The anticipation for The Batman is astronomically high. Alongside Robert Pattinson as the caped crusader, the film features an all-star cast including Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, whom we know as a crafty thief. While Batman love is widespread, Catwoman stands out as a villain with her own fanbase, some of whom live vicariously through her exploits. She’s not a boy with toys, a wealthy man who plays outside the law yet the law favors him, but rather a confident woman with laser goals in mind. From Eartha Kitt’s mischievousness and strength to Michelle Pfeiffer’s cool, enticing presence to Anne Hathaway’s femme fatale, Catwoman continues to be a prime example of why women thieves and those who don’t play by the rules always fascinate us.
There are often archaic notions of who can be a criminal. From serial killers to thieves, we usually think of men. True, they are the usual culprit, but that’s why it is delightfully shocking when a woman occupies that space. Women thieves and con artists fling the rules based on gender construct in society’s face. And we love them for it. Even now, home and hearth are typically perceived to be a woman’s end goal. Their “happily ever after,” so to speak. Seeing those who don’t conform to society awakens that part of us that feels confined and wants to do things outside the so-called norm. And these society dynamics do not form solely along gender lines. Capitalistic hierarchy also plays a role.
In The Dark Knight trilogy, Hathaway’s Catwoman demonstrated a disdain for the elite class. As Selina Kyle tells Bruce Wayne, the rich are unrealistic about what they have other than their wallets. Society makes money the measuring stick to determine a person’s value. It ranks their “worth” through financial portfolios, what they buy, where they go, and where they live.
But, without their money and society’s capitalistic system, many of those people are no different than us and, truthfully, less important. Catwoman brings this to examination to our attention, striking back at the wealthy by taking from them. In a world where we see wealthy people showing off their excessive purchases while millions struggle for basic needs, this hits on a deeper, primal level for the average viewer.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns reaffirms this dislike for the wealthy, specifically noting how they abuse their power. Rather than using their resources for good, they selfishly, narcissistically manipulate and hurt others to accrue more money and power. She also disdained women who let men trample on them. This is shown when she rescues a woman from an attacker. Catwoman steps in to save her; however, she’s not thrilled by the woman’s cavalier attitude for her own life as she waits for someone to rescue her. This sends a clever message that women need to be their own saviors by any means necessary, whether fighting back physically or disrupting the system. It rallies for pushback against traditional roles and societal expectations that seek to disempower women.
Catwoman uses force when needed primarily to extricate herself from a dangerous situation or prevent capture; however, her talent for blending in and craftily stealing is her most admirable skill set. To be a thief is to be a magician and magic speaks to the curious child in all of us. A sleight of hand where something is there one second and gone the next, leaving us wondering if our eyes deceive us. That is, if we even notice something was there in the first place. There’s also the thrill of getting away with something. You know, like Catwoman got away with Bruce Wayne’s valet ticket and his car in The Dark Knight Rises. We all desire to have that cunning nature and bend things to our will.
The word thief also conjures up images of stealth. Someone who swipes goods with ease and often unbeknownst to their victims. Others typically underestimate this person, which is why it works so well for women, both in fictional characters and real life. There’s a lot of love and intrigue surrounding Doris Payne, a Black woman who was a real-life international jewel thief. Doris charmingly stole millions over her decades-long career without violence. She got away with crimes during eras that were fraught for Black people. In a sense, it was a way to strike back at those who were oppressing women like her.
The life of women thieves is as freeing as it is enticing and adventurous. We see this with Catherine Zeta-Jones’s sultry and skilled character, Gin, in Entrapment as well as in the 2018 film Widows. Viola Davis literally led a team of women on a dangerous heist! Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman would be proud since she was always devising plans and had a lair just like Widows‘ crafty quartet.
Whether fictional or real-life, thieves like Catwoman remain fascinating. The new Batman looks promising with another iteration of this famous character. Zoe Kravitz appears cool and collected with a “trust me but beware” look that could prove treacherous for the caped crusader. Catwoman is a criminal by society’s rules and laws. But we are keenly aware that working by society’s rules—especially the further we are from the white, heteronormative, patriarchal default—will get us nowhere.