Thursday, February 23, 2006

Can Catwoman Have It All?

The Catwoman #53 pages at the first One Year Later preview posted at Newsarama got me thinking: can a comic book contribute to the resolution of one of our society's great conundrums?

Will Selina Kyle get to experience the joys of motherhood and righteous ass-kicking One Year Later? Can she continue to be a costumed, morally ambiguous superhero and be a nurturing, supportive mother to her child?

Will Pfeifer's statements about the book's direction (that accompany the preview pages), coupled with Betty Friedan's recent death, brought to my mind a fairly recent (9.20.05) New York Times article which found that young women at elite universities seem to be setting motherhood as a higher priority goal than a career. The piece, written by Louise Story, is titled "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood."

Here are the opening paragraphs:
Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: smart (1510 SAT), disciplined (4.0 grade point average), competitive (finalist in Texas oratory competition), musical (pianist), athletic (runner) and altruistic (hospital volunteer). And at the start of her sophomore year at Yale, Ms. Liu is full of ambition, planning to go to law school.

So will she join the long tradition of famous Ivy League graduates? Not likely. By the time she is 30, this accomplished 19-year-old expects to be a stay-at-home mom.

''My mother's always told me you can't be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time,'' Ms. Liu said matter-of-factly. ''You always have to choose one over the other.''

At Yale and other top colleges, women are being groomed to take their place in an ever more diverse professional elite. It is almost taken for granted that, just as they make up half the students at these institutions, they will move into leadership roles on an equal basis with their male classmates.

There is just one problem with this scenario: many of these women say that is not what they want.

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.
Damn, damn, damn, damn. It doesn't look hopeful for Selina Kyle to continue as a costumed adventuress if these really smart young women (RSYW) have taken the measure of the society in which we live and have decided, contrary to the liberating dictum, that they can't have it all. They're being forced to choose, and they have the luxury to be able to plan for a future which allows them to absent themselves from the workforce--a topic for another post.

A recent (2.8.06) New York Times op-ed piece by Judith Warren titled "The Parent Trap" blames an entrenched, gendered, and unequal division of household labor as the core of the problem: women with careers and children are expected to perform (and plan and worry about) the myriad domestic duties which adhere to family life.

This piece is behind the NYT's "Select" wall, so here are the important paragraphs:
You could say that the ''plight'' of 21st century stay-at-home moms -- or part-time working moms like me -- is vastly different from ''the problem that has no name'' experienced by the women of Ms. Friedan's generation, and in one key respect you'd be right: Girls and women today are no longer kept from pursuing their educational dreams and career aspirations. They're no longer expected to abandon their jobs when they marry and -- in theory -- are no longer considered ''unnatural'' if they keep working when they have children.

We women have, in many very real ways, at long last made good on Ms. Friedan's dream that we would reach ''our full human potential -- by participating in the mainstream of society.'' But, for mothers in particular, at what cost? With what degree of exhaustion? And with what soul-numbing sacrifices made along the way?

The outside world has changed enormously for women in these past 40 years. But home life? Think about it. Who routinely unloads the dishwasher, puts away the laundry and picks up the socks in your house? Who earns the largest share of the money? Who calls the shots?

The answer, for a great many families, is the same as it was 50 years ago. That's why when I read the obituaries of Ms. Friedan, who died on Saturday, I was sad, but also depressed: their recounting of her description of the lives of women in the 1950's sounded just too much like the lives of women today.

I am assuming that Catwoman remains single. So, who will be loading Selina Kyle's washing machine? Will Catwoman be distracted by child-concerns during a face-off with some murderous supervillain?

Selina Kyle would require a lot of money (to cover health care, and child care costs); a live in care-giver (or care-givers) for her child (to cover for the unpredictable nature of being a costumed adventuress); someone to prepare meals and keep things tidy; and, most importantly, the personal commitment to continue with her costumed life and be a mother.

Since we're in a comic book world, it seems to me that Selina Kyle would need to live something like Bruce Wayne's existence (without being married to Bruce Wayne--which I'm hoping and assuming won't happen) in order for this to work. For example, while she needn't have an Alfred, someone close would surely be helpful.

Of course, it's possible that Will Pfeifer might be planning story-arcs in which a less-than-wealthy, adventuring Selina is criticized for being an unworthy, unfit, or neglectful mother. While this is almost inevitable, the idea of a really smart young woman satisfactorily sorting all of this out appeals to me much more. However it plays out, it will be interesting to see how Pfeifer works through the important decisions and dilemmas facing Selina Kyle.

My understanding is that OYL, Selina won't be Catwoman. My bet's on Holly. Now, sometime in the future, Selina might put on the CW costume again and resume her rightful role, but that doesn't seem to be how they plan to start CW OYL. So, how this will all play out should be very interesting.
A kid would definitely stir things up whether she chooses to keep the baby, give it up, stay Catwoman or pass the legacy along...

Either way, I'm looking forward to it. :-)
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