Margot Robbie unquestionably stole the Suicide Squad film as the uber-crazy Harley Quinn. Much of the marketing for the film revolved around her and there are tentative plans for a solo film about the Joker’s baseball bat-wielding main squeeze. However, pro-feminist writers on sites like ‘Buzzfeed’ have a different view on the buxom blonde bad girl. Their two main complaints are that she is “too victimized” and “too sexualized”. Are these valid criticisms, or is this just a failure to understand the character? Let’s look at the two complaints to see if they are justifiable.
Let’s look at the first criticism, regarding Harley being too much of a victim. One writer on ‘Buzzfeed’ wrote that the movie, “uses and abuses Harley Quinn”, discussing her “Stockholm syndrome” and the fact that she was trapped in an abusive relationship with a maniac. Harley is described as being caught in “mental and physical cages” due to her connection to the Joker. As a result of this, many Tweets, posts and memes have labeled her as a weak, anti-feminist character. Is this true?
When you look at Harley Quinn, you could make the argument that she’s a tough, formidable female character. She’s a smart, funny villain who can hold her own with the boys, despite no super powers (just a baseball bat). She’s a former psychiatrist and gymnast who looks like a model and fights like a tiger. Shouldn’t this make her a triumph of feminism? Apparently not. Her destructive relationship with the Joker seems to overshadow her strengths.
This highlights a problem that we wrote about back in January in our article “Is Hollywood’s attempt at Feminism actually detrimental to women in film?” In that article we quoted British independent filmmaker Chanya Button, who complained, “You can’t allow a woman to fail, show weakness or have a moment of vulnerability. If you do you’re called anti-woman or anti-feminist”. The modern mindset is that any flaw or vulnerability shown in a female character is seen as sexist. Yet the thing that makes Harley so popular is that she’s so screwed up. If you take away her faults, she becomes dull.
The site ‘Vulture.com’ wrote something similar, while interviewing Tara Strand, (who started one of the first online DC fan clubs in the 1990s, which was devoted to Harley Quinn). Strand said, “Feminism is about showing women as fully fleshed out human beings, and that’s what Harley is. She doesn’t make choices that are smart or good for a woman, but she gets to make those choices. Men are allowed to be f**k-ups in all kinds of characters, but we aren’t. We have to be idealized. Harley gets to not be.”
Another Harley superfan interviewed by Vulture.com named Elise Archer said, “I don’t want to be condescended to with strong, independent female characters who don’t have any flaws and are just kinda perfect and sane and never make bad relationship choices. For me, the freedom Harley’s been given to be a f**k-up is much less misogynist than all these other hackneyed stories thrust on female characters again and again.” So, even female fans of the character acknowledge that the best thing about Harley is that she’s looney and in love with a worse looney. She should not be a watered down, politically correct female character who dumps her abusive boyfriend and makes inspiring life choices.
Now, what about the second complaint, regarding Robbie’s Harley as being too “sexualized” to please “fanboys”. Many Tweets stated that she “deserved better” than to be demeaned. Online posts and memes bemoaned the loss of her spandex harlequin outfit, which she wore in Batman: the Animated Series, where she first appeared. There are two arguments to be made against this criticism. (A) Harley’s look was already changed in the comics, when she appeared on the cover of Suicide Squad # 1 in a much skimpier outfit. And (B), Harley utilizes her sexuality as a weapon. Next to her bat and her gymnastic prowess, her looks are her best weapon. She knows how to use her feminine wiles to manipulate men, including the Joker and Batman. Considering she has no super powers, this is a “power” that works like an equalizer in her dangerous lifestyle. She has the traditional style of the classic literary and cinematic Femme Fatale.
The problem with all these complaints about the character is that they may cause WB/DC to rethink their plan to make a Harley Quinn film. This is the unfortunate aspect of misguided attempts at feminism…They can easily backfire and end up punishing women. Should Margot Robbie lose her opportunity at a starring role because of this? Should superfans of Harley Quinn, like Strand and Archer, be denied a film version of their favorite character? Should one of the few planned female-led DC projects be cancelled?
Is Suicide Squad a sexist, anti-feminist movie?