Friday, July 17, 2015

Strong Female Character Friday: Kate Bishop (Hawkeye)

Kate Bishop is a mess. Sometimes when I feel bad about my maturity level or like I'm not quite doing the adult thing right I think about her, about both her and Clint from Matt Fraction and David Aja's phenomenal Hawkeye comics*, and I feel way better. Because no matter how hard I am at adulting, no matter how much money I owe or how long I go in between laundry batches, I still have nothing on the glorious human mess that is Kate freaking Bishop.

Now allow me to explain why that's great.

While sexism and the advertising literature of the forties, fifties, and sixties have insisted for years that women are bad at being adults, by and large what they mean by that is that women aren't "tough enough" for it. That we are too frail and fragile to pay utility bills or fix a leaky faucet or change our own oil. The sexist idea that we can't take care of ourselves insists, conversely, that we are great at taking care of other people. A woman can't live on her own, they say, but she can definitely take care of everyone else!

And yes, that is circular confusing logic. But this view of the world and of women supposes that women are inherently good cooks, great housekeepers, and magically capable of all of the little adult things that they need to manage. Except for anything that involves math or physical labor.

Kate Bishop, on the other hand, is great with physical stuff, but a complete terror when it comes to just about anything else. No, she's not good at managing her money, but she's also a terrible cook and incredibly messy, with a personal life to match. In other words, Kate Bishop is immature in exactly the ways I want to see a female character be immature. She's also kind of whiny sometimes, a little bit of a spoiled brat when she wants to be, and generally a bitch. It's amazing.

It's amazing because women are so rarely allowed to be those things. We so rarely get the opportunity to be unlikable, to be kind of awful. But that's not all that Kate is. Kate is also really compelling. She can be very kind. She can be generous. She can be clever and wise beyond her years. She's a freaking superhero. She's also comfortable being a superhero who shares a codename.** She's complex. She contains multitudes. And she's also kind of a mess.

We meet Kate pretty early in the Hawkeye comics. While the comics sort of bury the lead on that, it becomes clear pretty quickly that they're not just the Clint Barton show, they're about both Hawkeyes. Kate and Clint are pretty close. He thinks of her like a bratty, annoying little sister, and she considers him her dumb, lunkhead big brother. Ah, siblings.

We meet Kate when she gets dragged into Clint's most recent drama, but what makes her a compelling character is how she reacts to it all. She doesn't get super upset or even seem surprised, she rolls with the punches. She outshoots him and saves his butt and drives the getaway car and gives him lip the entire time. Later on she heckles him when they go to a function together. She becomes a more and more interesting character because of how she relates to everyone else. But her real moment to shine is in the third arc where Kate has enough of Clint's idiocy and emotional flagellation and moves to Los Angeles.

Admittedly she does it poorly. Taking off with just a car and a dog and a vague outline of a plan, Kate quickly finds herself in more trouble than anticipated. She's decided to go without her family's money - because she's repulsed by her father's actions and attempts to buy her love - but that means she's basically homeless. An offer that seems to be too good to be true really is, and she barely escapes. 

By a few issues in we find Kate living in a trailer, doing yoga on the roof, trying to freelance as a private eye, and subsisting on canned food.

But there's this pride she has. A pride that comes from knowing that everything she has is something she earned. Kate actually spends a lot of this arc happier than she's ever been because she's discovering that when the chips are down she really can take care of herself. Maybe not well, but it's possible. So what if she gets arrested and beat up and she has no money? She's living on her own terms. She's making it work.

Ultimately, that's the best thing about her character. She knows she's immature and irresponsible, and while she doesn't seem to hate that about herself, she also has this strong desire to prove herself. It's part of why, in her origin series, Young Avengers, she became a superhero at all. She wanted to help people, sure, but she was much more invested in becoming her own person. 

All her life she was told who to be and how to act by her parents. Then she lived in Clint's shadow. This comic is about Kate coming into her own. And being a gigantic mess.

I keep coming back to her messiness because, beyond the fact that she's a really fantastic superhero, I like that Kate clearly doesn't have her life all figured out. We see a lot of man-children in the media, male characters who either haven't grown up or straight up refuse to, but we so rarely see women like that. And women are like that. There are plenty of women who get well into their twenties without knowing how to sign a lease or get a job or buy groceries. That is a thing. And it's well worth exploring in fiction.

So I love that Kate, who lived most of her life as the neglected daughter of incredibly, obscenely rich parents, has now decided to set off on her own and has no idea what she's doing. The important thing is that she tries. She tries really hard. She fails a lot, and then she tries some more. It's amazing. We get to see her not quite grow up, but begin to mature. We're part of her journey.

And that's important because not only does it reflect the path that so many women do actually take, but also because it puts paid to the notion that all women come out of the womb knowing how to cook and clean and take care of others. We don't. We learn that. I was well into college before I could do anything more complex than make rice and I still hate doing laundry.

We need representations of women who aren't put together to remind everyone that women are people too. It's important. Just like we need good role models, we need bad ones too. Or, I guess Kate's not a bad role model, she's just an imperfect one. An incomplete one. I have no doubt that someday Kate Bishop will be a woman to be reckoned with, but it's really cool to see her in the meantime. In the in-between stages where we can just see the woman she'll become but we're not so far from the girl she was. I like the complexity this gives us.

Or maybe I just love seeing a superhero with a messier life than mine.

Right on.
*Matt Fraction and David Aja are the creators of the ongoing Hawkeye comics, but the comics have featured other artists during their run. Most represented here (because she did a lot of the LA arc) is Annie Wu. She's doing the art for Black Canary right now and it's great.

**Both Kate Bishop and Clint Barton go by Hawkeye. Not Hawkeye and Hawkeye II or anything, literally they're both just Hawkeye. Unless someone heard it wrong, and then they're both "Hawkguy."


  1. "Sometimes when I feel bad about my maturity level or like I'm not quite doing the adult thing right I think about her, about both her and Clint"

    This so perfectly describes how I operate sometimes. Kate Bishop is my favorite human disaster. This was such a fantastic read!

    1. Yessss! So glad to know that I'm not the only one who does that!

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