Why ‘Batwoman’ Fails Feminism

Kate Kane (acted by Ruby Rose) is a moneyed liberal with profound “daddy issues” and a supermodel’s mug. We’re told her dream is to work for her father’s Gotham security agency, “The Crows,” and because Jacob Kane is too protective to allow his daughter to be a Crow, she goes into a deep depression and is transformed into an icy postpunk avatar that looks like a cross between a mall-punk and depressed Rachel Maddow.

“But first, I had to convince my dad I was ready,” she tells us, as she returns to Gotham to gain the approval of her father. You’re the “female Bruce Wayne,” Jacob Kane tells her daughter, who never protests the indignity of being framed as a less convincing female version of a one-percenter playboy. We’re also told that Batman is an “outdated tradition,” which Kate decides is her destiny when Batman goes missing for three years. The decision to become the CEO of an “outdated tradition” is, dare I say it, a conservative one.
Rachel Maddow is the voice of radio host Vesper Fairchild, who plays loosely with the facts by describing Batwoman as a “curvier and sexier” Batman, when actress Ruby is practically heroin chic. Antiseptically modeled after Rooney Mara’s grittier and more gutter punk Lisbeth Salander, Rose is tattooed, wears a leather jacket and rides a black motorcycle, but unlike Mara’s shocking transformation in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rose’s Kate Kane feels inauthentic and as emotionally vacant as Ivan Drago as the The Punisher.
While Rose has said she suffers from childhood trauma, she lacks the Stanislavskian skills to inject them into her personality. But she’s aesthetically correct—too correct. In fact, she’s as polished as a teen idol, rather than a tough street-urchin or rugged survivalist. Ruby Rose looks like a Hot Topic mannequin in her freshly pressed Ramones t-shirt and designer leather jacket that’s as unworn as her boots.
The only thing organic about Ruby Rose is her diet.
Rose’s personality is as frigid as a Soviet geologist studying glacial ice, which makes her incapable of translating emotion into a moving camera. She’s a gorgeous model that’s suited for glossy magazine shoots in Vogue and GQ that capture the sharp contours of her face and those big kryptonite-colored eyes, but never sizzles enough to radiate through the motion picture camera. Even when she’s stylishly designed like a postmodern Marlene Dietrich, Rose cannot command the camera with the sort of gamine mischievousness expected of a queer icon. There is no music in her voice and while a damp personality can be overcome with damaged sex appeal and elusive otherworldliness (see Kristen Stewart in Twilight), Rose suffers from having the kind of chiseled beauty that’s unrelatable and distant. She is the perfect assassin or YSL model who never speaks a word, but she is dreadfully ill-suited to be a relatable role model as she’s as emotionally diverse as an icepick.
But she’s got the resume. Kate is gay and vegan (so is Rose); Kate suffers from childhood trauma (check, Rose), but rather than being a tough broad who refuses to be defined by her sexuality or the cisgender men in her life, she’s a gay stereotype: an emotionally dizzy rebel who fails to gain the acceptance of her father, and eventually falls in love with someone who is too handcuffed to the patriarchy to be openly gay.
Along with her “daddy issues,” this an overused trope, where the more brazen gay lead can’t convince a timid gay supporting actor to run away with them. We’ve seen this story in practically every teen drama in the past three decades, and showrunner Caroline Dries (executive producer, Vampire Diaries) has failed the audience by recycling it the way Disney recycles its own IP.
Kate Kane, presumably a feminist, lacks any self-determination and governance over her own future, which has been determined by the actions of two men: her overprotective dad, and Batman, her cousin, whose grappling hook fails to rescue Kate’s mother and sister inside a crashed car that dangles off a bridge. Like cousin Bruce, the trauma of watching her loved ones die is how Kate is pushed towards vigilantism.
She’s not only trapped in the shadow of the bat; she is a prisoner of a culture governed by unimaginative marketing professionals who believe superheroes ought to be used as slick political billboards, rather than vehicles for fantasy fulfillment or artistic exploration. It’s a new kind of studio exploitation in the era of #MeToo, where blogger headlines have replaced the ferocious and feisty dialogue of femme fatales like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Sharon Stone’s unapologetically sexy sociopath in Basic Instinct.
With the sexually dominant and voluptuous heroine (or villainous b*tch in Basic Instinct) now banished from Hollywood’s more “SJW” productions, we’ve been gifted with dreary characters that have no command over their identity or sexual powers. In editing the male gaze into tastelessly microwavable feminist tropes, Hollywood has managed to produce an artistic typo: lefty-feminist heroines who’ve been polished and edited into buzzwordy marketing campaigns that are completely allergic to sort of brutally individualistic feminism that fueled Sigourney Weaver’s flamethrower in 1979’s Alien.
Rose doesn’t look like a combat-ready athlete, either, which suggests CW wanted a pop star, not a martial artist; not the sinewy gender-neutral pugnacity of Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, who trained like a Navy SEAL for the role, who was not interested in being a poster girl for women’s rights, and yet I cannot think of a more empowering visual than Demi Moore doing single-handed pushups with a shaved head.
In a tragically shortsighted attempt to stay true to the source material, CW’s Batwoman refuses to move beyond unrealistic superhero costumes—which would work if this show had any sense of humor, which it does not. “It will be [perfect], when it [batsuit] fits a woman,” as eyeballs of millions collectively rolled behind their skulls.
Her vain desire to add flaming-red hair extensions to her suit continues in the tradition of superheroines designed to look like BDSM porn stars, which Rose defends with a line written in the framework of a Tumblr meme: “I’m not about to let a man take credit for a woman’s work.” This is a confusing statement, as it’s written as a feminist comment on workplace equality, but transforms Batwoman into a grabby double agent of the patriarchy.
The show’s aesthetic is a mirror reflection of the austere and rigid acting of its lead. Fox’s Gotham looked like a cartoonish goth nightmare blended with Victorian architecture and snappy glamour of ‘30s gangster films. Gotham was showy and animated camp, with theatrical production design that wrapped itself around its characters like an amusement park ride dressed in the decadent art deco of Cedric Gibbons. CW has reintroduced Gotham as a decaying Soviet republic, where the filming locations (Vancouver and Chicago) are made to look like brutalist rebukes of the completely flamboyant aesthetic of Gotham.
Why ‘Batwoman’ Fails Feminism Why ‘Batwoman’ Fails Feminism Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 04:21 Rating: 5

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