Catwoman and Hawkgirl
Lady Comic Book History Podcast
In this article we will be talking about the chavenist, mysoginistic sexism that ran rampant in the creation of female heroes in the 40s, if you would rather hear this rant please find the Lady Comic Book History podcast pretty much anywhere podcasts are available.
This is a topic that I am very passionate about and it's one that I have a lot to say about so before we get into Catwoman’s origins and her long sometimes complicated storylines I am going to read a direct quote from Catwoman’s creator Bob Kane about her inception so that you can see where the intense feminist rant that is about to insue is coming from.
“I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached, and unreliable. I felt much warmer with dogs around me—cats are as hard to understand as women are. Men feel more sure of themselves with a male friend than a woman. You always need to keep women at arm's length. We don't want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that. So there's a love-resentment thing with women. I guess women will feel that I'm being chauvinistic to speak this way, but I do feel that I've had better relationships with male friends than women. With women, once the romance is over, somehow they never remain my friends. ” —Bob Kane
That said Catwoman is a DC Comics character making her first appearance in the first issue of Batman as “The Cat'' in the Spring of 1940, her real name is Selina Kyle. The creation of the character was born out of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s desire to give a comic book character sex appeal, because thats of course is what is important when creating female characters...Catwoman is a natorious burglar and jewel thief the story originally attempted to establish her core personality as a femme fatale, I say attempted because femme fatales are women who historically use and are empowered by their sexuality but they are not driven nor defined by it which is one of the many mistakes made in the creation of Selina Kyle. It is revealed in the Earth-two version of the character that Selina had been trapped in a bad marriage and decided to leave her husband, who had kept her jewelry in his private vault leaving her to break into it to retrieve it. Selina continued with a life of crime because she enjoyed it...not because she escaped from a bad situation and needed to find a way to support herself but because she enjoyed it. Several stories in the 1970s depicted Catwoman committing murder something that neither her Earth-1 or Earth-2 characterizations would ever do. This version of Catwoman took place in the world of Earth-B, yes DC is a bit hard to keep track of because of the numerous universes they have created when switching writers or when writing themselves into a corner and are unable to figure another way out. In this version of Catwoman’s origins she worked as a dominatrix for the pimp Stan and sheltered a child prostitute named Holly Robinson. Modern Age Tangles Origins is a storyline in which Selina decides to leave prostitution and takes Holly with her supporting them by robbing the rich and powerful men of Gotham. More details of her life working as a dominatrix are revealed in the 1989 Catwoman limited series. In Catwoman vol.2 we learn more about Selina’s childhood, her mother is a distant parent who would rather spend time with cats then her family and ends up commiting suicide when Selina is very young, Her father is an alcoholic who is very detached from Selina because she resembles her mother and he eventually drinks himself to death. Selina is then sent to an orphanage and then a juvenile detention center. Now this kind of background can be used as very powerful motivation and is a relatively strong foundation for her character however I believe that in the execution of her storylines we lose the characters obvious strength and power that it takes to survive and grow up in an environment like this. While in juvy Selina discovers that the detention center’s administrator has been embezzling funds and she confronts her, the administrator puts Selina in a bag and drops her in the river to drown, ya know like a cat.
Her later solo series revealed that she had developed some form of a personality disorder causing her to act as herself and as an identity that seems to be her sister Maggie pretending to be her, Selinaception. After the Infinite Crisis storyline Selina has a baby with Batman, Helena Wayne, the writers decided to make a point for Selina to notice that she had gained weight and her costume was now tighter, in a addition she became easily distracted by common criminals less implying and more explicitly stating that being a mother has suddenly made her inept at a career path that she had previously been very good at. She questions whether or not she should be raising a daughter when her life as Catwoman has already proven to be such a danger, which is something male heros have never questioned once ever.
My biggest problem with this development in her character is that it is real it's a question that every actress, musician, female politician, and career woman in nearly every interview that exists and it is a question that has been directed a man possibly 3 times in the history of the world, How do you balance work and family? And it's disgusting because finding balance in life is a human effort but it's something that's only called into question when that person has ovaries. The fact that can’t be escaped even in comic books just cements the idea that women should have to choose and men can basically do whatever they want despite familial obligation, Batman exists in this storyline and never once does he question his ability to fight crime because he now has a daughter. I’m annoyed. In nearly every storyline Selina features in after this centers around her on and off relationship with Batman, and her genuinely struggling to find self-worth and individual purpose outside of that relationship and it really reduces her character to nothing more than a love interest and it's really awful. She really doesn’t come back into her own until joining up with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy for the Gotham City Sirens and then right after she leaves that team she goes right back to being a lost, sad, love sick girl and it's such a waste of a character that could have been a true femme fatale and unfortunatley over her 6 decades of development not a single one of her writers has allowed her to outgrow her original chauvanistic intention and it's really very disappointing.
Another woman rarely given her due is my favorite DC character of all time, Sheyera Hol or Hawkgirl. Also produced by DC comics and created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville she makes her first appearance in the first issue of Flash Comics in January of 1940. Early depictions of Hawkgirl included use of archaic weapons and artificial wings and always included Hawkman by her side, just for clarification they are romantic partners and the same age but Hawkgirl does not become Hawkwoman until 1981...These two have one of the most convoluted origins in the DC universe as they have appeared in Earth's 1- 2- 4- S- X but in all of them Hawkman is the feature and Hawkgirl is his sidekick. She lives in this subservient side role for 66 years until the Hawkman monthly was retitled for Hawkgirl starting with issue #50 and quickly concludes with issue #66. 66 years as a sidekick and she gets to be front woman for a total of 16 issues...this remains the norm in the comic books but is adjusted in the best way possible when both characters were adapted for the screen in the cartoon versions of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Where pretty much the entirety of the main storyline focuses on Sheyera’s journey and then her redemption in Unlimited, now these are the cartoons I was raised on and how I discovered my love for this character but this medium and this world of comic book characters. In the most consistent version of her origins Hawkgirl is a guardian of Thangar, a member of the Thangardian military possessing enhanced physical strength, endurance and durability she wields a mace made of Nth Metal which can generate electric currents and repel magical energies one of her biggest victories being against the powerful magician Doctor Fate, she has also used her mace to deflect incoming projectiles as well as a makeshift defibrillator unit. The cartoon version of her character is a far better and stronger depiction of her abilities and provides more solid character development as it really centers around her story instead of her simply being a side character and plot device for Hawkman’s storylines.
Essentially two of the most recurring characters created in 1940 both generally reduced to sexist tropes, Hawkgirl however has had more fulfilling adaptations where as I feel like even in her solo movie Catwoman once again fell victim to the male gaze and being oversexualized without being balanced with substantial character development.