Batwoman Ruby Rose: Feature

Earlier this week it was announced that Ruby Rose had been cast as the CW’s Batwoman. She is first scheduled to appear in the annual inter-series crossover between ARROW, SUPERGIRL, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and FLASH. Then, come 2019, the thinking is Batwoman will have her own show.

As with all things on the internet, reactions were…mixed. Many were fine with it. Others excited! Others still felt a reason to be unhappy. Reasons included that Rose is not Jewish, Rose identifies as gender fluid while Batwoman is cis, she is a bad actor and some men’s rights stuff.

Oddly no one complained that she doesn’t have red hair. After surviving the “Jessica Alba can’t just dye her hair blonde to play Sue Storm” outrages of 2004, that came as a pleasant surprise.

For me, I thought it was cool. However, as a straight cis Christian man, my immediate opinion should hold as much water with more direct experience with those identities. Amongst those who opinions do matter, was anyone right? What if they both were? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Batwoman Ruby Rose: Complicated
Well, what you say isn’t exactly how the internet feels there, Batwoman. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Casting Out The Bad Batwoman Criticisms

Just off the top, let’s throw out some of the really bad takes.

First, I have not seen any “a lesbian Batwoman? Guess us straight men don’t get anything anymore?” takes in the wild. I think this is because a.) the source character is a lesbian and b.) thanks to the wonder that is modern pornography, a lot of straight men are under the impression lesbians ARE for them.

However, I’ve seen people mention this as a reason some menfolk are angry. On the chance that there have been such complaints about television’s Batwoman, I offer this: that’s a dumb reason to complain. Moving on. I have seen complaints along this lines of “Ruby Rose isn’t hot like Kate Kane,” and/or “Oh great, another superhero woman with small breasts.” These are both dumb AND hideous.

Additionally, representation does cover all grounds. As an editor here has assured me, Ruby Rose is very much a lesbian sex symbol. In other words, even if the objections above reflected the tastes of all men — they do not — it still would not matter. Straight men are not now, should they ever be, the sole arbiter of what is sexy.

Batwoman Ruby Rose: In Litchfield
Ruby Rose appearing in the third season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, a role some point to as evidence that she can act and that others say proves the opposite. (Courtesy of Netflix)

The Acting Question

I nearly put this above, but I ultimately decided it deserved more credence than “yuck, lesbians,” or “eww, not hot enough.” From the jump, I question the idea that she can’t act. She can certainly act badass — see JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 — and that seems important for Batwoman. She has charisma — consider THE MEG most recently. To be honest, I think she did well on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. The part is not wildly complex but she did not flounder.

Consider this. Ruby Rose has been in, by my count, six widely available projects in America. To randomly choose a well-respected actor, Robert De Niro proved his chops in probably his first or second easy to find work. By that point, though. he had been making movies for over eight years and was on his ninth production. Moreover, he made two more movies before he reached one that most casual moviegoers would recognize the title of.

Rose has been acting for five years. I’m not saying Rose is going to be De Niro. I’m just pointing out that an acting learning curve is not an unusual thing. We don’t know what she can do yet. Heck, I’d wager she does not know what she can do yet for that matter. Additionally, she has never been the lead in any of her six productions.

Playing Batwoman, especially in the solo tv series, is unlike anything she has ever done. It seems easy to imagine that she can deliver more when asked for. I do understand the fear which is why I decided not to dismiss it out of hand. But when you really think about it, Rose has not failed at any role yet and has not truly had an opportunity to prove herself.

An Essential Reading List For Kate Kane A.K.A. Batwoman

Gender & Sexuality — The Disclaimer

Now, the complaint here is a little tricky. For one, I am straight, cis man. I doubt I am anyone’s idea of “masculine” but I definitely present as a man and that fits my internal understanding of myself. So I know neither the difficulties of being gender fluid or experiencing same-sex attraction. I plan to step lightly here but if I screw up, please do call me out for it, timstevens@comicsverse.com.

Gender & Sexuality — The Criticism

As I understand it the issue here is Rose identifies as gender fluid and a lesbian while Kane identifies as cis and a lesbian. The reasoning goes that casting Rose is therefore not truly representative as being gender fluid is a decidedly different experience from identifying specifically as a woman in terms of gender.

It is not the same, of course, as casting a straight cis woman in the part but it still speaks to a disconnect between the identity of the character and the identity of the actor.

Batwoman Ruby Rose: Menacing
Just imagine this kind of image on your television this fall! (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Gender & Sexuality — The Commentary

Right from the start, I have to point this out: how excellent is it that, without much of a campaign even, the CW cast a queer actor in the role of a queer character? Even five years ago, that would have been huge! Hell, I’m not sure it isn’t huge in this year. The fact that a network is making a TV series with an out lesbian superhero, a fact they mention in their press releases, is a reason to celebrate.

Yes, many MANY  steps lay between LGBTQ people and full equality in life, nevermind pop culture, but big moments still should be recognized. Purely from a representation standpoint, this feels like a win to me. Cis people have played gender fluid, trans, gay when they were straight, and so on for who knows how long. To have a gender fluid person cast as cis seems like a very very small correction.

Rose’s gender fluidity does not necessarily distance herself from the experience of being a woman in the world. As best as could I find, Rose utilizes feminine pronouns. That, combined with her appearance, foregrounds her biological sex. As a result, even though she identifies as gender fluid, she is still often referred to as a woman by the wider world. As a result, she most likely is very familiar with the pressures and expectations of cis women. She may even feel them more acutely given that — again going by her description — someday she wakes up feeling more masculine than feminine. If you can conceive of how difficult it must be as a woman to fulfill society’s “rules” regarding women, imagine how it must be for someone who identifies as gender fluid but is often judged by others to be “solely” feminine.

The Convergence of Batwoman’s Queer and Military Identities

Religion — The Disclaimer

In addition to being cis and straight, I am also a Christian. This gives me some different perspectives on religion and culture than I have many Jewish people having. For instance, back in high school, I found out a Jewish friend was dating a non-Jewish classmate but planned to break up with her at some point because he would only marry someone Jewish.

As a member of the most dominant religious group in the United States and on the planet, that seemed terrible to me. He’d seriously break up with someone because of their religion? However, in the years since I’ve grown to see my reaction as privilege. Jewish people, especially of the Orthodox persuasion like himself, feel a tremendous responsibility — and honor — to maintain the presence of their faith on this planet. Marrying and having children within the faith is an important aspect of this.

But I go on. The point is, I’m not Jewish so, again, I may be missing nuances here. If so, let me know about it.

Religion — The Criticism

Batwoman is explicitly Jewish in the comics. While the extent of her faith has not been stated explicitly, it seems unlikely/impossible she identifies as Orthodox or Hasidic. Given her sexuality, she probably would not be Conservative either, but we cannot say for sure.

That caveat acknowledged, she most likely identifies as Reformed or just culturally Jewish. The latter is somewhere between a Christmas and Easter Christian and an Atheist who will attend religious ceremonies to make mom happy. Being Jewish is still important to somewhere culturally Jewish but they may not believe in some, many, or all of the explicitly religious aspects of Judaism.

Regardless of Batwoman’s expression of her Judaism, Rose is not Jewish at all. Some people have objected to this, especially given the rise of Anti-Semitism in the US. In much the same way that a gay man should play a gay male character, a Jewish person should play a Jewish character, the reasoning goes.

The response on the other side has been that representation is about giving voices (and roles) to the voiceless. Getting a trans actor to play a trans character is important because trans characters are rare and trans actors are even rarer. However, neither Jewish characters nor Jewish actors are rare. Therefore, the argument goes, there is no concern of representation here.

Batwoman Ruby Rose: Evil-ing It
Ruby Rose in RESIDENTIAL EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, her first feature film role in the U.S. (Courtesy of Screen Gems)

Religion — The Commentary

I am much fuzzier on this one, perhaps because I never saw it coming. Additionally, my kneejerk reaction, again as a Christian, was “surely people aren’t complaining about this?”. So I was wrong and am still an idiot about my privilege sometimes.

There are so many questions to consider here. Jewish people make up approximately 39% of the population in America. With the exception of Christians, that represents the largest single religious bloc in the nation. On the other hand, the Jewish population will only rise by about 15% in the next 30 years while the world should rise by about 35%. That means their percentage of the world population will only shrink further.

Does Rose identify as any particular faith at all? If she didn’t, would that be better or worse? And so on. I honestly don’t know, even for myself, what to think. A correction, like the one I described above regarding casting someone gender fluid as cis, does not really exist here. Casting a Jewish person as a Christian, sure, that would work. But casting another faith or an Atheist as Jewish seems to have a very different feel to it.

My instinct would be to side with those pointing out that Jewish people are well-represented in Hollywood and therefore this casting does not diminish them. Still, that does not feel quite right to me. Especially, as I noted above, the weird and horrifying resurgence of Nazi symbols and ideas in America over the past several years.

Why Batwoman Being Jewish is So Important

Criticism Is Important Though

At the end of the day, given my religious choices, my biological and gender composition, and my sexuality my opinion is not actually all that important. In fact, I’d hazard to say it does not matter at all.

My point here was not so much to say, “this is what I think now go forth and do likewise.” I just wanted to disclose all the above to make it clear I have thoughts on all this, I take it seriously, and not pretend to have reactions or ideas I don’t have.

I do think celebrating victories is important and this casting is a victory.

But I also the complaints, the objections, are important. Without the anger, even in the midst of victory, resting on our laurels can be too easy.

Batwoman Ruby Rose: Ripped up Mask
It is important to note that despite objections, Ruby Rose’s casting as Batwoman has been largely met with excitement. Thus, it is unlikely she will end up with her metaphorical costume as shredded as Kate Kane’s is here. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Trans Representation As An Example

In 1999 Hilary Swank was hailed as a hero for playing a trans character in BOYS DON’T CRY. A breakthrough, it was praised by many as a thoughtful, sensitive portrayal of life as trans at that moment. However, as knowledge about the trans experience has increased, views on the film have changed. Even the journalist who first reported story Brandon Teena’s story has come to see the mistakes she made in telling that story.

BOYS could not happen now. For good reason. We and our expectations have evolved. Casting a cis person to play trans is increasingly recognized as a very bad idea. Just ask Scarlett Johansson who flirted with the idea earlier this summer.

More recently Jeffrey Tambor and TRANSPARENT were both praised upon the show’s debut. There were some objections, but they were generally drowned out by huzzahs. However, as the series progressed, the climate changed even before his horrible behavior on set came to light. Other artistic endeavors met strong pushback when trying to cast cis for trans. Even as TRANSPARENT continued to be a critical darling, objections to Tambor’s casting grew louder.

The point being, trans people could have made the proverbial bargain that some portrayal was better than none and thus it didn’t matter if they were the ones telling the stories or not. But they, rightly, did not accept that as enough.

As a result, the bar moved. Collectively, we — cis, fluid, trans, and more — have gotten more art with better representation. Take ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK or TANGERINE, for example. Does that happen without people raising objections amongst the confetti and the awards? Maybe. But it doesn’t happen as fast, for sure. It does not happen without trans people recognizing they deserve more.

An Essential Reading List For Kate Kane A.K.A. Batwoman

Towards A Unified Theory Of Objecting

The above goes for anything. It is imperative to celebrate victories because they give energy and hope. Without energy and hope, movements die because they are hard enough already under the best of circumstances. Noting the wins is not vain or boastful, it is how you mark time and realize you are making a difference.

However, the voices that demand more are needed too. The ones that say, “Yes, feminism is great, but until it is intersectional it is mostly benefitting white women. The ones that say, “I’m thrilled that sodomy laws are being struck down, but why can’t I marry a man just because I am one too?” Or, as noted above, the voices that say, “BOYS DON’T CRY was great. But it would have been better with an actual trans person. And it would have meant more.”

There will always be excesses. The people that celebrate too quickly. That part themselves on the back and walk away before the work is done. Or, on the other side, those that can’t stop looking for the perfect at the cost of the good. However, the excesses are not reason enough to outlaw celebration or exile objection. Both are needed for progress. The people that can see how far they have come and the ones that can recognize how much is left to go.

Celebrate Batwoman and Ruby Rose, but if something does not feel right, if there feels like there is more road to travel, note that too. As I said above, we have so far to go as a society, if we don’t have people prodding us and forcing us to see that, well, it is going to take longer. And it has taken so damn long already.

Batwoman Ruby Rose: Discussing it
Ruby Rose discusses her Batwoman casting earlier this week on THE TONIGHT SHOW. (Courtesy of NBCUniversal Television)

A Postscript

I initially wrote this piece Friday afternoon. While waiting for edits, Ruby Rose shut down for Twitter account Saturday. She did so in reaction to online harassment.

The story is becoming increasing familiar. A woman becomes involved in a “geek” property. The fans object to her. There are the stated reasons — she is a Mary Sue, she’s the worst character, she’s not RIGHT for the role, etc. Then there are the reasons not said. Mostly, that they are women. Or, in the case of Rose, commonly perceived as women.

There are reasonable objections, they are smart criticisms. These are the ones that move us forward, that improve representation.

Then there is harassment. They are not the same thing, not be a country mile.

When Ruby Rose spoke about the casting on THE TONIGHT SHOW, she was visibly thrilled and overwhelmed with the opportunity. She spoke of the opportunity to be a figure of representation for kids like her, something she grew up without. She spoke of wearing her costume to hospitals, to inspire and encourage children with chronic or terminal illnesses. Her excitement was palpable and it was not just for her. It was for kids who needed to see someone like themselves being a hero, for kids who needed a superhero in their hospital room to find hope. This is EXACTLY what we should want in the people cast in these properties.

Connecting with those kids will be harder now. I stand for the critics, for the objections, for the reasonable demanding of better representation. But this…this is not reasonable. This is harassment. And it is another black mark on fandom.

2 Comments

  1. […] process of saying goodbye to her BATWOMAN story (for now), and how exciting it will be to see her portrayed on television. She also described her approach with the character in her solo series versus BOMBSHELLS. […]

    Reply

  2. Erdood

    August 13, 2018 at 11:24 am

    I’m commenting on this article as a genderqueer/fluid, agnostic atheist, ethnic Jew from Israel.
    You have made 3 mistakes regarding Batwoman’s Jewishness:

    1. Jews are an ethnoreligious group, meaning Jew can describe ethnic identity, as well as a religious one. I don’t believe in Judaism, the religion of the Jewish people. Wikipedia has separate articles on Judaism and Jews, because those 2 things are separate.

    2. You failed to address Batwoman’s Jewish and Lesbian identities TOGETHER. These ARE NOT separate things. Batwoman’s identity as a Jew AND Lesbian is very important for many people. It’s VERY important to me as a genderqueer/fluid, agnostic atheist, ethnic Jew, and ESPECIALLY as one from Israel. There’s A LOT of homophobia/queerphobia/LGBT hatred in Israel. There’s also A LOT of misogyny in Israel.

    3. There’s a huge schism between the Israeli right (which currently holds power there) and non Orthodox or Hasidic Jews. The Israeli right DOSE NOT LIKE non Orthodox or Hasidic Jews, and discriminates against them as well.

    Denying such a powerful positive representation of a non Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish queer woman is HORRIBLE! It’s an egregious offense against Jewish (ethnically or religiously) women in Israel and everywhere, Jewish (ethnically or religiously) queer folk in Israel and everywhere, and against non Orthodox or Hasidic Jews in Israel and everywhere.

    Reply

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