From the Library: Batgirl!
Meet Barbara Gordon, librarian at the Gotham City Public Library by day, and crime-fightin' wonder Batgirl by night. Gordon was first introduced to the Batman comics and TV show in 1966, as an attempt to bring in female readers and viewers. While previous female characters (Batwoman and Bat-girl) were introduced in an attempt to dodge accusations of homosexuality between Batman and Robin, Batgirl wasn't there for romance as much as she was for ass-kicking. And did I mention that she was a librarian?
Barbara Gordon's character was so successful that she almost got her own TV show. Check out what's available of the pilot episode (that never aired) below:
Before being introduced to Barbara Gordon (played by Yvonne Craig), this clip opens with, "Gotham City, like any other large metropolis, abounds with girls of all shapes and sizes. Debutantes, nurses, stenographers, and librarians." Oh, the plethora of career choices for women in the 60s! As Wendi Arant and Candace Benefiel point out in The Image and Role of the Librarian, the fact that Batgirl's alter ego was a librarian is likely explained by the fact that "librarianship was at the time an established and acceptable occupation for a(n) (unmarried) young woman". And being young and unmarried were not the only stereotypical librarian traits that Gordon possessed.
You'll notice that the two librarians in this clip (Barbara Gordon and her co-worker) definitely fit the bill for the librarian stereotype that is so often portrayed in film. They've both got thick glasses, quiet voices, and conservative dress with high necklines. And there is something to be said for Gordon's job as a librarian acting as the ultimate alter ego to her Batgirl persona. As Arant and Benefiel also point out in The Image and Role of the Librarian, "Barbara Gordon's job as a seemingly meek and passive librarian had to be considered an ideal contrast to her truly significant (and exciting) work as Batgirl."
Since Batgirl's a superhero and librarians are perceived as being innocuous, there's no way that any of the other characters are going to be able to make the connection, right? And if the opposite of Batgirl is a librarian, what does that say about librarians? That in order to be a bad ass, they must literally transform themselves?
Regardless of whether or not Batgirl was reinforcing popular stereotypes about librarians, she was definitely empowering a whole lot of young girls. In 1998, Yvonne Craig talked about the role that her character played in young girl's lives:
I meet young women who say Batgirl was their role model. They say it's because it was the first time they ever felt girls could do the same things guys could do, and sometimes better. I think that's lovely.
In the 60s and onward, Batgirl became a symbol of women's empowerment. In 1972, she appeared in a public service announcement for the United States Department of Labor, in which she advocated for equal pay for women. This PSA will greatly improve your life:
A commenter on a previous post said that she wanted to be either a librarian or Batgirl when she grew up...What about you? Did you have a relationship with Batgirl while growing up? Did she make you want to be a superhero, or a librarian...or both?
Next week, we'll take a look at what happens to Batgirl's character after she's shot in the back by The Joker and then adopts the secret identity of Oracle, a computer hacker who just might represent a changing perception about librarians in popular culture. Stay tuned!
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