he is other than that one guy with the suit.
Funny, because fast forward just a few precious years later and there’s a high possibility she’ll be wearing a Batman costume again.
I’m Batman Barbie.
To be fair, a decent number of little boys do not know who or what they are dressed up as either. This is kind of the beauty of being a kid—you’re adorable until you start to have your own opinions and liking your own things and choosing your own Halloween costumes.
At 11 or 12 I chose to draw stubble on my face with a permanent marker and don my least favorite coat for Halloween. I was “Hobo In Windbreaker.” This was, I believe, the last year my parents let me trick or treat.
Anyway, Batman is a cultural force. His sixteen pack is everywhere and it is hard to ignore.
As an average little girl your interest in kind of starts to wane [(Bruce) Wayne (heyo!)] as you find your own interests and the allegories that best relate to your own tiny life.
Some of what kids are into, gender difference-wise, happens organically. Batman is OK to Girl Average, but there are not a lot of girls around and there’s a lot of kicking and his best friend/ sidekick is honestly kind of annoying, like a little brother or something.
I was way into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid. Not because of the turtles; because of April.
April! We had so much in common, her and little I! I mean just look at our lives! We both had red hair! And we both…. had … red hair…
So some of it happens organically but a lot of what kids are into is marketing, subtle or otherwise. Google image search “superheroes for girls tshirt” and you will get multiple takes on this theme:
If it isn’t “GIRLS RULE” screaming desperately from your pre-pubescent mosquito bites, it is an image of myriad female comic characters slinging some message of teamwork and friendship. I bet girls would like to don a little ass kicking in something meaningless like a T-shirt, too.
I imagine some marketing centaur somewhere steaming, “You know what we need to teach these asshole mean girls about? Friendship.”
My point here is that I think little girls are often socially herded into caring about cartoons and things that aren’t violent. Or if they are violent or heroic in some physical capacity they are rooted in teamwork and friendship (ie. Power Puff Girls).
While Batman has his helpers, he is, at the root of it, a lone bat, and that is what is so appealing about him on some level. I think girls could really use that a dose of imaginary self-reliance and responsibility via technicolor, to hell with self-isolation’s repercussions.
We want to feel the rage of righteous dark justice, too, bro.
Back to marketing of Batman, et al. It becomes a whole new nemesis as an adult. Here’s an example of a recent superhero t-shirt design for grown women compared to one for little boys.
Yeah, Pow, indeed. Pow right to your sense of being taken seriously by anyone who sees you wearing that T-shirt.
The psychology happening in these designs is a whole other item of rant, but it kind of lays the groundwork for the way young adult women interact with the Batman.
I used to use Batman as a pickup line. Asking a man “Batman or Superman” and judging him thusly was like a game of existential foreplay.
If a man selected Batman he was probably a jerk and thus more likely to get laid at 21. If a man selected Superman he was probably a lonely, tormented dreamer and most likely to spend two lonely, tormented years with me at 22. If he said Spiderman he was probably Friend Zoned immediately and married by 24 to someone who was not me.
I stopped asking this question when a dude responded, “Wonderwoman, baby.”
Why did I do that? Chicks! Why do we do that? It’s not like a man has ever asked me if I was more into Nsync or Backstreet Boys and took me seriously when I explained why.
And, honestly, I probably wouldn’t want him to. If Bronies have taught us anything, it is that there is little sexual attraction to be found in grown men who hitch their wagons to the little pink ponies of our girlhood.
So superheroes can become an interest you feign–like watching sports or Robocop–to get a boy to like you. Then you grow up and kind of stop giving a shit and figure out what you really do like.
I discovered I loved Batman for the most stereotypical of reasons–Heath Ledger.
An ex of mine really wanted to see “The Dark Knight” when it came out in the theaters. I had stopped using existential superhero foreplay at this point but I should have on him. He loved Gambit, the wily little magic card player who could manipulate any energy he touched.
Yeah. Sounds familiar.
OK, so, Heath had just offed himself and well, morbid interest. Like I said, girls are dark.
(And, hey, just a feminist aside here: Did anyone else notice that part of the mythos of Heath’s suicide is that he was just so twisted from really getting into his acting and playing such a demented character and it just took over? And also Christian Batman Bale’s epic meltdown on the Terminator set was forgiven just a little bit because of all that high-octane action? Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan is just a crazy drug addled asshole who deserves to never work again and suffer a lifetime of shame for her mistakes? Maybe they’re all assholes. Maybe you’re the asshole, America.)
OK, so we are watching The Dark Knight. It’s in the movie theater and the screen is larger than Wonderwoman’s boobs. The sound is eerie and the mind-fuck that the leading actor is now six feet under in the reality you are actually living in but don’t feel a part of anymore because the story unfolding in front of you is so honest but surreal and putting you in a whole tailspin of storytelling and… Holy shit, Batman! I love Batman! I want to know all about Batman!
And so I learned all I could about Batman. I bought comics. I watched as many Adam Batman West episodes as I could physically handle (which really wasn’t many). I was super secret Batman fan girl.
Why super secret you ask?
Because America is an asshole.
I knew myself well enough to know my intense interest in Batman would last about a year. I would consume as much of its darkness as I could and move on to a new interest that sated my need for sanely expressing and releasing the reasons for my own dark nights.
See, if you’re a girl who says you like Batman and do not know everything about Batman and/ or comics ever, you run the risk of being stereotyped into this:
FAKE NERD GIRL! FAKE NERD GIRL!
Heaven forbid you have a fleeting, varied interest in a subject on your journey through millions of life subjects.
My Batman obsession has been replaced since then with other things that help me feel like my own natural darkness ain’t so twisted. Like a six-month long X-Files binge. A brief but intense obsession with Iron Maiden. An even more brief attempt to learn to play clarinet again.
Dark, dark things.
Now, I, like, I’d venture to say, most grown modern straight woman, am… just a bitch that likes Batman.