Batgirl and Feminism: the 1972 Equal Pay Act PSA

Curator's Note

This Public Service Announcement about the Federal Equal Pay Act was broadcast in 1972, four years after the ABC-TV Batman show had finished. It is most obviously striking for its use of another actor rather than Adam West – Dick Gautier’s vocal impersonation is fair, but not perfect – but while it seems remarkable within the context of the Batman series, this use of Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) is fully consistent with the character’s role at the time. Barbara ‘Batgirl’ Gordon had made her comic book debut in Detective #359 (January 1967) and her first TV appearance the following September – an unaired pilot, introducing the character, was produced in January of that year. Whether she was first developed for comics or the flagging show’s third season is less interesting than the fact that her inception date, 1967, witnessed the first of the gatherings that would grow into a new women’s liberation movement. Barbara – unlike her near namesake and predecessor from the 1950s, Betty ‘Bat-Girl’ Kane – brought a light form of feminism into the mythos from the start. The comic book Batman declares ‘from what I’ve seen, she doesn’t have to take a back seat to anybody’, while Adam West’s Caped Crusader also approves. ‘Whoever she is behind that mask of hers, she helped us out of a dire dilemma.’ In a 1970s comic book story, Babs tackles an abusive man she meets through ‘computer dating’, and in 1972 she tells Jim Gordon ‘Dad, I want your job!’, as she announces her campaign to run for congress. ‘Kick off, baby,’ Jim growls, ‘with my blessing!’ With the current comic book creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart launching Babs into a millennial milieu of Tinder, Instagram and Twitter, it’s worth remembering how much this hipster Batgirl owes to her counterpart of the early 1970s. ‘Women must learn their own history,’ stated a feminist manifesto from 1968, ‘because they have a history to be proud of.’ The modern Batgirl stands on the shoulders of Yvonne Craig, with her spirited defiance of the Dynamic Duo, and the character’s history as a popular feminist holds up surprisingly well.


Thank you for offering some important historical context for the birth and evolution of what has become one of the most popular characters in the DC universe. What I find particularly interesting about female superheroes is that they often bear the responsibility and/or pleasure of maintaining a narrative space in which issues of difference (defined, inevitably, against white heteronormativity) are frequently expressed. Of course, Barbara Gordon's turn as Oracle and a disability icon complicates issues regarding empowered female characters. But I'm even more intrigued by the instances in which transgender characters have been included in the Batgirl universe. Of course, Alysia Yeoh, Barbara's transgender roommate, is the most significant example of this, but that progressive gesture (from writer Gail Simone) is tempered by the more recent kerfuffle involving villainous Batgirl impersonator Dagger Type, a transgender character cut from a very old cloth of social deviancy. Like the mainstream women's rights movement of the Sixties and Seventies, Yvonne Craig's Batgirl can be a source of inspiration but I sometimes wonder to what degree that iteration of the character has been bracketed off as a time piece when we should be addressing how loudly the ticking of that bomb of social consciousness is sounding in our own heads.

A coda to my piece on Bat-Mite from Tuesday could have very easily discussed patriarchal fanboy attitudes as exemplified by Bat-Mite's dismayed reaction to the in-episode trailer for a new CGI-rendered Batgirl animated series: "Batgirl? It's HER show?" While the trailer itself presents a relative parity of the crimefighting prowess between Batgirl and Batman, I think it also points in the general direction of Matt's sentiment of how Batgirl and similar characters are used to indicate difference. Within the episode, the implication seems to be that a Batgirl show rests on the margins of possibility and, despite the upstanding portrayal in the trailer, Batgirl is primarily used as a narrative wedge to befuddle Bat-Mite. Even the mere possibility of a Batgirl series can only be conceived in the context of an episode based on the most inconceivable circumstances that could befall the Bat-universe.

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