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Harley Quinn: Hyper-Sexualizing Female Characters and Romanticizing Abuse

 

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If you live anywhere that is not under a rock, you must have heard about Suicide Squad by now. If you haven’t, it’ll be my pleasure to teach you how to properly use the internet or simply welcome you to the fandom. Granted, not everyone that is anxiously waiting for the movie is necessarily an avid reader of the comics or even a DC fan (DC x Marvel is a whole other subject to be discussed, but we can all agree that Suicide Squad has raised quite a few eyebrows of comic lovers everywhere). Aside from highlighting the intricate villains instead of being yet another “good always wins” movie, why should we be talking about Suicide Squad? Because the media has fallen in love with Harley Quinn.

Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D, met the Joker while working as a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. So she could become Harley Quinn, (not Agatha Christie’s Mr. Harley Quin, just so we’re on the same page) the female sidekick to the Joker, Dr. Quinzel became insane after being tirelessly abused by her male counterpart. As seen in “Batman Animated Series,” Harley Quinn was physically and psychologically abused by the Joker in instances in which she hoped for affection. Advised by her good friend Poison Ivy, Harley realizes it is unhealthy her being with her abuser. In the end of the day, her relationship with Poison Ivy saves her from her abuser through a loving, feminist friendship.

Alright, that’s good, right? She has been abused, driven to insanity, but realized how bad it was and left him, so she’s safe? Well… that would be true if DC hadn’t yet again assigned her as obsessed with the Joker in the Arkhan games, where Harley Quinn is yet again next to her abuser and incredibly hyper-sexualized.

From body proportions to their clothes, female characters have been historically hyper-sexualized within the realm of Comic Books. It is unquestionably different the clothing female characters wear when compared to male characters. It is true that Harley’s classic clothing shows little to no skin, but isn’t it incredibly tight, outlining every part of her female proportions? You guessed it, it is all hyper-sexualized.

Fine, I’ll admit it, male characters like Batman and Superman also wear incredibly tight suits that outline their muscles. However, we call that masculinization, not sexualization. The differences between both are quite simple. Let’s start with the similarities: in both instances, the target audience is the male population. Sexualization sells sex to the male audience. As expected from our patriarchal society, everyone must be heterosexual so men must thirst for women. As a result, clothes are tighter and the female anatomy is accentuated. Masculinization is a result of the hyper-hetero male; it sells and exaggerated notion of manliness. In conclusion, female characters sell sex, male characters sell testosterone.

Now, I would like to ask you a question. Why would such an interesting, complex character like Harley Quinn be limited to her gender and sexuality? Because sex sells, period. As much as I would love to deny it, sex is what attracts lines upon lines of, well, male spectators willing to buy a movie ticket. I consider myself to be a faithful Harley Quinn fan. Her backstory, growing up in a troubled household to become a doctor, showed itself to me as a true feminist character, overcoming her father’s words that she would never be able to thrive as a woman. Harley Quinn, like Jessica Jones, whom we are all familiar with (thanks, Netflix), is a victim of abuse. So, as a female fan, what can I do? Not much, sadly. As a female, feminist fan, I have taken responsibility on educating a wider audience on who Harley Quinn is and what is being done to her. I won’t ask you to sabotage the character or the movie (please don’t, actually, I am really excited about this), but I will ask you keep an eye out for traces of abuse and hyper-sexualization and please, PLEASE, see past her tiny, tight clothes because I promise you, Harley Quinn is a character to be looked out for.

 

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Written By

Giovanna, most commonly known as Gigi, is a 20 (1997) year old Brazilian that makes up 1/6K+ of NYU's Class of 2020 as a Media, Culture and Communications major. Her interests are heavily based on intersectional feminism, social justice, comic books, K-Pop, and colored hair.

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