How DC’s Legends of Tomorrow teaches viewers how to be a feminist ally

Contributed by
Jan 3, 2017

Since the first episode of Arrow premiered on The CW, the DC TV universe has been doing things a little differently than their big screen counterpart. The shows that make up nearly a full week of superheroics have captivated audiences with their interconnected stories and comic book action. Your mileage may vary, depending on what kinds of stories you prefer to consume on a weekly basis, but one thing is for sure, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is easily the most unique, entertaining, and occasionally outright bonkers of the offerings. 

Now in its second season, Legends of Tomorrow has also become a veritable instruction manual for becoming a good feminist ally.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Supergirl is actually ABOUT being a powerful woman. What about all those Cat Grant speeches? What’s more feminist than that?”

I know, I know, but hear me out. Supergirl has, well, Supergirl, as well as a host of other powerful women owning that power and living their lives on their own terms. Supergirl inspires young girls to stand up for themselves in a world that looks down on them, but Legends adds another important element to the equation: inspiring boys to stand behind their female friends as an ally in the fight against the patriarchy. What’s more, the show spent a surprising amount of time at the beginning of its second season demonstrating exactly how to do it.

Lesson one: Give credit when it’s due

In the very first episode of the season, the Legends find themselves in a race against the clock (haha, time travel joke), as they work to stop Damien Darhk from getting his hands on an atomic bomb. Darhk, it seems, has decided to forego the messy business of purchasing a weapon and is going straight to the source. He’s going to kidnap Albert Einstein. 

The solution, of course, is simply to kidnap the famous scientist first. After all, if they’ve got Einstein, there’s no one else with the requisite knowledge who can supply Darhk with a nuke. Right? Wrong.

Earlier in the episode, Dr. Martin Stein pointed out that Einstein may have had help in developing the theories and technology that led to the atomic bomb: his ex-wife and former student Mileva Maric. Of course, Maric was never publicly credited for her contributions. When the team discovers that Darhk has managed to get his hands on the bomb without Einstein, they realize he has kidnapped Maric instead, since she would be just as useful as her ex-husband, and her absence far less noticeable.

The solution? Jump back in time once again, but this time, instead of kidnapping Einstein, they force him to publicly recognize his ex-wife, an action which makes it impossible for Darhk’s men to kidnap her surreptitiously. 

The fate of the world rests on an egotistical man recognizing the contributions of a woman.

It’s hard enough for women to get ahead in the world, especially in those fields heavily dominated by men, like the sciences. It makes it all the more difficult when our contributions go unnoticed, whether because our abilities underestimated, or because credit is literally stolen by superiors. We’re still learning about the contributions of women to the space program and in fields like physics, computer science, astronomy, chemistry, and the medical sciences. 

Want to support your female friends and coworkers? Work to ensure that they get the credit they’re due. Use your male privilege to shine a light on the contributions of women. Say their names, and make sure others know who they are and what they’ve done.

Lesson two: Elevate women to positions of power

Only moments after they’ve solved their nuclear problem, the Legends end up face to face with the Justice Society of America, a team of superheroes from the 1940s. After the pre-requisite punching, the teams eventually decide to work together to solve their latest problem. But before they can make a plan, JSA leader Rex Tyler (Hourman) wants to coordinate with the leader of our ragtag band of heroes. A leader who, at this point in time, does not exist.

But that’s not an issue for Rex, who logically assumes the distinguished, white, male Dr. Stein is in charge. Rather than correcting his error, Stein accepts his new role, much to the chagrin of his teammates, and begins making some questionable decisions. 

Over the course of the episode, Stein slowly discovers that, while he may be a brilliant scientist and capable hero, that does not automatically make him a good leader. Stein lacks the quick decision-making skills and tactical expertise that benefit the leader of a team of fighters. He also lacks the confidence to stand his ground, not to mention the respect of his teammates. What’s more, he comes to these realizations by witnessing a member of his team who does possess all of these attributes: Sara Lance, the White Canary, former assassin, and sole female member of the team.

Instead of deciding he can simply learn these skills and hang onto his newfound position of power, Dr. Stein recognizes that Sara is a better candidate. By the end of the episode, Stein relinquishes his position and instates Sara as the captain of the Wave Rider and the leader of the Legends.

According to a 2016 report on women in business from Grant Thornton, the percentage of businesses where women hold senior leadership positions is just 24% globally, up 3% since last year. What’s worse, the percentage of companies where zero women hold senior positions has also risen to a staggering 33%. That’s despite evidence which shows that gender diverse leadership benefits businesses. 

The number of women in political roles is also disproportionately low. According to a UN survey, only 23% of all parliamentarians, and only 19 (not percent, actual number) of heads of state/government were women. And that’s a near 100% increase over 20 years.

Another study from 2015 found that women are 15% less likely to be promoted than their male co-workers.

What all those boring numbers seek to demonstrate is that we are far from finding gender equality in the workplace, whether you’re selling insurance, developing cutting edge technologies, or traveling across time fighting a legion of supervillains bent on world domination. 

So how can you help? In the same way, you can ensure that women are given proper credit for their work, you can also work to ensure that women are properly recognized for their skills and rewarded for their work. If you are among those lucky enough to be in a position to make decisions on hiring and promotion within your company, make an effort to offer opportunities to women. Make an effort to diversify your leadership and welcome the benefits it brings.

Lesson three: Listen and support

Perhaps the biggest mistake many allies make when they join a social movement is thinking it’s all about them and their voice. They are fired up at the prospect of fighting for a worthy cause, but in their excitement and desire to take up that fight, they actually end up silencing those whose voices most need to be heard. In this case, women.

In the third episode of this season, the Legends find themselves in feudal Japan, facing off against a Shogun who not only wants to use the Atom suit the conquer the region, but plans to force a young woman named Masako to marry him against her will. And this Shogun is known for killing his wives.

The crux of the episode actually revolves around the ideas of honor and bravery and what make a hero (hint: it’s honor and bravery), but a few small exchanges between Nate and Masako manage to drive home another important part about being a good ally: listening to the oppressed and supporting them and their voices. 

Several times throughout the episode, Masako and Nate discuss their respective insecurities and concerns with their own predicament. Masako feels powerless to fight back against a powerful man, while Nate has problems activating his newfound powers. Each offers advice to the other and finds inspiration in the other’s bravery. 

In the climactic battle between the Legends and the Shogun, Masako finally finds her voice at the end of a sword, standing up to the Shogun, literally staring him down along the blade of her brother’s katana. 

Though the Shogun is ultimately defeated by Nate, that doesn’t mean the newly minted hero is willing to accept all the credit, or Masako’s gratitude. At the end of the episode, when Masako offers her brother’s katana to him, Nate insists that she keep it, and take on the role of village protector. 

Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but in a world that tells women they are somehow less than their male counterparts, it is important for those men to take a step back and let those women fight their own battles. As a good feminist ally, one of the greatest things you can do is also the simplest. Support your female friends, lift them up, let them be heard, and make sure they know that they are powerful and deserving of every ounce of power they manage to claim.

What this really all boils down to is respect. Respect the women in your life, the goals they’re working tirelessly to accomplish and the roadblocks that stand in their way. Moreso, respect that being a good ally isn’t about you. 

After all, it’s the heroic thing to do.