Straight talk on real women
GUARD YOUR daughters closely. On Wednesday, Batwoman will come out as a lesbian. No, it’s not as big a deal as if, say, Strawberry Shortcake were appearing on the cover of Out. Most people -- myself included -- don’t really know who Batwoman is. But the media have been all over this for months, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon (make that the Subaru station wagon; I used to own one, so I’m allowed to say this).
Batwoman is turning up in a DC Comics’ series called “52,” which launched in May. Among the characters is Kathy Kane, a buxom, red-haired socialite with romantic ties to a female ex-cop. On Wednesday, when the much-anticipated (or at least much-hyped by DC Comics) issue of “52" is released, we will learn that Kane is really Batwoman.
I don’t know if the new Batwoman will be bulletproof, elastic or able to fly, but if Kane’s manicured appearance is any indication, I don’t think she’ll be using power tools or even playing acoustic guitar. So unless there’s an abrupt character change, it looks like DC will steer clear of the stereotypes I’ve invoked in the preceding paragraphs.
The other day, I visited my local comic book store to inquire about the cultural significance of Batwoman’s coming out. That should give you an idea of just how committed I am to this column. If there’s anything more intimidating than the kind of used-record store that only seems to sell Radiohead albums, it’s a comic book store. You can multiply that by 20 if you walk in wearing a peasant blouse and flip flops, using words like “signifier” and trying to act all informed by mentioning that Batwoman hasn’t been around since 1979, when she was killed by a bronze tiger (I swore I’d read that in one of the news articles).
Suffice it to say that I was upbraided by the clerk, who told me that a) superheroes rarely die but are instead transported to other realms (or something like that), and b) there are lots of gay comic book characters and the fixation on Batwoman was just another example of the media exploiting a topic it knows nothing about. We then proceeded to have a conversation about “Commissioner Barbara Gordon,” and it took me several minutes to realize he was talking about a comic book character and not an actual politician.
So, yes, I’m a dope when it comes to comics (also apparently about city government). But I’m not a dope about that 51% of the population known as women, many of whom seem to be undergoing a sexual identity crisis without even knowing it. Maybe baby-doll dresses, chick lit and the Olsen twins have infiltrated our consciousness to the point of oblivion. Whatever the reason, it appears that there are only two ways to go about being female these days: You are either a midriff-bearing, gum-snapping, engagement ring-chasing girly girl or you are a probable lesbian.
We used to think of this dichotomy in terms of “separating the women from the girls.” Perhaps you remember how this went. Teenagers and early twentysomethings wore nameplate necklaces and waited for the phone to ring, and adult women owned condos and knew how to unclog a toilet without losing their sex appeal.
But in a culture that’s as allergic to subtlety as it is obsessed with youth, acceptable versions of womanhood seem to be melting away with the polar ice cap. You either get the Botox, the boob job, the bikini wax and baby doll dresses, or you take the radical step of looking and acting like a fully formed, grown-up female.
Once upon a time, these fully formed creatures were called “real women.” Now they’re called lesbians. This is especially true in cases in which the women in question are not known to actually be lesbians. What do Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Christiane Amanpour, Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart have in common? It’s not that they’re accomplished, independent, talented, ambitious or rich, it’s that they’re all secretly gay! Ask anyone who reads Internet blogs.
I’m allowed to say this because I’m secretly gay too. Or at least I try to be. What choice do I have? Apparently “lesbian” is now the de facto label for any woman who asserts her own tastes and opinions and does not necessarily need to get married tomorrow. Granted, this might be confusing for people who lack opinions and their own tastes, and are desperate to settle down, but happen to be actual lesbians. But, according to the current cultural mind-set, a heterosexual woman who has her act together simply does not exist in nature.
Is it any wonder, then, that we (at least we in the media, who have high rates of secret lesbianism) are so fascinated by Batwoman’s newest incarnation? DC Comics might be touting the idea of diversity, but I suspect what we’re really seeing is an antidote to the rampant girliness of our era presented -- how’s this for ironic? -- in the safest way possible.
If there’s anything scarier than a strong lesbian, it’s a strong straight woman. Now there’s a superhero we could use.