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Girl Power as a commodity in The Boys

By Emma Fraser
Starlight The Boys Season 2

"Who's revving up the girl power in the Seven?" Starlight (Erin Moriarty) teases during the big "Girls Get It Done" local news and radio promo campaign in the second season of The Boys. Feminism as an advertising tool is a familiar tale in the real world, from Butcher's beloved Spice Girls in the 1990s to the way female superhero characters are marketed. The latter is a feature of The Boys from the opening episode. Billion-dollar international conglomerate Vought boasts a line-up of heroes who use their extraordinary talents for the so-called good of mankind (and the stock market).

The recent arrival of Aya Cash as Stormfront reinforces themes that were raised during Season 1, including the PR challenges women face and the tension within a manufactured team all vying for celebrity and power.

Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of The Boys.

The Boys

Before Stormfront unexpectedly replaced the not-so-dearly-departed Translucent, the relationship between the Seven's two women had shifted from combative to empathetic. In the pilot episode, Queen Maeve's (Dominique McElligott) first piece of advice to the newest member of the superhero squad was to "Never let them see you like this."

Annie has just been sexually assaulted by the Deep (Chace Crawford) and rather than ask why her mascara is smeared all over her face, Maeve looks at her colleague with tired disdain. The bathroom is traditionally used as the one safe workplace space to vent or cry, but in the glistening Vought tower, weakness is not permitted, even in private.

Bookending the season, the plush bathroom is the backdrop for a more heartfelt and understanding conversation between the pair. After Annie tells her coworker she isn't in the mood for her signature "bottomless casual cruelty," Maeve surprises her with kindness. "I was just like you," she explains. "I started giving pieces of myself away and I guess I gave everything away." Maeve has been towing the company line for so long and bowing to Homelander's every dangerous whim that she has forgotten why she joined the Seven. Annie is a reminder of the optimism — and naiveté — she once possessed, which is why she has been so hard on her.

Caught between a mentor role she doesn't want and feeling like old news, Maeve's ego is impacted by her younger counterpart, but she also knows that niceties will not get you anywhere at a company as corrupt as this one. The Boys covers a spectrum of workplace toxicity including this depiction of a woman who has survived and experienced a cornucopia of sexism and harassment. So why is it her job to protect the starry-eyed girl-next-door? Maeve's cynicism runs as deep as her long stint in the Seven. Consequently, she reads Annie's empowering speech at the "Believe" Expo as a way to stay in the spotlight. "As long as you're trending, right?" she snarkily remarks when she sees Annie dressed down in civilian plaid, incorrectly assuming she is acting the victim to gain sympathy (and fans).

The Boys

Calling her out on what she now perceives to be marketing BS, Annie refuses to let her peer have the last word. She once looked up to her but realizes the stories of bravery peddled are likely fabricated by the industrious marketing team. For once, Vought hasn't spun a tall tale. Maeve doesn't want to see another woman make the same mistakes she did. "Be original" is her advice in the Season 1 finale, which means Annie needs to channel "the annoying goody-two-shoes asshole that you are."

The earlier costume rebrand is part of Annie's battle against corporate coercion as she fights to retain a piece of her personhood. She is told it is empowering to bare her body and that "choosing" to wear impractical thigh-high boots with a towering stiletto is feminist. Girl power is how it is presented to her, despite how uncomfortable this barely-there ensemble makes her feel. The second season expands on this tension further when the unfiltered Stormfront becomes the newest member of the Seven.

"We're going positive, we're going female, thoughtful but upbeat," former publicist Ashley (Colby Minifie) and now vice president for superhero management, exclaims before the big "Girls Get It Done" press junket. Maeve leaves before the big unveiling citing a family emergency thereby putting a dent in the big event. After all, this is the first time three women have been in the Seven, albeit three white women with different hair colors and distinct costume styles. This is not the inclusivity levels Ashley was boasting she wanted in the Season 2 premiere.

When the public finds out in the following episode that superheroes are made not born, #HeroesSoWhite begins to trend after analysis reveals 92 percent of people with powers are, in fact, so white. Homelander tries to make a point of the Seven's diversity by outing Maeve, but the girl power-infused campaign cannot hide the overt whiteness — not to mention that Stormfront is harboring a secret that will also burst this campaign.

The Boys

Starlight and Stormfront don't have to deal with any hardball questions relating to diversity. Instead, they endure multiple inquiries about their love lives. Other pithy talking points include "Tell us how fun it is to have all this girl power" — as if it is a physical object to behold — before being asked to say "strong is the new pretty."

A strong whiff of "Femvertising" emanates from this montage, in which a strong feminist message is coopted as a marketing tool. Girl power is simply a new way for Vought to amplify their brand and sell products. So when Stormfront suggests it is reductive to ask whether girls make better superheroes — an incredibly patronizing question — she instantly becomes a "YAS QUEEN" symbol. Her unfiltered choice of language and general DGAF attitude is in opposition to Annie and Maeve's picture-perfect smiles. "You want to talk about girl power, let's talk about getting some pockets," she quips when the phone in her bag goes off. Yes, a lack of pockets is a feminist issue.

Stormfront is the antithesis to Starlight's media persona — little does she know what Annie is doing in her spare time — referring to her as the "Voughtiest Vought in all Vought." Later in "Proper Presentation and Planning," Stormfront gives a pep talk using Pippi Longstocking as an example of someone who gets s*** done without caring what people think, "F*** this world for confusing nice with good. Be a bitch if you want. Be whatever. Just drop the mask once in a while. Feels good. You can finally breathe." Before you rush out to stitch this on a pillow, The Boys pull the rug out from under our newest feminist idol's feet. Not only is Stormfront up there with Homelander in the sadistic acts she inflicts on people, but she is also a white supremacist who targets people of color.

The Boys

"Life isn't a PR strategy," she tells Starlight, but her so-called straight-talking also includes harmful dog whistles. In Episode 4, Homelander seethes at the memes and online adoration Stormfront is experiencing as a result of her candid strategy — that will likely expand into more troubling territory. Meanwhile, Starlight has uncovered the newest member of the team isn't being as forthcoming as her blunt persona suggests. This season is exploring the Nazi origins of this company and the experiments at the Dachau concentration camp that led to the formulation of Compound V. Perhaps the "hero" that used to go by Liberty has roots firmly in another propaganda-fueled regime.

Before Stormfront's surprise arrival, Ashley excitedly talks about finding "an ethnic or female, or fingers crossed, an ethnic female to replace the Deep." Instead, they wind up with a secret white supremacist with all the resources she needs to sow the seeds of hate. Performative diversity explains Ashley's motivations. Rather than altruistic reasons, her decision making is based on an awareness that "inclusion is a big priority" for targeted demographics. The same applies to the hollow "Girls Get It Done" campaign that has been crafted to appeal to the public. Having Starlight selling a feminist message in a costume she loathes (and is wearing to keep up appearances) reinforces just how empty Vought's message is. In The Boys, the women will get it done — but they have to make sure they smile for the camera first.

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