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Batgirl and Feminism: the 1972 Equal Pay Act PSA

by Ethan Tussey

by Will Brooker for IN MEDIA RES

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.

Batman and PSA

A Batman TV PSA

from Batman (1966)
Creator: Warner Bros.
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey