No Place For a Girl:
Batman Comics of the 90s and BeyondThese contradictions of femininity from the 1980s continued through the 1990s and even into the present decade. After the brutal and negative depictions seen during the previous decade, much of the 1990s was aimed at increasing female demographics and introducing more positive female characters outside of just Batgirl. This led to a wide increase in the female heroes who fought alongside Batman. Chief among these were the characters Oracle and the third woman to take on the mantle of Batgirl. The character of Oracle is extremely interesting, mainly in that she is Barbara Gordon, the previous Batgirl. After being crippled by the Joker in The Killing Joke, a character such as hers would seemingly be relegated to the sidelines. However, while bound to a wheelchair, Barbara nevertheless used her intelligence and vast array of computer knowledge to become an information broker and continued aiding Gotham's heroes. 1 With this revitalization of Barbara Gordon as Oracle, a trend began where heroes were portrayed with some mental hangups or a physical disability. This trend was also seen in the third Batgirl. Cassandra Cain was an extremely strong female superhero, and trained since her birth as an assassin before joining Batman and fighting crime. Introduced in 1999, This new Batgirl quickly gained her own ongoing series that ran for over seventy issues. 2 Cassandra even defeated the character Lady Shiva, a woman considered to be the greatest martial artist in the DC Universe. 3
Other characters like Catwoman gained greater prominence during the 1990s. After Catwoman's revitalization as a strong female character in the 1980s, she became more popular. After being featured in the 1993 film Batman Returns,
Although some strong female characters became more prominent and developed meaningful relationships with Batman, other females continued to be portrayed much like their 1950s counterparts. Both these themes appeared in the 2005 Batman series All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder. Written by Frank Miller of The Dark Knight Returns, this series attempted to create iconic portrayals of Batman and Robin not tied down by the sixty years of continuity.
Vicki Vale's work clothes.
And so the current Batman comics include just as many negative portrayals of women that were present in the 1940s and 1950s. However, these very stereotypical depictions are mitigated in many ways by the strong portrayals of women that were introduced in the late 1960s and which continued to develop through the 1980s and 1990s. While this may seem contradictory, it merely demonstrates the differing views of women in society and popular culture present through the last sixty years of American history. Although the women's movement and later feminist movement forced society to accept the ideas of strong, independent woman, the conservative backlash against the women's liberation movement in the late 1970s and 1980s called these ideas into question, and women were once more seen as inherently different from their male counterparts. "The rise of cultural feminism also disturbed many equal rights feminists who objected to any definition of feminism that promoted the concept of 'innate differences' between women and men." 11. As a result, contradictions in the portrayals of women continue to exist in the current popular culture.