Girls Just Wanna Have Fun: The Batwoman and Camp Feminism

| Courtney Kowalke |

a tan woman wearing a mask that covers the top half of her face and head talking to a woman with short, blonde hair

Image sourced from Super No Bueno

The Batwoman plays at the Trylon Cinema from Friday, May 24 through Sunday, May 26. Visit for tickets and more information.

When I was 13, I was obsessed with the Disney Channel cartoon Kim Possible. The title character was a high school student extracurricular enthusiast with a particular penchant for cheerleading who also flew around the world to fight crime. I was in love with this heightened reality. Teenage-Me thought Kim Possible had the wittiest dialogue, the trendiest clothes, and the coolest gadgets. She was effortlessly cool, but she failed sometimes and was allowed to make mistakes without the world ending. Her universe was situated bizarrely between reality and science fiction. Some of the rogues in her gallery of villains were CEOs, corporate consultants, and fellow teens; some of her nemeses were shapeshifters, robots, and literal aliens from outer space. There were a weird mix of humans who mutated to be more like animals and animals that mutated to be more like humans. Of particular note, the villain of the series’ second episode was a human named Gil who mutated into a fish-man and renamed himself Gill.

You might be able to see, then, why I took to The Batwoman (or La Mujer Murciélago, 1968) like a fish takes to water. The Batwoman follows Gloria (Maura Monti), a millionaire playgirl who resides in Mexico City. The opening montage shows her trying on the latest fashion, practicing her shooting, horseback riding, and scuba diving. Gloria is not content to use her wealth purely for her own entertainment, though. She is also a luchadora, a professional masked wrestler known as The Batwoman. She is also a crime fighter, but only as The Batwoman. (To both my confusion and amusement, Gloria wears a conservative full-body suit to wrestle but only a bikini to fight crime. Maybe she needs her feminine wiles to distract the evildoers?) In the film, Gloria travels to Acapulco to investigate the murder of several wrestlers and stumbles upon a mad scientist (Robert Cañedo) who is using fluid from the wrestlers’ pineal glands to create a fish-man he calls Pisces.

Information about how The Batwoman came to be is scarce (at least in the Anglosphere–maybe I would have found more sources if I understood more Spanish). I do, however, have two pieces of information that fit together. Firstly, in his review of The Batwoman for The Cultural Gutter, Sachin Hingoo noted that director René Cardona really had a thing for luchadoras battling the supernatural. Cardona’s run up to The Batwoman included Doctor of Doom (1963, featuring mutant ape antagonists), The Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy (1964, self-explanatory), and The Panther Women (1966, featuring rogue demon-worshipping wrestlers).1

Secondly, 1966 saw the release of the live-action Batman TV series and the explosion of “Bat-mania.” Everybody wanted a piece of caped crusader’s popularity, with Batman being referenced in contemporary shows like Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.2 I am a flying leap in guessing Cardona decided to take his favorite trope and give it a superheroic twist to fit with the trends of the time, but it is a deduction that makes as much sense as anything else in this movie.

A lot of elements of The Batwoman scratch an itch I have had for 20 years. The glamor and excess of fashion! The admiration of Gloria’s skills and how competent she is (or at least the movie says she is)! The excitement of globetrotting and of solving mysteries! 

A lot of women I know have a special place in their heart for stories like The Batwoman. I was not able to get a copy in time for this review, but in looking for examples of campy feminist media, I stumbled across Xena Goes to Camp: On Feminism, Anachronism, and Subversion by Valeria Estelle Frankel. Frankel’s book examines the 1990s TV show Xena: Warrior Princess and how “[Xena’s] unrealistic world underscores an idealized reality—one in which women have always outperformed men.”3

I’ve never seen Xena, so I can’t vouch for its campiness or its feminism. I and several of my acquaintances can extol the virtues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for you, though. I would argue the series is much less campy than the original 1992 movie, but Buffy also exists as a feminist fantasy, a reality distinct from our own that features women kicking butt.

I also want to shout-out The Middleman, a one-season TV show that aired in 2008 that shares a lot of its goofy DNA with The Batwoman. From pineal gland fluids that save you from turning into a fish zombie to the main character’s “Honey Ryder Thunderball nightmare” bikini, The Middleman has it all. (James Bond fans, don’t worry—the character who says that line is immediately corrected on Honey Ryder being a character from Dr. No.)

a tan woman with short black hair sitting behind the wheel of a boat next to a tan man with light brown hair smoking a cigarette

Image sourced from Internet Movie Database

left to right, a tan man with black hair, a tan woman with short black hair, and a tan man with light brown hair all sitting on the beach

Image sourced from Internet Movie Database

In her 1964 essay, “Notes On ‘Camp,’” Susan Sontag writes that “[the] hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.”4 (Sontag 1964, 7) The Batwoman feels like that to me. Gloria is a millionaire with many hobbies who is also a luchadora who also solves crime. It’s putting a hat on a hat on a hat. It’s ridiculous, it’s ambitious, and I love it.

There is also something to be said about that dress made of three million feathers, and about how much I have mentioned fashion in relation to The Batwoman and my other examples. Camp is about playing your role to the highest degree. According to Sontag, “[Camp] sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman.’ To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role.”4 (Sontag 1964, 4) In his 2013 essay “Crawford, Dietrich, Garbo, Garland: Why is camp so obsessed with women?”, J. Bryan Lowder further extrapolates that “‘Woman,’ then, is something like a room full of props that you can use in playing ‘a role’—which means, if I can extrapolate, that ‘man’ is the same thing. Now let’s make a big, unprovable, subjective truth claim: ‘Woman’ has a more interesting range of inventory, aesthetically speaking, in its room than ‘man’ does.” (emphasis Lowder’s)5

Gloria can’t be just a woman; she has to be the epitome of femininity. Sans cowl, she has the perfect beehive hairdo (par for 1968) and winged eyeliner. Being a capital-W Woman actually serves to heighten some of Gloria’s actions in the movie. Out-of-costume, Gloria likes dressing in the latest trends; in-costume and in the ring, Gloria likes pile-driving her opponents. Gloria figures out the bad guy is tracking her and tries luring him into a trap using his own device while flouncing around in a frilly little nightgown. When contrasted with Gloria succeeding at her detective work, the stereotypical-ness of how girly she is loops back around to being funny and charming. Even the concluding scene of the movie—which sees Gloria finally losing her cool and her two sidekicks joking about how hysterical women can be—is so exaggerated that it lets women in on the joke when they easily could have been the butt of it.
For women, there is extra fulfillment in the Camp fantasy of The Batwoman and other women-fighting-crime stories. There is still, after all these years, a struggle for women to “have it all.” Women can have careers, but they are still expected to be primary caregivers if they have a partner and children. 59% of women polled by the Pew Research Center said they do more household chores than their partners,6 and lawyer-researcher Eve Rodsky noted that most of the household tasks women perform are inflexible, “jobs that must be done regularly, repetitively, and many at a very specific time.”7 How is a girl in the real world supposed to manage her time and resources? It seems absurd and thrilling to think you can have a career and money and friends, and that you can get off to travel the world and do all your little hobbies any time you want. Maybe that sounds frivolous, but I direct you once more to Sontag’s definition of Camp, which notes, “[the] whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious… Camp involves a new, more complex relation to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”4 (Sontag 1964, 10)

a tan woman wearing a mask that covers the top half of her face and head climbing a ladder

Image sourced from Internet Movie Database

On the subject of “less serious,” a common Kim Possible catchphrase was, “So not the drama.” It was usually Kim’s way of saying what she did was no big deal or not even something worth worrying over. I feel like within the past decade or so, there has been an overreliance on realism, on making action movies that are gritty and stoic. Comic fans especially know what I’m talking about. The heroes don’t wear spandex costumes; they wear leather or Kevlar, and it’s usually black. Every battle is about preventing the end of the world. The hero typically kills the villain.

There is something to be said for a superhero movie with low stakes. I think movies where the world is at stake, where everything seems grim and serious leads to a flattening of character. Hollywood has equated “badass” with “bland.” I like seeing movies and movie characters get weird with it. I like that Gloria is a strong female character who all the other characters take seriously, but who doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously. She treats all her pursuits with importance and self-assurance, but she doesn’t brood or let setbacks in her investigation get her down. Sontag wrote that Camp appreciates “the force of the person.”4 (Sontag 1964, 8) The Batwoman is a character who makes her personality known.


1 Hingoo, Sachin. “La Mujer Murcielago – Rene Cardona’s ‘Batwoman’ (1968).” The Cultural Gutter. February 8, 2024.
2 Gonzalez, Eileen. “Shadow of the Bat: Batman References in ’60s Media.” BookRiot. June 27, 2022.
3 Frankel, Valerie Estelle. Xena Goes to Camp: On Feminism, Anachronism, and Subversion. CreateSpace Publishing, 2017.
4 Sontag, Susan. “Notes On ‘Camp.’” Partisan Review, 1964.
5 Lowder, J. Bryan. “Crawford, Dietrich, Garbo, Garland: Why is camp so obsessed with women?” Slate. April 10, 2013.
6 Barroso, Amanda. “For American couples, gender gaps in sharing household responsibilities persist amid pandemic.” Pew Research Center. January 25, 2021.
7 Borresen, Kelsey. “There’s A Key Difference Between The Chores Men And Women Take On.” HuffPost. March 20, 2023.

*Additional reading I found informative:
Crumpton, Taylor. “The History of Camp is Black and Queer.” Afropunk. May 9, 2019.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon

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