If You Want To Understand Third Wave Feminism, Watch The CW's Supergirl

Third-wave feminism is the most recent iteration of the feminist movement, and a movement in and of itself, as well. Within third wave, the primary focus of feminist goals shifted from earlier waves. The first wave concentrated on politics and getting women the vote and the second wave cared most about women's equality in the workplace. The specific goal of third wave is inclusion, its emphasis being inclusion of the various experiences of women outside of white women. Though the focus has shifted to identity over politics, the overarching goal of gender equality is, of course, still key to the movement.

Part of third-wave feminism is an emphasis on seeing more inclusive and diverse representations of women in media. This subject is naturally pointed at shows led by women. Which brings us to whether popular CW show Supergirl can be considered feminist. This subject has been up for debate of late, and though the show suffers from the clunky and heavy-handed writing often found on the CW, there is much to suggest it's not only feminist, but third wave.

Despite its occasional lack of grace, Supergirl does in fact take on a number of social issues - perhaps most saliently xenophobia, as it is, after all, a show about an alien - that set up opportunities to highlight third-wave priorities. Here are examples of the many ways Supergirl represents third-wave feminism.

  • It Gives Respect And Screen Time To The Experience Of Gay Women

    It Gives Respect And Screen Time To The Experience Of Gay Women
    Photo: The CW

    In Season 2 of Supergirl, Kara's sister Alex Danvers comes to the realization that she's a lesbian. This story arc spans half the season as she wrestles with her sense of identity before coming out to her sister. Despite her outward feminism, Kara is taken aback by the revelation. She's not prejudiced but has to learn to embrace her sister's identity in a way that mirrors third wave's focus on accepting the non-binary sexual orientations of all women.

    Additionally, Alex engages in her first gay relationship and the show treats her relationship with the same complexity and acceptance that heterosexual relationships on TV shows have enjoyed for years. Third-wave feminism works toward the normalization of women's relationships, no matter what they look like.

  • It Rejects The Idea That Any Woman Has A Responsibility To A Man (Albeit With Aliens)

    It Rejects The Idea That Any Woman Has A Responsibility To A Man (Albeit With Aliens)
    Photo: The CW

    Two aliens (among many) on the show are J'onn J'onzz, a Green Martian, and M'gann M'orzz, a White Martian. When J'onn discovers that M'gann is a Martian (believing her to be a Green Martian instead of a White Martian) he forcefully suggests that they "take the bond," or enter into a relationship, for the sake of their species. J'onn's patriarchal idea of what the female of his species should or should not do is one that humans are all too familiar with. Not to mention an idea third-wave feminism is actively against.

    J'onn's demands are rebuffed by M'gann, but his displayed sense of ownership is an insidious norm found in our own society. Compounding the issue is M'gann's race when in human form. Both she and J'onn are black, adding another dimension to the idea of ownership. Pointing out this long abused dynamic between men and women and pointing out its inherent wrongness is part of what makes Supergirl so progressive.

  • A Woman Of Unabashed Authority Is A Leading Character

    A Woman Of Unabashed Authority Is A Leading Character
    Photo: CBS

    Cat Grant, Kara's sometime boss and mentor, is a woman with power. Not only as CEO and founder of CatCo Worldwide Media but as a woman who demands the attention of others. She is forward and assertive. She's also unabashed in her flirtation with Maxwell Lord with no attention paid to their age difference.

    Cat owns who she is and the influence she has. She makes no apologies. While seeing a woman in power is more of a second-wave priority, Cat uses her status to further the situations of other women, not least of which is Kara, and that makes her a third-wave feminist. 

  • It's Not Afraid To Show The Struggle To Embrace One's Worth Despite Socio-Economic Status

    It's Not Afraid To Show The Struggle To Embrace One's Worth Despite Socio-Economic Status
    Photo: The CW

    Valerian refugee Lyra is a two-bit thief. She steals to protect her brother from a gang and her situation as a refugee forcing her to resort to desperate measures is poignantly relatable. Her status as an alien woman leads her to use her sexuality as a weapon. She appears to internalize the lie that her worth is lesser because of her socio-economic status.

    As far as third wave goes, her portrayed experiences are important to furthering understanding of the way a woman's status as "other" due to outside circumstances greatly impacts her life and perceived self-worth. Lyra's journey to reject the status society has dictated to her and embrace herself is an important one to see on television. 

  • Anything Superman Can Do, Supergirl Can Do Better

    Anything Superman Can Do, Supergirl Can Do Better
    Photo: The CW

    Where Supergirl can sometimes get heavy-handed thematically is in its continued insistence that women are just as powerful and capable as men. Though, this is a solid feminist premise, of course. Supergirl constantly asserts that Supergirl is equal to Superman in physical strength. Superman even asserts in the Season 2 finale that he was fighting Supergirl at full-strength while under Rhea's control and Supergirl overpowered him anyway. 

    It's brought up more often than necessary, but reiterating Supergirl's equality with Superman in super-abilities is important. She's no one's sidekick, and having strong heroes is still important to the feminist movement.

  • National City's Embrace Of Supergirl As Their Hero

    National City's Embrace Of Supergirl As Their Hero
    Photo: CBS

    Season 1 of Supergirl confronts gender role expectations and prejudice against women through the citizens of National City. In most of the season, the citizens of Kara's city bemoan the fact that they have Supergirl fighting their battles while Metropolis has the more esteemed Superman. Their most obvious difference being their genders.

    By the end of the season, through her triumphs over evil (and inspiring, if often cheesy, speeches), Kara wins the respect of National City as a legitimate hero. Her gender is no longer the focus. This is an ideal every feminist wants reached in our own society one day.