Sunday, September 03, 2006

Holy Discontent, Batgirl!!

(Crisis of Infinite Feminisms, Part III)

"Same job, same employer means equal pay for men *and* women" - Batgirl

Mr. Reads found this promotional video from the Department of Labor and Wage the other day, Gentle Reader, and gave me the link for the express purpose of talking about it on Arrogant Self-Reliance. Some partners bring their spouses flowers, or candy, or perhaps, if very rich, new cars. This Humble Author gets neither flowers nor candy (and certainly not new cars!). What I *do* get? Vamped Angel Puppets, and Harley Quinn Barbie Dolls, and Fantastical Seventies' Feminist Agenda as seen through the eyes of Batgirl.

My husband, if I may be so bold, is the keenest.

The year is 1974, the Dynamic Duo is in trouble, and it's up to Batgirl to save the day. But will she save Batman and Robin in time? Will she receive equal pay? And what the heck's going on in 1974 to give Batgirl some initiative, anyhow? Let's examine the Feminist Timeline and see.

(The internet is ever-surprising, Dear Reader. This Humble Author typed "feminist timeline" into Google, and found an Honest to God feminist timeline!)

1972: Title IX goes into effect
1973: Roe vs. Wade protects women's right to choose
1974: Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur refuses to force pregnant women to take maternity leave, and The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bans AT&T's discriminatory practices
(Source: http://www.legacy98.org/timeline.html)

Many, many exciting events, including, it seems, the Department of Labor and Wage stepping up to the plate and reminding everyone, Batmans or no, that women deserve the same pay as men for the same job.

What do we see now, 32 years later?

One Batgirl is Oracle; the other is "Evil." There have been 4 Robins, one of which was a woman. A new Batwoman is painting the town red. Oh, and women still make less than men.

As previously mentioned, Birds of Prey is one of my Favorite Books Of All Time. In fact, Oracle is one of my Favorite Characters Of All Time. In a tradition that demands I name all of my major electronics (This Humble Author types to you now on "Diana"), I named my laptop "Oracle." But it's not just Barbara's background as Batgirl that intrigues me, but rather, the very idea of what she's become.

In the same way that my field is dominated by women, so is computer science dominated by men. The Chronicle of Higher Education, that occasional Harbinger of Doom for the academic set, notes that "only 17 percent of undergraduate computer-science degrees were awarded to women in 2004, down from 19 percent in 2000." In a generation after Barbie's misogynist verbal faux pas, "Math is Hard!" we still see the trend of Men Are From Hard Sciences, Women Are From Liberal Arts.
(Source: http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i19/19a03501.htm)

But in this world in which men are more computer-compatible than women, we have that Hacker To End All Hackers, Oracle. Batman: The Animated Series plays her as Batgirl *and* a computer genius; Gail Simone has written her as the computer expert that defies the laws of, well, computers, again and again. She does things with a motherboard and modem that the Batboys could only dream about, and that's saying something right there.

What I've always found so fascinating about the Bat Family is the wealth of intelligence located there. None of the Batboys or girls is stupid. In fact, we're most likely looking at some of the smartest non-metas in the comic book universe. I believe that Bruce desires to surround himself with intelligent people, but I also believe that intelligent people are attracted to the Bat lifestyle because of the very challenges it poses. But Oracle fulfills a function for Batman that he himself cannot fill. Bruce does not seem as computer-literate as one would expect from The Dark Knight.

Perhaps it's the generational gap; Bruce grew up pre-home computers, after all, although he does have that rather fantastically large computer in the Batcave. And certainly, he cannot hack street lights and fight crime at the same time. But with Oracle, do we finally see an instance in which another non-meta is better at something than the greatest non-meta himself?

I don't believe that Bruce Wayne/Batman is written as a Mary Sue, particularly not now. Grant Morrison, et al are writing Batman with the very joy and complexity that I want to see in my comic book writers. But let's admit it: Bruce Wayne is damn good at everything he does. Seducing the ladies, making money, saving the day, brooding (let us not forget the brooding!), he does it all and he does it well. But he couldn't do the things that Oracle could. Her kung fu is the strongest, and more importantly, *he knows it*.

The Department of Labor and Wages promo ends with the following questions:
"Will Batgirl save the Dynamic Duo? Will she get equal pay?"

It's been 32 years in the making, Batgirl, but you've gotten your equal pay after all: you are the head of a team of crime fighters, the same as Robin and the Teen Titans (or The Outsiders, whichever Robin we decide to choose!). But more importantly, you've gotten a version of A Book of One's Own in Birds of Prey. Shakespeare's Sister would indeed be proud. Let's not lose sight of all the aspects that make a superhero great: strength, tangible or intangible power, and intelligence.

Babs is a superhero, and This Humble Author thinks she's a better superhero as Oracle than she was as Batgirl. At the end of the day, Oracle is the better story.

And, of course, she defies the "Men Are From Hard Sciences, Women Are From Liberal Arts" bias we see in college graduates today. And anytime a character defies a stereotype or bias, This Humble Author feels the need to sit up and shout, "huzzah!"

(Huzzah!)

4 Comments:

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Morwen said...

"Bruce does not seem as computer-literate as one would expect from The Dark Knight.

Perhaps it's the generational gap; Bruce grew up pre-home computers, after all, although he does have that rather fantastically large computer in the Batcave."

I think it's just that for Bruce Wayne the infomation superhighway means driving around town punching people until they tell him what he wants to know.

 
At 3:51 AM, Blogger shcastro80 said...

I think Bruce's skills with computers and tech in general were toned down *because* of Oracle. In the same way his jerk quotient was upped when his surrogate family grew in order to make the other members of the bat-family more "relatable" in contrast. Batman used to do fine on his own when it came to computers, pre-Oracle. So, as I see it, the "Barbara is more computer literate than Bruce" development wasn't the fruit of something as organic as a generational gap. (I'm not a fan of the deconstructing Batman to give room to other characters thing, really.)

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Morwen,
You said, I think it's just that for Bruce Wayne the infomation superhighway means driving around town punching people until they tell him what he wants to know.

*snicker*
It's very true, no?
Mr. Reads and I often ponder why we, The World At Large, loves Batman so much. And part of it is this kind of Dirty Harry approach to crimefighting. And part of it for me is that damn Byronic Hero complex I have.
It's a tragedy. It really is.
Thanks for reading!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Shcastro80,
You said, I think Bruce's skills with computers and tech in general were toned down *because* of Oracle.

Interesting. I didn't know that. Is there a particular run that this happened in? I've only started reading all of the Batman runs in their monthly installments, so I've most likely missed any clue as to his computer skills.
In the JLU cartoon, he's quite computer savvy, too; probably because there is no Oracle?

You also said, In the same way his jerk quotient was upped when his surrogate family grew in order to make the other members of the bat-family more "relatable" in contrast. Batman used to do fine on his own when it came to computers, pre-Oracle. So, as I see it, the "Barbara is more computer literate than Bruce" development wasn't the fruit of something as organic as a generational gap. (I'm not a fan of the deconstructing Batman to give room to other characters thing, really.)

Understood. I think the current trend is to "fix" Batman from these very problems you see. I often find Batman/Bruce to be a bit too great at everything, and I hoped that toning down his computer skills (or his martial arts skills, his knowledge of rare Irish books or fine ports, etc.) was a product of an organic recreation of Batman. But rather, your point--to make room for others to shine, etc.--makes a bit more sense in the comic book universe, no?
Thanks!
Ciao,
Amy

 

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